By: April Moyo, Librarian, Central Piedmont Community College
This is not a new topic, but certainly one that deserves more attention. Having worked in public school libraries and now monitoring a small children’s literature collection at my community college campus library, this section always makes me smile. While working on collection development, the children’s lit section is my favorite one to review. “We Need Diverse Books” has successfully transitioned from a hashtag response to a full movement and organization, dedicated to encouraging the publication of books that serve and reflect the lives of young people - all young people.
Children seeing themselves as heroes, firsts, examples, leaders, pioneers, innovators
Why is this important? My not-so-fresh first pregnancy prompted me to ask folks for books focusing on characters of color, instead of the usual baby shower list, so that one day I could show my child stories which reflected her. I want my child to see exemplars in these books--stories of great inventors and innovators, leaders of history and leaders of today. I want her to know right away that great, big things are possible for her, and for other people of color in the future. When children see others in these roles, it’s easier for them to imagine and one day become another “great.”
There’s room for everyone’s voice
All white characters, authors, illustrators, or publishers should not be the mainstay of the bookstore or library. And speaking of race, diversity is much more than this construct, and sometimes not so obvious. We need more titles with content for disabled, LGBTQ+, social issues, and multicultural audiences. We need different values and ideals explained. We need religious acceptance on the one hand, and non-religious beliefs on the other. We need children to see what they can aspire to, how they can grow, and how diverse literature can open their minds.
Stories based on truth help children relate
I still remember my former classroom teacher days, specifically planning my reading lessons. What books should I read aloud to my students? How would they see themselves reflected in this literature, and on these pages? What lessons could they learn from the text? Where could we stop and pause to discuss what things meant on a deeper level? Often, stories start conversations. As kids soak up the content, they also relate to the stories - or not. Let’s work on engaging our youth with stories they know something about. Friendships, family life, and school struggles are some starting points, however, a great many authors are doing a good job bringing these stories alive. Let’s keep promoting them. Seeing examples of diverse groups and scenarios can benefit children in helping them form relationships regardless of differences, and be informed citizens.
Future writers, filmmakers, and storytellers
For the love of reading, get books into children's hands. Adapt these stories for film. Turn them into graphic novels. Good stories that reflect their audiences spark inspiration and aspiration. Reading as a kid taught me that stories matter--not a single story. When children realize that they too can be authors, illustrators, filmmakers, etc. they can start working on those dreams. Exposure is a dynamic concept. Stories help manifest new ideas, create new connections about the world, and propose possibilities.
Why does it matter to have a diverse children’s literature collection? Because stories hold tradition, knowledge of community, and knowledge of self.