First a thank you to Carol Hampton Rasco, one of my favorite sources for children’s literature news, for sharing this article on Facebook on Saturday night. I only had time to glance at quickly but then went to the review section of the paper first thing on Sunday morning.
Where Are The People of Color in Children’s Books? asks a crucial and until now, unanswered question. In paired articles written by the amazingly talented author, Walter Dean Myers and his son Chirstopher Myers, we learn both the objective and the personal truths of multicultural literature.
There is one quote in this article, that for me, says it all.
“Of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people according to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin.”
Wow. I’m pretty sure that if I lined up 3,200 children in this country more than 93 of them would be black.
Any reader of children’s books knows how important it is for children to see themselves in literature. On a very egocentric level seeing yourself makes you more interested but on a more fundamental level it makes you feel worthy and appreciated. While the role of picture books as mirrors has long been discussed I loved the way that Christopher Myers talks about the book’s importance as both a mirror and as a map.
He writes, “They see books less as mirrors and more as maps. They are indeed searching for their place in this world, but they are also deciding where they want to go. They create through stories they’re given, an atlas of their world, of their relationships to others, of their possible destinations.”
I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about school reform in America both as it relates to my own girls in their high performing public schools and in our neighboring high poverty, low performing schools. I am constantly trying to remind people that assessing our poor children more often and with new tests is not going to put food on their tables and that applying the same rules to all children regardless of their economic lives makes no sense. In this conversation about the lack of black role models in children’s books, I am again frustrated that our education reform ignores the big issues.
Walter Dean Myers, ends his article by saying, ” I’m told that black children, and boys in particular, don’t read. Small wonder. There is work to be done.”
And again, I think back to our education reform focused on standards and assessment. What if it was as simple as publishers publishing the excellent multicultural books that are written but rejected because the “Market” doesn’t demand them? What if those publishers published those books anyway, just to see what happens.
I predict if the books were out there, they would reach important hands. Hands that might begin to understand that there is a way out and that reading is a great place to begin that journey.
As Mr. Myers says, “there is work to be done.” Let’s do it.