Diversity in Books
Growing up in Singapore, I was exposed to high-quality education. My parents always encouraged me to read and would foster my love for reading by taking me to the library and buying me the books I wanted to read. It was only during my course of study, when I took a module on Multicultural Literature in Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12, that I realised that most of the characters I read about as a child were either white, or about things that have been personified.
The Cooperative Children’s Book Center did a review across 3,000 books in 2020, they found that 41% of the books centered White characters, 29% animals, 12% Black, 9% Asian, 6% Latinx, and 3% people with disability. In a world where there are 59.5% of the population are Asian, 17.4% African, 9.5% European, 7.5% North American, 5.6% South American, 0.6% Oceanic (Wikipedia Foundation, 2020), and 15% of the world population having some sort of disability (World Health Organisation, 2021), books don’t really mirror the real world. This is especially concerning for young children, as adults (parents or teachers) tend to pick out books for them to read. But how does this affect us?
With reference to the statistics provided by Cooperative Children’s Book Center, more children see animals reflected in books than their own cultures. Books, just as Bishop beautifully put it, are sometimes “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” (1990). Texts and images offer different views of the world that reflect real or imagined. Books can reflect one’s culture and provide a glimpse into another’s. With our own culture reflected in books, a sense of self-affirmation is set in the reader. When we read about the culture of others in books, we peek through the windows of reality, which helps us to understand the beautiful mix of people there are in the world. When children don’t see themselves in books, a message of them being devalued in the society is being sent. When children don’t see people from diverse backgrounds in their books, an inflated view of their importance is portrayed which in turn, devalues the cultures of others around them.
At Astor International School, we ensure that we provide young children with books that reflect their surroundings. At home you can start by picking out books that include diverse characters and encouraging children to read them.