There is a big movement within the library community called “We Need Diverse Books.”
If I were leading the movement, I would call it, “We need more diverse books that children like.” We have many award winning multicultural books that lack child appeal.
Award winning books are often what librarians call “shelf sitters.” They will be purchased by books sellers and librarians but not read much. They are the brussels sprouts of the library’s book collection. (I remember the first time I enjoyed Brussels sprouts, it was last Thanksgiving at cousin Jane’s.)
We need contemporary books about multicultural children. Since I find it hardest to find diverse books for our youngest readers, I have chosen four books for preschoolers and primary students:
Lola Reads to Leo by Anna McQuinn, begins with Lola, her pregnant mom, and dad sharing a bedtime story. When her new brother is born, Lola picks out a special book for Leo. Dad shows Lola how to hold the baby. Lola delights in being a big sister helping her mom by running errands and attempting to entertain the baby. It ends with the new family gathered on the sofa for a bedtime story. Rosalind Beard’s illustrations are delightful.
Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan is a story about Arab Americans in Canada.
Rubina is delighted when she is invited to a birthday party. Birthdays aren’s part of her family’s tradition. She sulks when her mother insists she must take her younger sister along. At the party, Rubina is the only one with her little sister in tow. Sana embarrases her when she cries during musical chairs. She is not invited to another party for a long time.
Several years later when Sana receives a birthday invitation, Her mother insists that she take her youngest sister, Maryam. Rubina steps in and takes Sana’s side winning her younger sister’s admiration. This book is illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators, Sophie Blackall, winner of the Caldecott Award. I love her signature use of colorful patterns.
In Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, Grace loves stories of all kinds. When her class begins planning a production of Peter Pan, Grace plans to audition for Peter. A classmate informs her she’s can be Peter because she’s a girl. Another declares that Grace can’t be Peter because she’s black. Grace’s mom and aunt encourage Grace to try out. Her Nana takes her to see a ballerina from Trinidad. Grace auditions and amazes her classmates when she performs as Peter Pan.
In Splash, Anna Hibiscus, we meet Anna and her extended family spending a day at an African beach.
Everyone is busy at the beach but no one wants to get wet. Her grandparents are reading the newspaper. Mama and the aunties are braiding their hair. Her female cousins are playing in the sand, the boys play soccer. Only Anna Hibiscus wants to go swimming. In the end, we see a loving extended family enjoying themselves in the waves.
Children of many cultures have enjoyed these delightful stories of childhood. We need more diverse books like these.