I firmly believe that it is important to construct a discourse of diversity and equality, especially in children’s literature. The United States is a nation made up of many people of different colors who speak different languages, but that shouldn’t matter. What matters is that we are able to understand one another without prejudice or hate.
In an interview with The New York Times, Kwame Alexander says, “To construct a truly American imagination, children’s book creators must accept the responsibility of planting seeds of diversity and equity.”
Children’s books are teaching mechanisms. From childhood, we learn by counting numbers in books and reading about animals. It is important that these tools of teaching have a way of explaining the world we live by encouraging inclusion and not exclusion.
“The mind of an adult begins in the imagination of a child.”
In school, I was never exposed to literature that included people of color I felt I could look up to or truly relate to. They were people like Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Tom Robinson from To Kill A Mockingbird. Of course I had read some poetry by Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and the like in my free time, but I was never awarded the literary discourse of African American literature in my early school days.
It wasn’t until college that I was exposed to African American literature. Once I was able to read people like Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and Zora Neale Hurston in a classroom setting, I felt that I could finally relate to something given to me to read. Kwame Alexander perfectly pointed out the issue with the lack of African-American recognition in children’s books:
If we don’t give children books that are literary mirrors as well as windows to the whole world of possibility, if these books don’t give them the opportunity to see outside themselves, then how can we expect them to grow into adults who connect in meaningful ways to a global community, to people who might look or live differently than they. You cannot.
It is so important to have a wide range of reading material, especially from a young age, to show that the world we live in is not made up of one type of people, but many. We must allow diversity to enter conversations and be present in the reading material we share with children, because the next generation must grow up in a world of inclusion, rather than exclusion.
Featured image courtesy of www.sltrib.com.