Hi there! I felt that the start of this blog needed a bit of explanation. You might come across it and wonder, “Why kids books? What’s the deal with that?”
Well, I’m pretty sure that if I asked you about a book you read as a child, you’d immediately develop some strong feelings regarding that book. The connection we build with books as kids lasts with us our entire lives. Children’s books can have a profound impact on us, whether it be positive or negative. Reading helps kids develop perspective and empathy, but they (too often) also engrain stereotypes and false beliefs. And if children grow up under the influence of these books… well you can see how kids literature has a pretty significant influence on our future.
So, what’s my deal? I’m an undergraduate student developing a course of study in Children’s Literacy with a particular focus on Diversity in Children’s Literature. Ultimately, I want to be an elementary school teacher and a children’s book writer. I come from a mixed non-white-latina/white background, which plays a part in how I see children’s literature. Growing up, and still today, people say that I “look white” or “don’t look Mexican,” even though that is the side of my family I really connect with. I’ve been asked “which side I feel more,” which is a weird question in itself, but I do always answer “Mexican.” But, when I was younger, I rarely read books with Latinx characters in them. The smart, fun, female protagonists were always white. And this wasn’t because my family thought, “Oh, let’s buy her books with only white people in them!” It’s because, if you went to a bookstore in the 90s, it would be (and still is today) incredibly difficult to find children’s books with people of color as the protagonist. As a kid, I wanted to be the hero in the book, and the hero was a white girl. I could easily pass as being completely white and not at all chicana. So, for a while, that’s what I chose. It didn’t help that the kids at my elementary school said my family was a bunch of “aliens.” I didn’t want to be an alien, I wanted to be a human being.
Now, I want to address that because I was able to choose to be “completely white,” I had a privilege that not many kids have. I could choose to reject my non-white heritage and form myself into those characters I saw in my books. Not many people have that option. When white culture dominates the Children’s Literature industry, subtle messages are constantly sent to young people. And those kids cannot and should not change who they are. I wish I had been exposed books with strong latina characters. But instead, most covers were of pinkish-pale girls with green eyes and long blonde hair. Or a white boy with brown messy hair and hazel eyes. For just a sample of what the children’s literature market looks like today, check out the current lineup of American Girl BeForever line. They’re supposed to be an accurate representation of an “American girl.” Out of the 8 dolls, 5 are white. 1 is Latina. 1 is Native American. 1 is African-American. Ugh. Far too often in children’s literature (and in most media, actually) the black, asian, or latinx characters are often just “on the side,” as comic relief or the convenient helper of the white protagonist. That’s not okay.
But what can we do to change it? The #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement did a lot to bring awareness to this issue. And it’s important to continue that momentum. When that hashtag was super popular, bookstores seemed more adamant about showcasing their diverse books. Those books were given the spotlight. But now, that’s unfortunately disappeared. I walked into a children’s bookstore the other day and glanced at the large display of picture books. Every single one whose cover was featured, the protagonist was either white or an animal. So, how do we fix this? Awareness is huge. Spreading information about diverse books. Do it. All the time. But also, we need to support diverse authors writing about diverse characters. Buy their books for yourself, your nieces and nephews, cousins, your friends, your friends’ kids, the kids you babysit for, or anyone really! If you can’t buy them (I know picture books are ridiculously expensive) take them out from the library! If diverse books are circulating in the library, their popularity increases, and voila!–authors and their books are being supported.
So, on this blog I’ll be reblogging a lot of things regarding diversity in children’s literature and how important children’s literature is. I’ll also be putting together lists of diverse books and authors, reviews, etc. I’ll also accept submissions and questions! This blog is basically a space for Children’s Literature, discussion, information, and fun. And if you’re thinking “But I don’t read kids books, I’m an adult. I don’t even have kids or interact with them or like them or whatever.” I will leave you with this:
“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s book in the slightest”-CS Lewis