When I started my read aloud journey three years ago I had two rules:
1. I vowed to read to my children daily.
2. I promised to read them stories that had characters who looked like them that they could relate to.
Let’s face it, finding good, quality books featuring people of color is hard! Today, it’s a lot easier than it used to be years ago, but the struggle is real.
Many of the books with Black characters are either related to the Civil Rights era, slavery, natural hair, or historical biographies of famous people’s lives like Martin Luther King Jr., Harriett Tubman and Malcolm X. Don’t get me wrong, some of those books are great, but I don’t want to read my children books about slaves or natural hair all the time. Besides, those types of stories are not always appropriate for bedtime. If you’re a parent of a Black or Brown (multicultural) child, you’ll understand what I mean.
If I see one more children’s book about Civil Rights, slavery or how much Black girls love their natural hair I’m going to scream! Where are the quality books like The Boxcar Children and Harry Potter for Black and Brown children?
When I think back to my own experiences growing up, particularly my early childhood literary memories I don’t ever recall reading a children’s book where a Black child (or a child of another multicultural race) was the main character. Luckily, there were several television shows in the 90’s that featured positive Black role models that I admired.
So, I decided to try and make it different for my children. I read a wide array of books that includes everything from classics to non-fiction books. In addition, my goal is to fill their experiences with a full spectrum of Brown and Black characters in a variety of books. I want their experiences of story and representations of the world to include people of color, particularly people whom they can imagine being like Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Misty Copeland, Michelle Obama or some of the fictional characters we read in books like Lola (from Anna McQuinn’s series).
Of course, I believe all children should be exposed to a wide range of people, experiences, and cultures. Wouldn’t it be nice if all parents and educators felt that way? The bottom line is we still need greater diversity in children’s books. But, even more importantly, we need people actually to buy and read them to their children and grandchildren so publishers will continue to publish them.
If you’re looking for some book suggestions for African-American children check out some of our favorites here.
Your turn: Do you expose your children to a wide range of characters in books? Or, do you just stick to your own race or culture? What are some of your read aloud rules when reading to your children? Feel free to share in the comments.