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Multicultural Literature for Children
Childhood is a very significant stage in life. As children engage in the continuous process of learning about the environment around them and more so about themselves adults are obligated to responsibly plan educational experiences (Yoo-Lee, Fowler, Adkins, Kim & Davis, 2014). In order to successively and positively integrate and function within the society, children have to be molded in a way that allows them to learn about themselves so as to achieve a good identity of self. They have to also learn what social interactions involve and more so recognize the many ways in which they are similar to others as well as with regard to how different from others. These are referred to as psychosocial thinking patterns which should mature as motor skills and cognitive skills develop (Sutherland, Arbuthnot & Monson, 1991).
Psychologists are continuously in an endeavor to discover how children relate to these aspects in different stages of childhood development. In an effort to enable literature to positively impact on the development processes in children, it important for adults to understand children’s needs, value systems at different ages, skills and capabilities at different ages, reading interests at different stages which significantly contribute to the literary experiences these children achieve (Wolf, 2014).
As such, literature is one of the most powerful vehicles that parents and teachers can employ towards enabling children understand their place in the family, in a community setting and in the world at large. It is important to point out that prior to the age a child is able to learn how to read and write, parents, family members, child care providers as well as teachers have already endeavored to read out stories to them (Wolf, 2014). These stories involve the experiences of children in far way places, stories about children from the distant past as well as stories telling of children who live lives that are quite different from their own. The messages and impressions these stories relay to children have been known to last a lifetime. We are living in an age of virtual experience and as such, cultivating a good, appropriate and sound reading culture among children can translate to a realization of the most personal literary experiences molded by the interaction of the reader, the audience and the text (McGillis, 2013).
Children’s books invoke children to apply their imagination, cultivate their vocabulary and more so gain insights as to their personalities relate with the personalities they perceive of other individuals. This therefore implies that if titles can be perceived as a reflection of the diversity of the different groups of people within their environment, then books are critical towards enabling children to learn how to respect not only their cultural background but the cultural background of other people as well (Winograd, 2011). Children’s literature is therefore a mirror through which children can get to understand themselves as well as a window through which they can perceive the differences relative to diverse groups as they interact with each other through play, learning, working together, finding solutions to common problems and in overcoming obstacles. Multicultural literature for children can thus provide a great stepping stone in enabling the young ones to understand the fact that in spite of all the prevalent differences witnessed, all people regardless of cultural backgrounds share common sentiments and aspirations of love, fear, victory, sadness as well as the desire for fair play and justice (Derman-Sparks & Ramsey, 2011).
However, it is also common to find that some literature addressed to children do not always relay the information that responsible adults want children to experience. Some of these books contain the same form of biases and stereotypes regularly portrayed through different media channels (Galda, Sipe, Liang & Cullinan, 2013). Children are in most cases interested in the plot contained in a narrative as well as the characters portrayed therein. It is therefore prudent to perceive that it is least unlikely that children will be able to differentiate if a book mirrors sexist or racist messages as well as other common social stereotypes or not. If children are constantly exposed to such biased cultural representations via pictures and words, it quite possible that these negative reflections of the society can negatively impact on the thinking process relative to some members of the society leading to adverse societal outcomes (McGillis, 2013).
Adults have to therefore responsibly employ their own knowledge of contemporary societal settings to wisely select children’s literature that is not only entertaining but also offers children with an accurate representation of the society around them (Hutchinson, Rose, Bederson, Weeks & Druin, 2013). It also important to point out that there is relatively little literature for children that provide an appropriate reflection of people from different races or people with mental and or physical disabilities (Vasquez, 2014). This necessitates the need for adults to proactively act responsibly towards ensuring that literature provided for children is not only of the highest quality but also that which enables children to positively interact with diverse groups within a society.
Selecting an appropriate multicultural book for children should be done in the manner as applied in selecting any other appropriate literature book. Common literary elements of characterization, narrative plot, setting, theme, style and the author’s perception all define the quality of an interesting book (McGillis, 2013). More so, a good children’s book in a multicultural setting will not only challenge the stereotypes portrayed through mass media but also enhance the promotion of true and realistic images of the lives lived by people from different backgrounds. Such books will serve to enable children to have positive as well as accurate representations of the society’s different cultural groups that serve to define the community, the society and the world at large. This can be quite vital in instance where children interact with such groups and enable them to identify the prevalent biases and stereotypes and learn how to positively interact with such groups.
An interview with Kimberly Allers, an expert on parenting provided valuable insights as to why multicultural books are important literature for children.
Me: As a parent, share some of your experiences with regard to multicultural books for children.
