Guest Writer: Ann Korff
Self-concept begins at an early age – infants notice skin color differences as early as six months and begin to ask questions about differences by age two (Derman-Sparks). This is part of the process of developing a self-concept. Self-esteem is the value and worth of that self-concept, and children’s literature that is diverse and culturally accurate supports and increases that value.
Gail Willett notes, “when children cannot identify with a book or see their lives celebrated through stories, it may have a negative impact on their self-image. The message they get is that their lives and their stories are not important” (Willett, p. 176). This imbalance of representation can be internalized at this very young age, so it is important to expose children early to accurate, authentic, and representative books.
“Accurate, authentic, and representative” relates not only to skin color, but also to realistic features, cultural portrayal, and historical context. Also important, is the representation of diversity within cultures. To be truly accurate, acknowledgement of variances in a culture are important and contribute to authenticity (Hughes-Hassell, Koehler, & Cox). Accuracy in illustrations is as valuable as it is in text. “…illustrators, including Pat Cummings, Jerry Pinkney, Allen Say, and James Ransome, present us with pictures that give cultural clues. With the talent of so many illustrators we are privileged to have a variety of pictures that portray diversity in many cultures” (Willett).
My blog partner, Kharissa, discussed diverse collections with two librarians at her field sites in Far Rockaway – a predominantly African American and Hispanic neighborhood. Both librarians have patrons who struggle finding books they can relate to, and expressed that books showcasing minorities on the cover better aids patrons in choosing a book to read. Covers that show a minority character send clear cues to patrons that the book could be relate-able, and potentially more inviting.
According to The Cooperative Children’s Book Center in 2016, 92 of 3,400 children’s books published had African-American writers or illustrators, and only 278 of the children’s books had significant African or African American content(CCBC). In this data, you will see a nearly stagnant trend toward an increase in diverse books for children. While diverse, authentic books of all kinds need to be available, displayed, read in story time, and strongly promoted in libraries, publishing culturally accurate and representative children’s books in the United States needs to increase to reflect the demographics of the country. Librarians can demand more from publishers using your library data to present at conferences, exhibits, via email, and on site visits.
“We want children to feel strong, resilient, capable, and confident; good literature may be able to provide this for children as they see themselves reflected in the mirror” (Willett).
de la Iglesia, M. (n.d.) “Multicultural Literature for Children.” Internet Public Library: Pathfinders. Retrieved from http://www.ipl.org/div/pf/entry/48493
Derman-Sparks, Louise. (1994). Empowering Children to Create a Caring Culture in a World of Differences. Childhood Education, 70(2), 66-71. Retrieved from http://onesearch.cuny.edu/CUNY:everything:TN_ericEJ476411
Hughes-Hassell, S., Koehler, E., & Cox, E. (2011). Through Their Eyes: The Development of Self-Concept in Young African American Children through Board Books. Children & Libraries, 9(2), 36-41. Retrieved from http://onesearch.cuny.edu/CUNY:everything:TN_proquest884340764
Willett, G. P. (1995). Strong, resilient, capable, and confident. Horn Book Magazine, 71(2), 175. Retrieved from http://onesearch.cuny.edu/CUNY:everything:TN_proquest199426300