The promise of every book is a simple but profound one: when you land on the first page, you know you’re going to be transported. Whether you take off on the back of a dragon for an unforgettable adventure or you’re the new kid in school trying to navigate equally heart-racing territory, you are setting out to reach that story’s final line.
It was Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop who first suggested that stories are also meant to serve as windows into the lives of others; as sliding doors that children can gently nudge aside and walk through; as mirrors for kids who struggle to find characters that look, talk, and live like them. It’s why diverse books are more vital than they’ve ever been before.
According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, of the 4,075 books submitted for review in 2019, the percentage of children’s books with characters from a diverse background is lower than the number of books with main characters who are animals. 11.9% of main characters are Black/African, 1% are Native/First Nations, 5.3% are Latinx, 8.7% are Asian/Asian American, .05% are Pacific Islander while 41.8% are white and 29.2% feature animals or other non-human protagonists.
In many cases, even when diverse books are available, it can be difficult to get them in front of the kids who need them most. Ellen Oh, co-founder of We Need Diverse Books, shared an anecdote that embodies this hurdle:
“Now, Sarwat Chadda, who is a British Indian author… was once talking to a bookseller about his new middle grades series– it’s called the Ash Mystery series, and as he’s telling the story, the bookseller stops him and says, “Yeah, but I don’t see the point of stocking your book, because we don’t have any Indians in our neighborhood.” To which he replied, “I bet you don’t have any hobbits, either.”
The primary goal of diverse books is to highlight voices that would, otherwise, not find a place in the publishing spotlight. Not only does this increase the type of stories being told, but it allows children to encounter worlds that are unfamiliar to them – to empathize with all sorts of different characters, including those similar to them and those that aren’t.
By including diverse books in your child’s library, you can introduce new cultures, challenges, and experiences they likely wouldn’t encounter in their daily lives. Children of marginalized backgrounds also deserve stories told by people who look like them, featuring characters who mirror their real lives.
The number of children’s books written by people of color only increased by 3% between 2019 and 2020. However, we are living in a sort of KidLit renaissance where authors continue their efforts to let their books reflect real-world diversity. While progress is slow, it is steady. There is a hunger for these stories, one that is not likely to be sated any time soon.
What’s a diverse book you’ve read recently? Tell us about it in the comments below!
Looking for a place to start? Check out the diverse books Read to Them has to offer by visiting our Browse Titles page to use the Racial Diversity and Disability Diversity filters.