Diversity in Children’s Literature

I read the articles “Here I Am” by Brian Pinkney and “Representing the Muslim American Experience” by Laila Alawa.  I agree with both of the authors that there is a lack of literature in schools representing the Muslim and African American child’s perspective and/or experience.  I think mainstream education overlooks and undervalues the idea that it is important for children to explore and develop their identity through stories and picture books that match their values and culture.

Venturing-Kayakers-300px

I think it is safe to say that most young boys like adventure and exploring new things.  Pinkney describes the frustration he had as a boy in the 1960s finding picture books that depicted black children  having adventures.  As he states in his article, “…I began to feel like a nonentity — like the hole in the doughnut.  I constantly asked, “Where am I?”
The first time I realized my own racial stereotype was in Phoenix, AZ at Mountain View Elementary School’s Christmas party for students and parents.  (Keep in mind that Mountain View Elementary School is predominantly Hispanic with about 8% Caucasian.)  They had a free photo booth where children could get their picture taken with Santa Clause.

Feliz-Navidad-Card-Front-by-Merlin2525-300pxIt was the first Mexican Santa I had ever seen.  I was shocked at myself for reacting like that and assuming that Santa had to be white.  That is when I realized that every literary depiction of Christmas I had every seen featured Caucasians.

I feel that there is much to be gained from exposure to perspectives and viewpoints other than that of our own.  Escaping from the norm will allow us to see beyond stereotypes.  Knowledge is power.  I am looking forward to expanding my perception of Muslim culture through some of the books Alawa recommended in her article:

ask me no questions    does my head look big in this    my name is bilal

If the hero always wears a white hat and the villain always wears a black hat, we know who the hero is without even reading the story.  But it is the story that is important, not who wears the white hat.  We need to do more to change typical racial stereotypes in this country.  Spreading awareness of the issue is a good place to start.

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8 thoughts on “Diversity in Children’s Literature

  1. I like seeing all of the different approaches that people took with this assignment! I am now interested as well, about depiction of the Muslim culture in literature. It would be a wonderful teaching opportunity!

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  2. Those books look really good! Those would be very important ones to have in a classroom, especially with how Muslims are sometimes perceived in a negative light by some people right now. Educating our kids about accepting everyone and not judging is the first step to a better world!

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  3. I absolutely agree with your sentiments of the subtle messages we receive as children. You always assume Santa has to be white, but does he really? Not at all. Exposing kids to these diverse norms can really help giving them a world view that is accepting.

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