Do the books on your centre’s bookshelves reflect the ethnic make-up of your families? Can every child in your centre read books, lots of them, every day, about children who look like them?
These are important questions for anyone responsible for young children’s wellbeing.
If you are of European descent, you’ll find thousands of picture books filled with people that look kind of like you, but if you have some ancestors from any other part of the world, it may be trickier to see yourself in books.
As Soraya Chemaly writes in the Huffington Post:
The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education has conducted a survey of children’s and young adult books published each year since 1985. Of an estimated 5,000 books released in 2012, only 3.3% featured African-Americans; 2.1% featured Asian-Americans or Pacific Islanders; 1.5% featured Latinos; and only 0.6% featured Native Americans. God forbid you have the audacity to be a girl of color and expect to see yourself as cherished by our culture.
That’s obviously a problem. So today we have some ways to help you make sure your home or education centre isn’t contributing to this huge imbalance.
Your community will have its own unique mix of families so I won’t try to make a list here of books with characters who may or may not match your reality – homes and centres in Nigeria will need to have a differently-balanced book collection from those in Canada or Australia.
Instead, what I have is two lists: one of some recent, fantastic picture books that have characters with a range of skin tones and ethnicities, suitable for any centre or family, and another with a bunch of links to specific lists that might be useful in your neighbourhood.
Fantastic books to buy for your centre
These are books that not only feature characters with a range of skin tones and ethnic backgrounds, but also have positive messages in terms of gender equality, different kinds of families, and other great values.
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, by Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora
Splash! Anna Hibiscus, by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia
Keys, by Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan
Oh Hogwash, Sweet Pea! by Ngāreta Gabel, translated by Hannah Rainforth, illustrated by Ali Teo and Astrid Jensen
That’s not a Hippopotamus! by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Sarah Davis
Ada Twist: Scientist, by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña
The Longest Breakfast, by Jenny Bornholdt, illustrated by Sarah Wilkins
Mama Panya’s Pancakes, by Mary and Rich Chamberlin, illustrated by Julia Cairns
Barnaby Bennett, by Hannah Rainforth, illustrated by Ali Teo
Have you seen Elephant? by David Barrow
Hush! A Thai Lullaby, by Minfong Ho, illustrated by Holly Meade
Happy Belly, Happy Smile, by Rachel Isadora
Roadworks (or Roadwork) by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock
A Summery Saturday Morning, by Margaret Mahy
Superhero Levi, by Robyn Kahukiwa
A Gift for Ana, by Jane Va’afusuaga, illustrated by Azra Pinder-Pancho
Juliana’s Bananas, by Ruth Walton
I am so brave, by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Sara Gillingham
Counting in the South Pacific, by Jill Jaques, illustrated by Deborah Hinde
Wooden Arms, by Sarah Johnson, illustrated by Scott Tulloch
Places to look for more
Thalia Kehoe Rowden was a Playcentre kid before attending St John’s Hill Kindergarten in Whanganui, New Zealand. Some time later, she became a Baptist church minister, then a mother and a writer. She now lives with her husband and two small children in Wellington, New Zealand, and knows more about dinosaurs and astronomy than ever before. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and her parenting, spirituality and social justice website, Sacraparental.