Why Read Diverse Children’s Books

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Reading diverse children’s books has become much more common in recent years. Gone are the days of reading only white male authors. Instead, educators and parents have not only a wide variety of options but also resources to find diverse kid lit.

But why is it so important to read diverse books for kids? Isn’t any reading at all better than nothing? Shouldn’t we just let kids pick whatever they want and gravitate to?

Here are 5 reasons it’s valuable to incorporate diverse and multicultural children’s books into our homes.

diverse children's books

Diverse Children’s Books Provide Windows and Mirrors

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote an essay about the importance of children’s books serving as windows and mirrors. Windows, so they can understand others’ experiences and perspectives, and mirrors, so they can feel validated in their own.

When kids don’t see their lives and experiences reflected in diverse picture books, they come to believe their lives are not worth recording and don’t have value. On the other hand, when they only see their own experience and don’t see those of others, they build an understanding that those who are not featured are not as important. And most often, those not reflected are marginalized people. Did you know that in 1985, less than 1% of children’s books highlighted Black characters?

When we build a diverse bookshelf at home, we show our kids that we value both them and all others, and allow them the opportunity to build that understanding, as well.

Diverse Kids Books Provide Opportunities For Discussion

Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to start conversations of race and culture with our kids. We don’t know where to start, so we don’t start at all. It all feels big and we don’t want to do it wrong.

Inclusive picture books are some of the best ways to open up these conversations! They’re easy, interesting, comforting, and non-threatening. This is especially true with current events. Picture books often provide a great segue into discussing traumatizing, harmful, oppressive, or unjust events that are happening in our community and the world.

And though they tend to be geared to young children, picture books are often wonderful for connecting with children and adults of all ages. They provide rich language and discuss important topics in a short period of time and are perfect for opening up conversations. (Here are 100 conversation starters about race if you’d like more prompts.)

Diverse Children’s Picture Books Allow for Cross-Cultural Connection

One of our favorite things about family travel is connecting with incredible people across the globe. And almost as exciting is meeting places from the people we’ve visited once we return home. It’s so fun to get to chat a bit and hear personal experiences.

Books with diverse kids from around the world offer a similar opportunity. They provide points of connection and understanding, and pave the way for friendship and discussion.

Books Help Kids Understand Individual Experiences

A cornerstone of antiracist education is that any one group is not a monolith. Each is comprised of individuals with unique experiences and backgrounds and perspectives.

Reading diverse books for kids allows us to see people as individuals, with vastly varied life experiences and ideas. It helps us not generalize populations, behaviors, and races. It allows us to understand respectful terminology (e.g., “people with disabilities” instead of “the disabled”) and different family circumstances.

In essence, it helps us see people as people. It’s why diverse books matter.

Building Curiosity and Empathy Through Diverse Picture Books

When kids see a variety of people represented in books, it signals that all people are of equal worth. And it evens the playing field in a way, but putting everyone in a place of learning and growth.

No one person knows everything about the experiences in the books, so everyone has a chance to be curious. Equitable representation in children’s books builds opportunities for everyone to show understanding and learn empathy.

Here’s a free course on raising curious kids.

Diverse Books for Kids Encourage Actions to Pursue Justice

Of course, diverse books for children are just a starting point. Reading isn’t taking antiracist action in itself, nor does it pursue justice. But it is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to encourage further action. When we see experiences laid out in book form, and people highlighted, it makes it easier to choose further action.

Here are 8 simple antiracist actions you can take with kids.

Multicultural Children’s Books are Fun!

Last but certainly not least, multicultural children’s literature is just plain fun! Our family loves learning about traditions, families, and foods in all different circumstances. Perhaps we’ll make dabo kolo after reading a book about Ethiopia, or Lucia buns after reading a book about Sweden. Maybe we’ll celebrate Black joy by creating art in the style of Faith Ringgold.

Whatever it is, learning about other backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, and ways of life can be beautiful and enriching. Diverse children’s books make this possible wherever we are in the world.

Diverse children’s books can be an incredible way to build connection, curiosity, understanding and activism within your family. I hope this inspires you to further diversify your family’s bookshelves!

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