It may go without saying but I am a bit obsessive about books. It is not just that I enjoy reading them but I also enjoy thinking about them, talking about them, writing about them, deciding whether to keep one or let one go to a friend or the thrift store. If I do decide to keep a book after reading it, I enjoy deciding what shelf it is going to live on. I enjoy going to the library to check books out but often feel a bit sad at having to return them. I like picking out books for my kids and I love reading to my kids though they days of me reading aloud to them may be numbered. I even enjoy cataloging my books and the site I have been using to do that for a couple of years is Pinterest. I have two book boards (one for grown-up books I am reading and one for kid and teen books I am reading) though quick reads, re-reads or books read for work often don’t get pinned. All this to say that when I was chosen to participate in the Multicultural Children’s Book Day as a blogger and book reviewer and when my book to review never arrived, I thought I could look over some recent books I’ve pinned, select a couple with multicultural characters to write about and thus still have a nice post to contribute. But, my pins demonstrate the need for this special day—finding books for kids with various cultures represented can sometimes be a bit of work. It is not that those books don’t exist, but they are just not always the ones in hand. And, more importantly, not always the ones in our kids’ hands.
Looking at the Pinterest board, the multicultural books I read in 2013 include The Path of Names by Ari Goelman (mostly Jewish characters), Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill (African American and Native American characters), The Year of Miss Agnes also by Kirkpatrick Hill (Native American characters), My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman (Jewish and Indian characters), Penina Levine is a Hard Boiled Egg by Rebecca O’Connell (Jewish and Middle Eastern characters). This is out of about 50 books and the thing is that while I read all these books, my kids didn’t. They read a couple of these but some I reviewed or read myself. Because one of my kids is in a bi-lingual program, she is exposed to a good number of Latino and other Spanish speaking characters in books at school. And, the other kid read the fantastic Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis in class this year. I am mindful of providing them with books from a variety of cultural and historical perspectives and my obsession with books (buying, borrowing, trading, and reviewing them) means there is always a good flow of good books through the house. But, again, it would be nice to encourage them to read even more multicultural books and it would be excellent if all kids had some great and diverse books to read.
Hence Multicultural Children’s Book Day: Celebrating Diversity in Children’s Literature. The co-creators of this unique event are Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press and they have assembled bloggers and sponsors to raise awareness of the importance of getting these kinds of books to kids. The main sponsors for this event are Wisdom Tales Press, Lee & Low Books, Chronicle Books, and Susan Daniel Fayad: Author of My Grandfather’s Masbaha.
Here is why they are all involved…
Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.
Tomorrow, January 27th, is the big day. I will be back to link to some fabulous book reviews and websites that are involved in this event. In the meantime, because I didn’t get my book in the mail to review (and if it arrives late, I will post a review then), I have decided to share one of my favorite books with you. The ones I mention above are all wonderful and I recommend them highly. Yet the book that kept coming to mind for me is Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe.
This Caldecott-medal winning story of two sisters in Africa was inspired by a folktale originally collected in the late 1800′s. It tells of Manyara and Nyasha, both beautiful but otherwise very different. Manyara was bad tempered and mean and longed to be queen. Nyasha was kind and gentle. When the king begins his search for a wife, it is Nyasha’s compassion and goodness, not her beauty, which bring her to his attention. The story is magical and enchanting and the lovely images are based on ancient ruins found in Zimbabwe. The character’s names all come from the Shona language. Though this book relates the story of a culture my family is not part of, it expresses many universal themes and so the unfamiliar setting and details are made familiar by shared archetypes and values. It is a book my children and I have treasured for year. First published in 1987, it is a book easily found in libraries and online and one that would benefit every classroom, school library and home collection.
Mary Ellen Chase said, ”There is no substitute for books in the life of a child” and who would disagree? Ideally the books are children read not only reflect the realities they know but the greater world that they are a part of. Ensuring that children have books with multicultural content can do that and create a world that is more amazing and understandable as well.