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  • Writer's pictureXin Rong

Picking Diverse Books

There are so many books in the world, how do you know which books are good for your child, or in the classroom? Well, you’d have to read it to find out. However, there are quick ways to identify sexism and racism in books.

Illustrations usually give the tell-tale sign. Look through illustrations and look for stereotypes about gender and race. In The Busy World by Richard Scarry, animals who are predators are portrayed as holding jobs that are related to security and the government. There is no surprise which gender is portrayed in these illustrations. Animals who are preyed upon are illustrated through feminine characteristics and hold jobs that are more nurturing. However, in the 1991 reprint of the book, these stereotypes have been removed and updated.

Other than stereotypical characters, do the illustrations reflect diverse characters? Are the eyes of Asians illustrated with a single line, or do the characters look different? How are the minority characters represented? What jobs do they hold and what meaning do they add to the book?

What are the characters doing? Do the illustrations portray minorities in inactive roles? Who are the active ‘do-er’s, and who are the passive ‘observers’? How are the characters displayed? Are the boys usually running and girls sitting down, playing quietly? Are the women portrayed in the kitchen while men read the papers? Who are the heroes in the story? For years, boys and men are typically portrayed as the heroes in the story. Who are the villains? What kind of message does it send to our children? Look for over-generalisations and simplifications of minorities and under-marginalised communities.

How will this affect the child’s self-image? If a child is constantly told that females are passive onlookers who need to be saved, how will it affect young girls? If a child is constantly told that boys are always brave and never cry, how does it affect young boys when they are feeling upset or overwhelmed?

A positive note is that many diverse books are out there, and many older books are being updated to remove stereotypes as they are republished.

Here are some amazing books representing diversity to check out, and ones I like to show my students at Astor:

Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

Honeysmoke: A Story of Finding Your Colour by Monique Fields

Little Wayang Kid by Raymond Tan

Under my Hija b by Hena Khan

Benny Doesn’t Like to be Hugged by Zetta Elliott

Mr Grizley’s Class (series) by Bryan Patrick Avery

My Family (series) by Claudia Harrington

Carlos and Carmen (series) by Kirsten McDonald

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