Diverse children’s books are essential for teaching children about the people—and world—around them. There are many benefits to introducing diverse books into your children’s library, ranging from social developments that help children form better friendships and interpersonal connections to emotional development benefits such as helping children develop empathy for others.
Adding diverse book to your children’s picture book library does take some planning, forethought and consideration. If you want to know the best way to introduce diverse children’s books into your children’s library, consider the following 5 essential tips to help you get started.
Tip #1: Look for books which are inclusive
One of the great things about diverse children’s books is that there are a lot of options out there which range from straightforward non-fiction picture books about different cultures (such as holidays, food and countries) all the way to picture books which are inclusive. Inclusive books are those which feature characters and settings from different cultures without necessarily calling attention to their culture as being “different.” This helps children embrace diversity as something to accept rather than something to constantly view as “other.”
For instance, the “Once Upon a World” fairy tale series features classic fairy tales retold with characters from different cultures, but the books themselves do not draw attention to the fact that the adaptations are different from the standard European depictions of Snow White, Rapunzel, and so on.
Tip #2: Read the book yourself first
One of the most important things to do before introducing a diverse picture book into your children’s library is to read the book—and if possible, do some research on it—first. This is especially important if the book is older, as sometimes depictions that were acceptable years ago are no longer considered acceptable. For instance, many older children’s picture books about cultures from around the world published in the 1940s and 1950s feature what are now understood as caricatures—such as depicting Asian characters with exaggerated eyes or claiming that all people from a certain cultural background behave in monolithic ways.
Reading the book beforehand will also help you identify whether or not it is a diverse book worth reading. Are there characters from a different cultural background? Does the book fall under the categories of being about diversity, being about differences, or being inclusive? Reading the book before you add it to the library for children to read is the first step in weeding out books which may not hit the mark.
Tip #3: Include more than one book from the same culture
It’s important that you pick more than one book that focuses on the same culture or ethnicities. This will help children form a broader representative of that diverse culture, whereas having only one book that focuses on a specific culture will lead children to form the basis of their knowledge on that culture on a single representation. For example, having a single book with Chinese characters that it set in ancient China may lead children to view Chinese culture through that singular limited lens, whereas having books set in the present day will help children get a broader view on Chinese culture.
Remember: reading diverse books to your children is important. Keep the above tips in mind when curating your children’s picture book collection.