Literature is a powerful vehicle for helping children understand their homes, communities, and the world. Even before young children can read, family members, child-care providers, and teachers read them stories about people in faraway places, sometimes about the distant past and sometimes about people whose lives are similar to their own. The impressions and messages contained in these stories can last a lifetime.
|Multicultural Early Childhood Children's Books
|Customs, traditions, and culture
Families, friends, and community
- Leslie Kimmelman, The Runaway Latkes (Albert Whitman & Company, 2000). When the latkes escape from a woman's frying pan on the first night of Hanukkah, everyone in town joins in the chase.
- Elizabeth Miller, Just Like Home/Como en Mi Tierra (Albert Whitman & Company, 1999). A young girl shares her experiences of a new life in the United States by pointing out things that are similar to her old home and things that are different. Written in Spanish and English.
- Judith Caseley, Harry and Willy and Carrothead (Greenwillow Books, 1991). Three boys overcome their prejudices and become friends.
- Nina Pellegrini, Families Are Different (Scholastic, 1991). A young girl shares her feelings about her friends and adoptive family and examines the diversity of families.
- Linda Bove, Sign Language ABC with Linda Bove (Random House, 1985). This Sesame Street book helps children learn the alphabet, simple words, and phrases in American Sign Language.
- Mary Hoffman, Amazing Grace (Dial, 1991). Classmates say that Grace cannot play Peter Pan in the school play because she is black and a girl, but she shows them they are wrong.
- Taro Yashima, Crow Boy (Puffin Books, 1976). In this story set in Japan, a new boy at school is isolated and taunted by other children until a new teacher helps them understand where the boy comes from and his special abilities.
This is a sample of the early childhood children's books recommended in the Anti-Defamation League's Bias-Free Foundations: Early Childhood Resources. Go to www.adl.org/bibliography/ for a list of recommended children's books or to order online.
- Virginia Kroll, Hats Off to Hair! (Charlesbridge Publishing, 1995). Rhyming text and paintings of real children show all different kinds of hair styles for all different kinds of children.
- Ana Maria Machado, Nina Bonita (Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 1996). The story of an albino bunny that loves the beauty of a girl's dark skin and wants to find out how he can get black fur.
Books, at their best, invite children to use their imaginations, expand their vocabularies, and gain a better understanding of themselves and others. If the books reflect the diverse groups of people in the world around them, children can learn to develop respect for self and others. Literature should be both a mirror in which children can see themselves reflected and a window through which children can explore the world around them. Books can illustrate the concept that people from diverse groups can play and work together, solve problems, and overcome obstacles. At its best, multicultural children's literature helps children understand that despite our many differences, all people have feelings and aspirations. Those feelings can include love, sadness, fear, and the desire for fairness and justice.
Selecting good multicultural books involves an anti-bias approach, an active commitment to challenging prejudice, stereotypes, and all forms of discrimination. Good multicultural children's books challenge stereotypes, provide a realistic glimpse into the lives of diverse groups of people, help children learn to recognize unfairness, and provide models for challenging inequity.
Unfortunately, not all children's literature conveys the messages we want young people to learn. Books often contain the same stereotypes and biases as other media, and because children are interested in a story's plot and characters, it is unlikely that they will know or consider whether a book includes racist, sexist, or other stereotypical messages. If young children are repeatedly exposed to biased representations through words and pictures, there is a danger that such distortions will become a part of their thinking, especially if reinforced by societal biases.
It is, therefore, the responsibility of adults to select literature that is entertaining, that is age appropriate, and that provides children with accurate representations of all people. For example, instead of choosing Cinderella, which perpetuates the stereotype of the lead female character as passive, dependent, and naive, adults could instead choose Robert Munsch's The Paper Bag Princess (Annick Press, 1980), in which the lead female character is portrayed as brave and independent. Additionally, because there is such a relatively small number of children's books about people of color, people who are gay and lesbian, and people with physical and mental disabilities, it is extremely important that adults make every effort to ensure that high-quality children's literature by and about these groups is made available to children.
Selecting good multicultural children's books begins with the same criteria that apply to selecting good children's books in general: the literary elements of plot, characterization, setting, style, theme, and point of view must be interwoven to create a compelling story in an age-appropriate manner. When deciding whether or not to include a particular title in a collection of children's books, it is important to review the illustrations or pictures, in addition to the text.
While every children's book cannot possibly meet each and every standard of excellence, in many instances, the value of a particular book will outweigh those aspects that might be questionable or problematic. Caregivers should examine children's books for such things as historical accuracy, realistic lifestyles, believable characters, and authentic language, and should make sure the book is age appropriate. The books chosen should also represent a variety of settings, problem-solving approaches, and themes, and should provide opportunities for children to consider multiple perspectives and values. Multicultural children's books should not speak to a limited group of children; they should speak to all children.
©2003 Anti-Defamation League. Linda A. Santora, MA, is the director of early childhood education programs for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), including ADL's The Miller Early Childhood Initiative of A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute (www.adl.org/education/miller/). This article originally appeared as "Assessing Children's Literature" in the fall 2003 issue of the New York State Association for the Education of Young Children (NYSAEYC) Reporter. The checklist is excerpted from ADL's Bias-Free Foundations: Early Childhood Guidebook for Educators and Activities for Families. Reprinted by permission.