Books help children make sense of the world around them. We choose books to read to our children that help them to understand their own lives and experiences. If we’re moving to a new house, for example, we may pick up some picture books about moving to make our child feel more comfortable with the life changing event. Books are how children learn and make sense about the world around them. More and more, children’s book publishers are becoming more conscious that diversity and representation in books matter to all children.
Why is it important to choose picture books with diverse characters?
Storytime is a great bonding experience for parents and children, and often provides a great opportunity for discussions about sensitive topics. From “how do I deal with a bully” to “being afraid of the dark”, books are a great way to initiate conversations about topics that may seem heavy or uncomfortable for parents. Parents often have a difficult time finding the right words to discuss topics such as racism or sexual orientation. Such topics can more easily be approached through the lens of a story book and can help children to feel more comfortable asking questions and help parents feel more comfortable answering.
Celebrate What Makes Us Special
Just as important as the subject matter are the characters in the story. Every child should be able to see themselves in the books on their shelf. Seeing a child who looks like them go through a shared experience can help children feel less alone in that experience. Books that celebrate our individuality are important for children's self-esteem and to promote self-love.
Expand Our World View & Foster Connection, Empathy and Understanding
Equally as important as seeing themselves reflected in the picture books they read, children should be able to see individuals who do not look like them.
Books featuring images of diverse characters (diverse skin tones and abilities) can help children develop empathy and understand the experiences of others who aren’t of the same race, religion, sexual orientation or socio-economic status. Children connect with characters in story books. They empathize with the characters on the page when they are sad and they feel happy when they see the characters in the book smiling and enjoying themselves. When those characters are of diverse skin tones or diverse abilities, children are better able to connect with those who look like them in the real world outside of the book.
Creates an Inclusive World View
Books that feature characters of different cultural backgrounds and diverse abilities are a great visual representation to show children that there are many different kinds of people in our big beautiful world. Imagine if a child’s first encounter with a person wearing a hijab is in the street. They are likely to have questions about what they are seeing. They may be afraid, or confused by the individual's appearance. Now, imaging if that child has been seeing characters wearing a hijab in their storybooks. When they encounter the individual in the street, they remember the characters from the book, providing the child with a level of comfort that there is nothing out of the ordinary about this person’s appearance because they’ve seen characters wearing this garment many times before.
Incorporating books that feature a variety of family makeups and characters of various races, religions and sexual orientation impacts children’s attitudes towards those differences. Diverse books help children understand those who have a different lived experience than them by opening a window into that experience. Imagine if a child only reads books featuring a Mom and a Dad, they will view their family make-up as “normal” and acceptable. When they encounter a child from a single parent household or a child from a two-Mom or two-Dad family they are more likely to view this family dynamic as different, or perhaps even as inferior.
Celebrate Our Same-Ness
While we may come from different religious or ethnic backgrounds, books are a great way to connect us and to show children what is universal in our shared experiences.
At Chickadee Kids Company, we are firm believers in the importance of having a diverse bookshelf and we have curated a collection of children’s books featuring diverse characters as well as books about racism for children as young as toddlers.
Visit our collection of diversity & inclusion books for children here.