In an article published in the New York Times on August 16, 2016 entitled "On Children’s Books and the Color of Characters,” best-selling author Kwame Alexander tells a humorous but true story about a librarian who questions the color of the frogs in his book Surf’s Up. She says she needs to know the color so she can share the story of the frog with the correct race of children. A teacher once asked the race of the two main characters in his book The Crossover. She stated she needed to know in case the students asked. Kwame told her to call him if the students asked. While the teacher called him, she admitted they didn’t ask about the characters’ races. In both cases, the adults were much more concerned about the race of the characters than the children.
I wish more parents and educators understood that it is very important for all children to see themselves in literature. Not only do they need to see themselves reflected, but they need to see characters reflected who represent the diverse world we live in.
I recently read a story about a white child in a Wal-Mart who approached the check out counter with a black doll. The cashier repeatedly asked her if she were sure she had the doll she wanted. The cashier made sure the child knew there were other dolls. Finally, the cashier, following the cues of the parents who were not pleased with her questioning their child, rang up the doll. She remained confused as to why a white child would want a black doll.
I've experienced similar reactions from adults when they see the African American characters who grace the covers of my children's books. The stories in my books are not just for African American children, but all children benefit from reading about diverse characters. The stories don’t focus on the race of the characters, but they each teach important life lessons. Recent studies show that diverse classrooms teach some of the most important 21st-century skills, which matter more than test scores. Graduates of diverse schools who are exposed to cultures other than their own are more effective in the workplace and global markets.
Children of color need more books with characters with whom they can identify and that are socially relevant to topics that meet their interests. For too long, children of color haven't had choices in schools because those who are making selections choose characters who resemble themselves. Today, there is a growing number of authors writing stories to ensure diversity in main characters.
I encourage you to read and share a book with the children in your life or within your educational settings that include children of different races. This is a great opportunity for children to be taught healthy social skills for developing how they will view and treat people of different races. Children’s views on racism and prejudices begin in the home. Children mimic the views of their parents and educators, so a great way to start is by introducing your children to multicultural books. BJ's Big Dream, What Is That Stinky, Winky Smell and He Never Slumbers will serve as great starters. Order today from Amazon.com and visit BjsBigDream.com for accompanying educational activities.