“Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books” by Walter Dean Myers
Recently the New York Times ran an article written by former National Ambassador of Children’s Literature and prolific writer of children’s and young adult books, Walter Dean Myers. The title says it all – how have we let children’s book inaccurately represent the racial make up of our country. Myers’ makes one argument after another about how limiting children’s’ exposure to people unlike themselves, limits the readers themselves. Here is the link for the article and it really can’t be missed:
I also want to mention an article written by the poet, Nancy Larrick, in 1965 called “The All-White World of Children’s Literature.” Larrick looked at the recent publications of the time and found exactly what Walter Dean Myers’ found – a disproportionate amount of white children in books versus people of color. That was almost 50 years ago and, although progress has certainly been made, we have yet to achieve the parity we need. I love her article and always have my students read it. Here’s the link:
I heard from a friend out in Portland who read Myers’ article with gusto. Just a few years ago her daughter, a NYC elementary school teacher, adopted a little girl named Nissi from Africa. It was then that it hit Liz smack in the face that there was a dearth of books in which Nissi could see herself. This article was spot on in her opinion.
When I was a little girl I was given Dick and Jane basals to read. While Dick and Jane were white, I never saw myself in them. First, they were pretty darn boring, weren’t they? And Jane wore dresses all the time! That wasn’t me at all. I have a Christmas photo of me at about age 5 wearing a horrible “itchy” dress for the holiday but I was wearing my holster and pistols as well. I never saw tomboys in books and although that is nowhere as egregious as children of color only seeing whites, it did strike me as odd as a kid. Actually, what I thought that I was probably odd because I didn’t see anyone like me. Do children of color feel like outsiders then? I think they do.
I will plan on pointing out wonderful multicultural books as this blog goes forward. It’s time to change. Do look at my reviews of Separate is Never Equal and War Within These Walls to learn about two recent multicultural books I have loved.