“She looks like me!”, an Early Childhood student of color exclaimed as she pulled a book from the shelf and lovingly hugged it to her chest. Watching the moment unfold brought a smile to my face, though it was not without a tinge of sadness. I recalled being an elementary school student desperately trying to find books that featured Korean or half-Korean characters like myself. I failed repeatedly. Over 20 years have passed since my elementary school days, yet that EC student and I faced the same struggle: People of color are vastly under-represented in children’s literature.
It appears that books featuring diverse characters are constantly being celebrated. They are medal winners and honorees. There are organizations dedicated to the need for books depicting diversity. Certainly, quality books exist, but there is a discrepancy between marketing and reality. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, only 13 percent of all children’s books published between 1994-2017 contained multicultural content. In contrast, 37 percent of Americans identify as people of color. Even fewer of these books were written by diverse authors, calling the accuracy and authenticity of these titles into question.
The world is filled with varied experiences, and books provide a necessary window into the lives of others. They help children develop empathy and understanding, to realize that there are commonalities that make us human and differences that make us special. Additionally, books featuring diverse characters written from an authentic viewpoint provide a mirror into our own lives. That student and I both desperately needed books that reflected our own experiences. As our library collection grows more inclusive, and we feature diverse books in lessons and displays I anticipate and seek many more of these moments at Harrisburg Academy.
If you are looking for titles feature people of color, native people, those with disabilities, and more, check out We Need Diverse Books. Some of our recent favorites include:
“Drawn Together” by Minh Lê
“Julián is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love
“Dreamers” by Yuyi Morales
“Islandborn” by Junot Díaz
Learn more about Harrisburg Academy on our school website.