Windows and mirrors: Reading diverse books with young children
Less than a year ago, my daughter (then four-years-old) expressed a dislike for her hair and skin as compared to the characters see often enjoys in books.
“Mommy, my hair looks so silly!” or “Am I ever going to look like her?” referencing a princess in one of her favorite storybooks.
It wasn’t until I began consciously surrounding our home with books and toys that featured children that look like my daughter, that the conversation started to change. (This also motivated me to found Little Proud Kid, a company that offers an array of diverse books and toys for children.)
Books have the power to shape how a child views their world and even to deal with the stresses and anxiety they may face in their everyday lives. For example, when children are anxious about the first day of school, a book depicting a child with the same feelings who then confidently walks off a school bus is a great tool to help ease a child’s nervousness. Being able to see who they are at that very moment in the form of an illustration can be incredibly empowering.
Likewise, I want to provide my daughter (and all children!) affirmation as to their place in the world. Whether a child has apprehensions because their hair looks different from other classmates, or they have a disability that doesn’t allow them to participate in an activity with their friends, or anything that makes them feel unsure and insecure.
Now, Zola, at five-years-old, appreciates that she is not just different but also beautiful. Just recently Georgia observed this dialogue with Zola and a new playmate she had just met while on vacation:
“Yes, I’m African American. I was born in New York and my mommy is Jamaican, where are you from?”
In the past, that comment would have quite Zola quite upset and insecure.
Partners Against Hate states, “children’s literature serves as both a mirror to children and as a window to the world around them by showing people from diverse groups playing and working together, solving problems and overcoming obstacles….However, if young children are repeatedly exposed to biased representations through words and picture, there is a danger that such distortions will become a part of their thinking”. Depriving children of truthful depictions of themselves in the stories they read (the mirror) can have damaging and severely impactful consequences. Essentially, when we don’t show a child an image of themselves in books, we are saying quite frankly, “you are not important.”
Moreover, diverse books allow all children to have understanding and appreciation for someone who is different from them. When we shut the window of diversity to children most represented, we are telling them that there is nothing else out there. More dangerously, we are saying “they” are not important.
The only way to remedy this wide-ranging problem is for parents to take this challenge on themselves and provide these diverse images.
Georgia Lobban is the founder of Little Proud Kid, a place to celebrate all people… one people. We focus on bringing an array of multicultural toys, books, resources and more to help you teach and celebrate the uniqueness in each and every child.