Children's books come in all sorts of styles. Whether it is the book's size, writing style (poetry or prose), or the kinds of characters used to tell the story (humans, animals, or objects), children can and should have a mixture of books in their libraries. An essential element in that mixture includes books that feature characters and emphasize stories from cultures that are different from a child's culture.
Are books that reflect diverse cultural experiences really that important? We believe they are! Here are three reasons that we think you should make cultural diversity a key criteria that you use when purchasing your next children's book:
Some experiences are universal, while others are unique to various cultures. Children deserve the chance to learn from them both.
Some childhood experiences seem to be universal across cultures: a child having a difficult time getting to sleep, tasting a new food for the first time, or making a new friend, for example. When children read books that show characters that look different from them experiencing some of the same things that they are experiencing, it can help them to understand that their experiences are normal and lay a foundation for them to realize that they may have more in common with others than meets the eye. While much about childhood may be shared across cultures, some experiences are unique to a culture or universal, but each culture responds to them uniquely. Learning about those differences can help children grow an appreciation for other cultures or prompt a new way of looking at an experience that helps them navigate the world.
Children are learning even when we are not attempting to teach.
The children in our lives learn both through what we teach them intentionally and what they experience in the normal course of their days. To say it another way, some learning is taught, and other learning is caught. Surrounding children with stories and images that feature the experiences of children from other cultures communicates that the experiences of children with different backgrounds are important. It normalizes the practice of looking at the world from different perspectives and invites a way of thinking that values how others see the world while anchoring in the unique gifts of your own culture. The lessons that the children you love will take from you about working with others who are different from you will be taught as much by what you surround them with as much as what you say.
Inclusion is a muscle that children must continue to use for it to continue to grow.
Have you ever seen kids play at a park? Whether it is shooting down the slide, climbing up the jungle gym, or playing in the sandbox, children will often start playing with other children who are around. Left to their own devices, children tend to be naturally inclusive in their interactions with other children. However, we increasingly live in environments with people who share a similar race, ethnicity, religion, and socio-economic status. This often means that we have fewer and fewer opportunities to practice inclusion. And, just like any other muscle, inclusive thought and action grows the more that we use them. So let's be clear: we are not saying that all you need to do to help your child practice inclusion is read them a book. However, we are saying that including stories and emphasizing characters who are different from your child is an integral part of building awareness of and appreciating other cultures.
At Kind Mirror Books, we focus on elevating stories that feature Black characters or relay the unique historical and cultural experiences of members of the African Diaspora because we believe that all children should have access to these kinds of stories in their libraries. We believe that all children should have books that reflect their experiences and those of other cultures.
So, why do you think having books that feature children and stories from other cultures is important? Please drop a note in the comments section and let us know!
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