Geisel guessers, it’s time for another foray into the land of diversity in children’s literature. Last year I discussed why we need diverse beginning readers (#WeNeedDiverseBeginningReaders). Although the number of books featuring racially diverse characters was on the rise in 2016, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, in their yearly analysis of diversity in children’s book publishing, notes that these books still comprise just a small fraction of children’s books published in the United States. As issues of racial and ethnic diversity, representation, and equality continue to shape our social and political landscape, those of us who care about children, their literature, and their reading life believe that there is a strong need for ALL children to see themselves reflected in the pages of the books they read. Rudine Sims Bishop, in her essential, oft-quoted article about books serving for readers as “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors,” warns: “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.”
Conversely, research has found that when children see themselves represented in the books they read, they make more connections between the text, themselves, and the world around them, thus leading to more positive associations, motivation to read, and better performance. This seems especially important during that short but crucial time when children are beginning to read and need motivation to persevere through the challenges of the learning process. Beginning readers featuring Everyday Diversity can help fill that gap.
Some diverse books are culturally specific, focusing on a particular culture’s authentic experiences, and some books are culturally neutral, showing people of color as characters without any reference to cultural characteristics or attributes. There is an important need for both types of literature, and a website called the Everyday Diversity Project seeks to highlight those books that portray racially and ethnically diverse characters in everyday, familiar settings and experiences, with the message and goal of all children seeing themselves mirrored in books. Anna Haase Kruger, who founded the site, defines the characteristics of Everyday Diversity books:
- Predominantly features a racially diverse main character.
- Primarily shows modern day contemporary life.
- Subject matter is not about race, religion, history, "other cultures," or ability.
Beginning readers are a great venue for this type of literature, with so many series centered around well-loved characters doing recognizable activities, gently weaving new vocabulary into familiar scenarios to build tender readers’ confidence. Here is a list of beginning reader series featuring Everyday Diversity. Please note, I’ve also included few other subgenres, including biographies, with the belief that it should be an “everyday” experience for kids of all backgrounds to have a variety of reflective beginning reader books to suit their diverse interests.
Andy and Sandy by Tomie de Paola and Jim Lewis
Bradford Street Buddies by Jerdine Nolen and Michelle Henninger
Confetti Kids by Paula Yoo and Shirley Ng-Benitez
Katie Woo by Fran Manushkin and Tammie Lyon
Lana’s World by Erica Silverman and Jess Golden
The Life of Max by Adria F Klein and Mernie Gallagher-Cole
Ling and Ting by Grace Lin
Max and Zoe by Shelley Swanson Sateren and Mary Sullivan
Messy Bessey by Fredrick McKissack and Dana Regan
Mo series by David A. Adler and Sam Ricks
Robin Hill School by Margaret McNamara and Mike Gordon
Sofia Martinez by Jacqueline Jules and Kim Smith
Tony and Lauren Dungy Ready-To-Reads by Tony Dungy and Lauren Dungy
Fantasy and Science Fiction
Buzz Beaker by Cari Meister and Bill McGuire
Robot and Rico by Anastasia Suen and Mike Laughead
Zoey and Sassafrass by Asia Citro and Marion Lindsay
Katie Fry Private Eye by Katherine Cox and Vanessa Brantley Newton
King and Kayla by Dori Hillestad Butler and Nancy Meyers
Flop to the Top by Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing
Luke on the Loose by Harry Bliss
You Should Meet series by various authors
National Geographic Readers biographies by various authors