One undoubted charm of book reading is the way it lets us lose ourselves in the story. Storybook heroes allow us to identify with them; they inspire us to fight our own battles and give us insights on how to cope with and survive in a world we hardly can make sense of at the age of 8 or 9 .
However, a more careful look at children’s literature reveals the ways it which it is often too narrow in scope. Not all children can identify with a white, middle-class boy. There are millions of children out there who belong to a different gender, or socioeconomic status, or cultural heritage and ethnicity. So what sorts of heroes do these children relate and connect to?
Why care about book diversity?
Diverse reading serves an important and two-fold purpose. It allows people of different cultural backgrounds to find a mirrored reality in the storyline, and it also allows those unfamiliar with these cultural trajectories to familiarize themselves with – and even empathize with – something completely unrelated to their own reality. An 8 year old girl from Washington can enjoy reading about a family in Romania; a British boy can find parallels to his own life by reading about girls’ education in Ghana.
Reading books that revolve around realities and people that are not close to our own can contribute to a child’s brain development. A child needs both aspects of literature. Children need to read about their own culture, but also about those cultures they have never heard of. This allows for the development of empathy and respect towards anything that’s different or alien, and it nurtures a more tolerant attitude overall.
The need to belong, and appreciating what’s different
Apart from reading about worlds and realms that are strange, unfamiliar, and intriguing, diverse reading allows children and their parents to engage with literature that mirrors their existence and thus helps them understand themselves and their environment.
Not every child born in the US has parents that speak English and not every child can find similarities in their life and that of a suburban boy attending elite boarding schools in Switzerland.
A child needs the confirmation that their individual reality is not strange, marginal, or looked down upon and condemned. Young readers look for ways in which their personal reality is reflected in a book in order to makes sense of and accept the world around them.
Cultures, no matter how dramatically different they are from ours, each have to be heard from and appreciated. Diverse reading helps ensure that all voices are heard and that every child in the world can find in a book the mirror of their reality as well as a door to understanding and appreciating those different from their own.
Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments