Seeing is Believing: The Case for Diverse Books

 

By Chandler Rock, Book Harvest summer intern

An Eastway Elementary family of a rising second-grader told us recently that they “like stories that (we) can relate to us or things we are interested in.”

We hear you. Nothing makes us as happy as when we receive a donation of a book written in Spanish, or featuring a character with special needs, or written by an author from another religion.

White males make up 74.4% of Fortune 500 companies’ leadership teams. In Congress, 83% politicians are white, though white people make up 62% of the American population they serve. And only 49.3% of Durhamites are white– so why do the majority of donations that Book Harvest receives feature white characters?

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Image from Lee and Low Books: http://bit.ly/1kXzymX

Diversity in books refers to the representation of any authors and characters that are of color, with special needs, LBGTQIA, or ethnic, religious, and cultural minorities. I only touched on the gaps that relate to race in the paragraph above, but representation in books also lacks for these mentioned categories. Children, as sponges of the world, absorb the messages in their books. Their concept of what they can be is shaped by the depictions of themselves in these stories.

Kelly Starling Lyons of our Author’s Circle demonstrates through her books and her work with The Brown Bookshelf that “showing reality is important.” Seeing is believing– once kids read about characters to whom they can relate, their self-confidence explodes. They believe in those characters and then they become the doctors that cure cancer; the firefighter who saves the day; the teacher who raises the next generation. We all benefit when kids see representations of themselves.

Marley Dias, who founded 1000 Black Girl Books when she was only 11 years old, has something to say about this. She points out that “if those books are not diverse and do not show different people’s experiences, then kids are going to believe that there is only one type of experience that matters.” But we know that diversity and healthy conversations around the topic DO matter. It better prepares children for the real (melting-pot) world, develops a stronger sense of identity and place in history, helps them gain an understanding of universal emotions and experiences, and I can go on and on! But back to the point.

After learning about Christian, Jewish, and Pagan traditions, Curious George learned this year about Islamic faith in “It’s Ramadan, Curious George!” Published in May, it has received the inevitable backlash but has quickly risen to bestseller fame in recognition of the respect and education it promotes.

So what do we need more of here in Durham at Book Harvest? More stories written in Spanish. Books featuring non-white characters. Titles published by minority authors. You can buy exactly that from our Amazon Wish List, which can send the gifts straight to our office (Book Harvest, 2501 University Drive, Durham, NC  27707) and into the homes of children who need them!

Don’t stop there– Fill your own home with culturally-rich books. Write your own narratives. And stay tuned for a blog post interviewing a local author pursuing equality in our books!