WSW: Making Kids' Books More Diverse

Dec 12, 2018

Dionna Roberts and Angela Justice with some recommended books
Credit Andy Robins / WMUK

Everyone wants kids to read more books. But there’s a problem if you’re a young person of color: you’re more likely to see books with trucks or animals as characters than people who look like you. But that’s beginning to change.

The Cooperative Children's Book Center keeps an eye on the diversity in kids books nationally. That includes how many are written and illustrated by minority authors and artists as well as whether they feature characters that are people of color or LGBTQ. CCBC says it reviewed about 3,700 books last year. Of those, about only ten percent had stories involving African-American characters. Even fewer featured Hispanic, Native-American, or Asian-American characters. And it says some books written by minority authors did not have stories reflecting their backgrounds.

But reading experts at the Kalamazoo Public Schools like English Language Arts Coordinator Angela Justice say publishers and authors are noticing, and responding to, the desire for more diversity in children's literature. The district began a program to diversify the books in its elementary and middle school classrooms in 2016.

KPS Superintendent Michael Rice helps hand out new books to elementary students
Credit William Edgerton / WMUK

Justice says, "We wanted to, as a district, provide classrooms with books that are quality and that are rich that allow students to see themselves so that they are motivated and engaged when it comes to reading."

KPS K-5 Literacy Coach Dionna Roberts says the initiative addresses what she calls "windows and mirrors." She says that means books reflect the diversity of students but also show them the lives of people from other backgrounds.

The issue of diversity in kids' books isn't restricted to schools. Justice and Roberts have some suggestions for people who want to give books to young people this holiday season. For younger readers, Roberts recommends The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson; Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derek Barnes; and Chelsea Clinton's She Persisted: 13 Women Who Changed the World. For older, "Young Adult," readers, Justice says good bets include Woodson's I Hadn't Mean to Tell You This; Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds; and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

Both say other good suggestions for ways to diversify home libraries are available at We Need Diverse Books and The Nerdy Book Club.

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