First Book, a remarkable organization dedicated to promoting childhood literacy, included this graphic in their recent blog post "Lack of Diversity in Kids' Books and How to Fix It". (You should go read the post, if you haven't already, and consider supporting this group in their efforts.) The stats are alarming, and they're real - based on data from the Cooperative Children's Book Center, which each year tracks the number of books published in the US that are by and about people of color. The most frightening thing about these statistics is that they've gone relatively unchanged in the timeframe that CCBC has been tracking this information (check out the statistics on the CCBC blog).
First let me admit a little bias here. I think the CCBC is an incredible group and I admire so much of what they've done. To be honest, my secret desire is to work there as a librarian someday (a girl can dream, right?). And as you already know if you've been reading this blog long, I feel strongly about the significance of multicultural literature for ALL children. So it may seem as though I'm just reiterating what has already been said, but it's obvious to me that these numbers don't lie.
And the repercussions of these kinds of statistics -- say what you will about the causes, everything from a lack of manuscripts to "multicultural books don't sell" -- are huge for our society. There's a ripple effect here, and it starts with kids who don't see themselves reflected in the literature available to them or taught in their schools, who then begin to think books don't apply to them. And it continues to kids who see themselves reflected too much, who then begin to think their culture is normative and all other is just that, other. Further, it extends to all areas of our society. Where we see indifference and intolerance, prejudice and exclusionism, condescension and dismissal, we can be sure that there's a cultural disconnect that runs pretty deep. Think how different that might be if all kids learned at a young age to embrace difference and celebrate diversity!
To that end, I've made a conscious reading goal with Sprout. This is something I haven't really done up to now, largely because I like to follow his lead with our reading time and present a wide range of choices for us to share. But I also want to make sure that I'm giving him selections that are fully rounded, so I've decided to work through a list compiled by the CCBC, 50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know. I've referred to the list before, and have already reviewed several of the selections on the blog. But going forward, as Sprout grows, we'll be working our way through the list, and I'll share a bit about each title as we read it together. (Look for the full list, linked to reviews, on Pinterest.)
First up was a book inspired by the author's affinity for playing dress-up as a child. In Mama's Saris, Pooja Makhijani writes about a little girl who longs to wear a beautiful sari like her mother. It's her seventh birthday, and our heroine feels she's ready for one of these incredible garments of her very own. She asks Mama, but the answer is not quite yet. So instead our girl helps her mother pick out a sari, and the journey through Mama's suitcase is full of gorgeous fabrics and delightful smells, and memories. And at the end, Mama relents and our heroine gets to wear a breathtaking blue sari for her special day.
This is a lovely story of family togetherness and the special bond between mother and daughter. As the two relive important moments in their lives together, readers find themselves in the moment, thanks not only to Makhijani's emotive text but also the thoughtful illustrations by Elena Gomez. Sprout loves not only the use of shifting perspectives, but also the incorporation of colors and patterns that blend with to produce some stunning spreads. Best of all, Mama's Saris includes Hindi words, with a glossary at the front that defines them, and a great insight into Indian culture. This is a terrific one for moms and daughters to share, but it's also a perfect choice for classrooms and libraries as well.
Stay tuned as we work our way through the 50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know. It's not going to happen in a day (more like years, really!) but we're looking forward to experiencing all of these books together, and sharing our thoughts. And we'd love to hear what titles from the list your family has enjoyed!
Sample: "I jump onto my mother's bed and sit down. I watch her reach under the bed and pull out a leather suitcase. Inside are her sairs -- the yellow satin one she wore for Uma Didi's baby shower, the peach-colored one that is as fine as a spider's web, and my favorite, her red wedding sari, which I have only seen once because it is carefully wrapped in an old bedsheet."