We’ve written before about the benefits of bilingual books at home and in the classroom. But what about multicultural books, with characters as diverse as our communities are today? There’s a movement to bring attention to the need for more multicultural children’s books, and to bring more of those books into classrooms and libraries. Here are 3 reasons why it’s so important that kids have access to more multicultural books… and how you can help get more diverse books out there.
1. Kids See Themselves in the Pages
Stories touch us most when we see ourselves reflected in the characters. Until very recently, the vast majority of characters in children’s books were white, largely because of what’s known as the “publishing diversity gap.” As recently as 2014, only 10% of children’s books featured non-white characters. This, in spite of the fact that by 2020, more than half of American children will identify as a non-white ethnicity.
It can be disheartening for students to read a never-ending stream of stories featuring characters they don’t relate to. Students in diverse classrooms get a boost of self-esteem when they read or hear books in which their cultures or ethnicities are represented and celebrated. It’s a proud moment to see parts of your own life showcased for an attentive audience made up of your classmates.
2. Kids See Life Through Another Person’s Eyes
Kids are inherently self-centered, and they gradually learn empathy in order to have meaningful connections with other people. Researchers believe empathy may be the key to having a joyful life because it leads to better relationships at home, school, and eventually work. It is certainly key to ending behaviors like bullying and cruelty.
The tricky part is this: You can’t really teach empathy like you would teach a kid to ride a bike. It’s something that must be modeled, nurtured, and kindled. Empathy is more than simply understanding another person’s point of view. Even selfish people can do that. (Con men do it particularly well.)
Empathy involves understanding, respecting and placing value on another person’s perspective. These complex feelings require a multi-faceted, immersive experience. Children’s books are a great way to introduce an entirely new point of view, a different way of life, and also address important life topics with our kids.
3. Celebrate a More Realistic, Diverse World
When books are filled with only white characters, it creates a false impression of the world at large. It can create a sense of “otherness,” or Us vs Them. The reality is that we live in diverse communities, and our population is getting more diverse every year.
If we want our children to truly succeed and flourish in their lives, it’s essential that they understand and celebrate diversity. In this Fast Company article on career skills critical for success, being able to motivate a diverse workforce is #1. A knowledge of other cultures is #2. In fact, almost the entire list consists of communicating effectively with people with other viewpoints, and having an open mind that can quickly adapt to different ways of thinking.
#ReadYourWorld with Multicultural Children’s Book Day
January 27th of each year is Multicultural Children’s Book Day. Its mission is “to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.”
It’s an easy way to help get more multicultural children’s books out into the world. Just use #ReadYourWorld on social media, and share your love of diverse characters and multicultural stories. Participate in their eBook fundraiser, and 100% of the proceeds will be used to gift multicultural books to classroom libraries.
Don’t forget your free Empathy Kit, which includes an immigration and refugee book list, classroom activities, and this colorful poster:
Language Lizard is a Proud Sponsor of Multicultural Children’s Book Day. We also offer numerous Multicultural Book Sets that celebrate diversity and teach children about different cultures.
In 2016, Multicultural Children’s Book Day was able to reach 3.6 billion social media shares, and trended at #2 on Twitter. Help them surpass those numbers, and spread the word!
Comment below and tell us about your favorite multicultural book!