The Reasons Why We Need Diverse Books
We need diverse books. Period. I know that many children's writers are sick of hearing that, but the more I think about it, the more I realize the validity.
Why do we need more books with characters from different backgrounds and upbringings and beliefs? It's more than two-fold, but if we simplify it, it comes down to this:
1) Every child needs to be able to see themselves in a book.
2) And every child needs to be able to see someone OTHER than themselves in a book.
Diverse books and The Pings kickstarter campaign
I didn't grow up in Chinatown. I grew up in a mostly white area and went to school with mostly white and Latino kids. Besides me and my cousins, there were two other Asian families that I remember. One was Vietnamese and there were multiple kids including one who I would become good friends with. The other family were two Vietnamese kids who were adopted by a white family.
Most of the time, my background didn't matter. Until it did. I was so excited to meet friends who knew why certain foods and treats were. And I was miffed when the teasing started. It likely started in 5th or 6th grade. And it likely had much to do with the fact that we grew up in a small environment with little education about other cultures. (Catholic school in the 80s from K through 8th grade)
I don't want to make it sound like I was bullied. I wasn't. I had lots of friends. But--and I'm seeing this more and more as my girls are growing up--there are ups and downs in friendships and childhood.
One thing I notice about my girls is that their background doesn't matter. Granted, they go to a private school where the kids are mostly white or Asian (including southeast Asian) or combos of the two with some other ethnicities thrown in there. But they are also growing up in a different time period and different school and different parents.
My parents were immigrants to the US. (Yes, they came here legally--I'm rolling my eyes at the need to say that. But even if they hadn't, I don't care.) Though both were fairly young when they moved here (my dad was 18 and my mom was 21), they still didn't grow up here.
Why does that matter? It matters because they had a different understanding as to what it was like going to school where you learned about Catholicism and a certain view of American History. (Very conservative as I grew up behind the Orange curtain, which I'm told doesn't exist anymore.....I'm not sure about that yet.)
I was an avid reader when I was growing up. My sisters used to tease me that I was a 'bookworm' and now I embrace the title. Much like my daughters, I used to come home with stacks of books from the library. I can't imagine what it would have been like to read about a little Asian girl as a main character in a book who wasn't simply celebrating Chinese New Year or being called Bruce Lee's daughter.
What if I had read a book like Erin Entrada Kelly's Blackbird Fly? Would I have related more to my mom and to my two Vietnamese friends who were immigrants here to the U.S.?
What if I had access to a book like Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton? Would I have had a better understanding about what it was like to grown up as a mixed race person in the 1960s? Or Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give? Or Nicola Yoon's The Sun is Also a Star?
Or what if I grew up reading picture books that show characters from various backgrounds as main characters, not the token black person or Asian person or Latina person or bestie that's in the background? Note: though Bree is Fancy Nancy's bestie, I don't count her as a token person since she is very much a main character in the books. In fact, even as I complain about it, I'd rather have token ethnicities than having the entire book be white or Euro-centric. It's not the world I live in--not here in Southern California.
The thing is....these are the books that my Bookworm girls get to grow up with. These--and many other books--will help to form their understanding of the world around them. They are lucky, yes. But it's still not enough. There's more road to cover. And we'll get there, eventually. Even if you get sick of hearing We Need Diverse Books. (For me, it's like my repeating refrain that EVERYONE, especially every CHILD, should have access to health care....but that's a topic for another day.)
As an aside, I discovered a wonderful Kickstarter campaign that's supporting The Pings, a picture book depicting two orphans growing up in San Francisco's Chinatown. Or "Chinytown" as they've dubbed it. It started out as an animation project by Gabe Chewy and is currently a picture book project, though I hope they eventually get this animation up. Check it out if to see if you'd like to support it--the campaign ends on June 22.