"Like many of his third-grade classmates, Mario Cortez-Pacheco likes reading the 'Magic Tree House' series, about a brother and sister who take adventurous trips back in time. He also loves the popular 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' graphic novels. But Mario, 8, has noticed something about these and many other books he encounters in his classroom at Bayard Taylor Elementary here: most of the main characters are white. "I see a lot of people that don't have a lot of color," he said." Motoko Rich, For Young Latino Readers, an Image Is Missing, Dec. 4, 2012, The New York Times.
Imagine never having found yourself in a book. Never having seen yourself, your family or your home reflected in a story you read. How would you feel about books, reading and your place in the world?
This post, in our ongoing series about race and reading*, focuses on the importance of books that reflect the diversity of the children TRC serves. The lack of children’s books portraying children of color in authentic, respectful and engaging ways has a negative effect on a child’s motivation to read.
“When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.” Rudine Sims Bishop, Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Doors,1990.
TRC is dedicated to helping children become life-long readers, and that means building motivation and a personal sense of belonging in the reading community. Sharing books with kids that explore and celebrate their communities is crucial to building that motivation as well as their feeling of being a valued member of the reading community.
Historically, most of the children's books featuring people of color focused on historical figures (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Diego Rivera) or holidays (Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo). Only recently have publishers begun to include books showing children of color having everyday experiences with their families in their own neighborhoods.
It matters what theme you choose to present at a Read-Aloud and the books you bring to explore that theme. By intentionally seeking out the children's interests and providing them with high-quality books that reflect their experiences, you work to counteract the daily slights and snubs that marginalize children of color. So, don't just guess which theme to do next: talk with the kids. Find out what excites and intrigues them and then plan Read-Alouds that explore those interests.
So how do you make the very books you choose vehicles for fostering reading motivation?
- Ask the kids about their interests to help determine which theme to do next and which books might be popular in the give-away bin.
- Vary your Read-Aloud themes so that each session is high interest. Volunteer Central has information on themes and links to Reading Road Maps.
- Choose the books carefully. Bring high-quality books that are well written, beautifully illustrated, exciting and engaging. (This blog post gives guidelines.) Include both fiction and nonfiction, written at varying levels to accommodate varying interests and attention spans. And, of course, purposely use books that portray children of color in positive ways. The following lists provide information on a wide variety of diverse books:
We Need Diverse Books - Links to lists of books about various diverse groups
Reading Is Fundamental – List reviewed by RIF’s Literature Advisory Board. List includes books exploring a myriad of cultures
Cooperative Children’s Book Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison - A list of children’s books by and about people of color
Award-winning Multicultural Books, National Louis University -Provides links lists of various multicultural book awards and a description of the award itself
Colorín Colorado - A site for English language learners. Provides lists on several cultures and the immigrant experience
Reading Rockets - Provides themed lists on several cultures
Providing access to books that depict children of color in authentic and respectful ways and preparing exciting, engaging Read-Alouds on topics that interest the kids show them in deeds and words that they are valued and welcome members of the reading community and our society at large.
*Previous posts on race and reading:
Race and reading: developing personal relationships
Race and reading: the Read-Aloud environment
Working toward the dream: race at Read-Alouds
To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.