Illustration by Robert Casilla.  Copyright (c) by Houghton Mifflin Company.  
Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.  All rights reserved.
Illustration by Robert Casilla. © by Houghton Mifflin Co.
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Books are mirrors in which children see themselves reflected. When children are represented in literature and other media, they begin to see themselves as valuable and worthy of notice. Conversely when children do not see accurate representations of themselves, they may internalize the message that they are not worthy of notice.

Just as books are mirrors for children, they are also windows to the world. This is true for all children, but it is especially true for children whose life experience is limited by homogeneous school and home environments. Reading about people in all parts of the world fosters children's understanding and respect for their own and others' cultural groups, helps them to see themselves as members of the global community and supports the lifelong process of learning about multiple perspectives and experiences.

Books can also help children develop empathy by increasing their understanding about how people around the world are both similar to and different from themselves. Research shows that there is a positive correlation between empathy development and lowered prejudicial attitudes and behaviors. Talking about and acknowledging differences does not, as some fear, lead to increased divisiveness. Research on differences shows the opposite: that acknowledging human differences creates unity. Books that illustrate the ways in which people are different from each other can play an important role in promoting understanding and respect.

In addition, books can and should promote social action to combat injustice. Children need to hear stories about people who have been successful in challenging inequity. Books can inspire children by showing them the power of pro-social actions against injustice. Children need to understand that they are not powerless in the face of prejudice and discrimination. Books can provide models to help children see themselves as social activists. This is an important way that books help prepare children for the future.

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•  Assessing Children's Literature
•  The Miller Early Childhood Initiative of A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute
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