Diversity in children’s books is a hot topic right now. But it’s certainly not a fad. I believe most in the children’s book industry (e.g. publishers, authors, illustrators, agents, librarians) agree that diversity in children’s books is important. Children need to see other children just like them, children they can relate to, in their books. Whether we’re referring to appearance, aspects of culture, or a disability they may have, children need to see how they fit into the world around them. Books can help them do that.
On the other hand, children need to see children who are different from them in their books, in order to foster awareness, understanding, and acceptance of other people in, as guest blogger, children’s book author, and mother of 3 multi-racial children, Karen Kilpatrick calls it, Our Big, Beautiful World.
Our Big, Beautiful World: The Importance of Diversity in Children’s Books
By Karen Kilpatrick
“Mommy, why don’t any of the girls in my class have hair like me?” my young daughter came home from preschool asking one day.
“Because everyone is different,” I answered. “It’s hair that not a lot of people around here have. But there are a lot of little girls with hair just like yours.” Then I asked, “Your hair is one way that you are different from the girls in your class, but what other ways are you the same?”
We came up with a long list of traits that she shared with her classmates, and a shorter list of traits that she didn’t. We talked about, in simple terms, how differences are what make people beautiful, and how boring the world would be if everyone looked exactly the same.
From that day forward, we spent a lot of time noticing appearance. I am mainly Italian and part German, my husband a mix of Bahamian, Native American, and African American. My three children were born with caramel skin, curly hair, and brown eyes, quite different from my straight blond hair, blue eyes and freckles and my husband’s chocolate brown skin. They didn’t start to notice how different we all look from each other, and how different they looked from most of their classmates, until they were about four or five years old. And it wasn’t with concern, just curiosity, as to why they look the way they do, and why other people look they way they do. If they had attended school in a different neighborhood, it may have been them who looked like the majority of people.
Wherever we travel in life, I tell them, within the same city even, we will be surrounded by different groups of people. Sometimes we will look like the majority, and sometimes, we will not.
What has been so important to me in raising my children is that they feel comfortable around anyone. That whether they are with brown people, peach people, caramel people, chocolate people (we have identified such a variety of skin tone shades – and there are many more!), and whether they are in the majority or minority, they know and understand that differences are to be celebrated and not feared.
But the only way they would know not to fear difference is to experience difference. My children can visit myriad relatives, of all different shades, who live in a wide variety of economic circumstances. They can experience differences firsthand. However, another way to expose children to the beauty of differences is through books, and the diverse characters found in those books.
Children learn through storytelling. Storytelling, through books, can introduce children to the wide, wonderful, beautiful world of differences that they may not otherwise experience. Which is why, as an author, I am particularly careful that my books reflect a variety of characters. It is important that children recognize and see themselves in characters but equally important that they are exposed to characters who do not look like them. In order for this to occur, we have to have diverse characters in books, and not just in terms of skin color, but disabilities, ethnicity, culture and more.
It’s a big, beautiful world out there, filled with a variety of people, and books are the perfect starting point in exploring and understanding that world.
For more information on Karen Kilpatrick or her award-winning Pumpkinheads® series, please visit: www.pumpkinheads.com.
The Pumpkinheads® series titles include Carmin Cares (ISBN 978-1938447068), Love Monster Lulu (ISBN 978-1938447037), Sage’s Song (ISBN 978-1938447013), Danza’s Message (ISBN 978-1938447020), and Ella’s Toys (ISBN 978-1938447006).