A parent explains the importance of diversity and representation in children's books

Diversity is beneficial to all
Diversity is beneficial to all

"Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books."

"For many years, non-white readers have too frequently found the search futile," wrote Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita of Education at Ohio State University, a specialist in African American children’s literature.

The infographic below illustrates the small number of books that depict characters from diverse backgrounds. Children of colour are poorly represented, with a combined 23% representation in books, while stories depicting white characters take up half the market. 

This image was created using American research, and shows an improvement on past results, but the key message is that children are not being exposed to enough diversity in the books they read.

Diversity in Children's Books 

Diversity in Children’s Books

   * See full citation below

I like to think that in South Africa research would reveal a much higher number, what with the efforts of Nali'bali and Book Dash and other local initiatives that strive to address our literacy crisis and education shortfalls.

Must read: 

But why is it important for children to read books that contain a variety of characters? We asked Julie Kynaston, South African blogger at Heart Mama Blog, to provide some insight.

"Other kinds of kids are also the heroes"

She says that as a white adoptive mom of three black kids her eyes have been freshly opened to just how white the world really is.

She explains that diverse representation in books is important not only so that every kid can see themselves as the hero of the story, but so that every kid can understand that other kinds of kids are also the heroes of the story.

"A world that shines whiteness" 

"Representation really matters - for my black kids and for your white kids. They need to be introduced to multiple narratives from a young age and see black characters take the lead vs being a sidekick," Julie told us.

"Just imagine a world where our kids grow up understanding that diversity should be celebrated and that, yes, we are all different, but we are also all equal,” she describes. "Books are a great way to start having these discussions about race with our kids."

"One way that I can help my kids develop a healthy self-identity in a world that shines whiteness," she says, "is to be intentional about exposing them to books where they can see themselves reflected.”  

"I want my daughter to choose to be the brown princess in the book who has an afro and who looks like her over the blonde princess with the wavy hair that touches the ground. This can only happen if the books that they read have brown princesses in them."

"Stories teach us empathy"

Leila Sales, a book publisher and young adult novelist, famously explained it like this:

Parent24 has partnered with local initiatives to create Storytime, a space where we promote reading in South Africa by sharing information, resources and  –  perhaps most importantly  –  children's stories.  

Browse Storytime for beautiful local stories to read, listen to or download today. 

If you'd like to join us, or contribute, or find out more, please reach out via email

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Full citation: Huyck, David and Sarah Park Dahlen. (2019 June 19). Diversity in Children’s Books 2018. sarahpark.com blog. Created in consultation with Edith Campbell, Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/picture-this-diversity-in-childrens-books-2018-infographic/

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