“There seems little chance of developing the humility so urgently needed for world cooperation, instead of world conflict, as long as our children are brought up on gentle doses of racism through their books.” —Nancy Larrick
“When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.” —Rudine Sims Bishop
“Perhaps this exclusivity, in which children of color are at best background characters, and more often than not absent, is in fact part of the imaginative aspect of these books. But what it means is that when kids today face the realities of our world, our global economies, our integrations and overlappings, they all do so without a proper map. They are navigating the streets and avenues of their lives with an inadequate, outdated chart, and we wonder why they feel lost.” —Christopher Myers
Three profound quotes, all contemplating the troubling reality of the predominantly white world of children’s literature. These quotes appeared in three separate articles that were written decades apart in 1965, 1990 and 2014, respectively. It has been more than 50 years since Nancy Larrick penned “The All White World of Children’s Books.” And then, 25 years later, Rudine Sims Bishop addressed the same travesty in her article “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors.” Skip ahead another two dozen years and we hear from Christopher Myers when he discusses “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature.” It is a sad reality that so little progress has been made over so many years.
Yet, I am compelled to feel optimistic. I have sincere hopes and dreams that bigger change is possible. One reason for this positivity comes from the investment and effort my new school district has made towards racial equity and promoting the equity journeys of every district employee. The two-day “Beyond Diversity” workshop I recently attended, based on the work of Glenn Singleton and his book Courageous Conversations About Race, was one of the most powerful “back to school” professional development sessions I have ever experienced. Simply put, race matters, and so do our discussions, beliefs, feelings, thoughts, and actions related to race.
So how do I grapple with the current reality, my role as a white woman working in classrooms with a mixture of precious brown, black, and white faces, eager to share a side of children’s literature that honors each and every one of them? We are in our second week of school, establishing classroom communities, discussing our hopes and dreams. I pull out a treasured book, one that packs a powerful message about the importance of not letting disabilities become inabilities. A true story that delivers an uplifting message of bravery, respect, determination and love. As I read the first few pages of Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson, the little guy right in front of me asks the question, “Hey, how come everyone in that book looks like me?.” I dream of a day when this experience, the sharing of a picture book filled with children and adults of color, does not prompt a child, any child, to feel this is an unusual occurrence, but rather one that is commonplace and expected.