Written by Jimmy Ma, Titan of Tutoring for Enhanced Prep
For many individuals, some of the best childhood memories involve cuddling up before bedtime with a storybook, either independently or with a family member, in a safe and loving environment.
Storytime can be deeply formative. Bedtime stories often represent avenues for children to explore different emotions and experiences. They also give them an opportunity to learn about morals and the world around them. Children’s books can act as both mirrors and windows to the world, and it’s through these windows that kids learn about someone else’s life.
Children’s books are a great way to spark discussions with a child about varying Issues; indeed, they can support adults in explaining concepts through illustrations and simpler vocabulary.
Books addressing critical social issues such as race are most effective when paired with conversation. So, in order to give children a clearer understanding of these issues, we need to allow them to ask questions and take the time to answer them.
Research on prejudice shows that coming into contact with people ‘different’ from ourselves helps reduce stereotypes and their perpetuation. However, over 80% of characters in children’s books are white, which doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality of our surroundings.
Books where children see both themselves and other types of people reflected helps to envision a world that actually represents the one they live in. This is why, now more than ever, we need more diverse children’s books available and accessible to all children. While these books exist, we now need publishers to produce them, and libraries, schools, and bookstores to actually stock them.
We know that books educate and entertain children, but what if they could empower them too? Imagine seeing a wide range of diverse characters from different backgrounds, doing different jobs, and being role models in literature from a very young age. It would empower children to believe that they could be anything and do anything. While many books have started to include minority characters, this doesn’t really equate to quality diverse literature. It would be nice to see them in prominent roles, serving as role models for our youth.
Reading is a powerful way to nurture a child’s sense of curiosity and build a foundation for having bigger conversations about race over time. We owe it to our young readers to show them reality in the books they are reading. That’s why we encourage parents and mentors everywhere to utilize literature as a means of teaching diversity and cultural values, and to think carefully about the books they are bringing to storytime and beyond.