Mrs. Allers: There have been instances where when my children have queried as to why there are no African Americans or Latinos in some of the books offered to them both at home and in school. My daughter for instance always seemed to long seeing pretty little girls with dark kinky hair similar to her own. All the princesses and princes in the children books always portray an image that noble members of the society can only have blonde, straight and long flowing hair, this seemed to raise so many questions in her mind as her hair is the complete opposite.
Me: How did you meet this challenge as a responsible and knowledgeable parent?
Mrs. Allers: That is a very insightful question. I had to engage a lot of my free time to look for children’s literature that offered images of young boys and girls from different ethnic backgrounds within a context that was not only interesting and congruent to such cultures but also delivered positive ideals. I saw and understood that this was very important for their personal esteem and an important determining factor towards positive and productive social interactions. This is something that I sensed strongly.
Me: How important is it that the literary community avails multicultural books for children relaying positive messages of cohesiveness and respect for each other’s ethnic background?
Mrs. Allers: We now have a large and diverse literary community. It is important that this community is sensitized on the need for children’s book with a positively oriented multicultural context. It is critical that they understand the negative effect on the broader society that continued children exposure to biased representations of the society has on our children. These unwarranted distortions will most probably be ingrained in their young minds and this unfortunately projects a sad future. This community has an opportunity to create a positive future for our children by offering accurate accounts on the lives of people from different race backgrounds in a positive manner. Such books should encompass the lives of people from the gay and lesbian families as well as people with mental and or physical disabilities. Regardless of the cultural orientations or disabilities, children should be allowed to live in a future that respects human life.
Me: Thank you Mrs. Allers for your positive and insightful message for the literary community. I do share your sentiments and it is the high time that the literary community is proactively engaged towards this end.
This work has enabled me to catch a glimpse of just how much literature affects the society both negatively and more so positively. Children’s experiences can translate to either positive or negative social interactions (Vasquez, 2014). This is especially the case as we live in a cosmopolitan world where advances in transportation and communication have turned the world into a global village. As discussed by Sutherland, Arbuthnot & Monson (1991), the childhood stage is quite important in any human beings life. It is a time when the psychosocial development is most easily influenced. This is the stage at which multicultural literature should be availed to children bearing in mind their age.
The fact that we are now living in a multicultural society awash with mass media literature that offers a distorted perspective of the general society, it is important that the literature community plays it life defining role by presenting the society with positive multicultural contexts that offer a true and accurate representation of the broader community. As McGillis (2013) provides, different cultures have realized growth in human cultural development at a rate faster than what other cultures achieved. Past economic social and political misgivings are still fresh in the minds of many people as is portrayed through mass media channels. However, the society is slowly coming of age against such biases and stereotypes and the literary community should communicate this through children’s books.
The authors used in this project all share a common ethos, pathos and logos such that the audience perceives that the message contained therein has the best notions at heart with regard to children’s psychosocial development. As Botelho & Rudman (2010) provide, childrens literature is perceived by children as a way with which to see and choose to relate with people from different cultural backgrounds. Wolf (2014) also presents the same message calling for children to be encouraged at a young age to seek positive and productive interactions regardless of the form of disabilities or cultural backgrounds.
As an aspiring children books’ writer, it is important for me to understand what impact my work will have on children. I desire that my work be appreciated for the positive impact it creates in children as future contributors of human development (Hutchinson, Rose, Bederson, Weeks & Druin, 2013). Rhetoric from the different books and journals reviewed in my project have enabled me realize excellent insights on how I should endeavor to incorporate multicultural themes in my work.
Psychologists have shown that incorporating literary styles that will enhance multicultural interactions in a positive manner within the society translate to a satisfied audience. Parents have been seeking to have a wide range of multicultural children’s books but have limited options. As an aspiring children’s books writer, I intend to join writers community with a vision and drive similar to mine. As Winograd (2011) provides in his book Sports biographies of African American football players: the racism of colorblindness in children’s literature, children too seek literature that incorporates multicultural themes. This was especially highlighted during the interview with Mrs. Allers, children need to relate with people from diverse backgrounds through literature so that they can relate with their friends and peers in the social setting. Schools are in themselves a mirror of the community, children will thus relate better with children from diverse backgrounds when are enabled through enabling multicultural literature.
Botelho, M. J., & Rudman, M. K. (2010). Critical multicultural analysis of children’s literature: Mirrors, windows, and doors. Routledge.
Derman-Sparks, L., & Ramsey, P. G. (2011). What if all the kids are white?: Anti-bias multicultural education with young children and families. Teachers College Press.
Galda, L., Sipe, L., Liang, L., & Cullinan, B. (2013). Literature and the child. Cengage Learning.
Hutchinson, H. B., Rose, A., Bederson, B. B., Weeks, A. C., & Druin, A. (2013). The international children’s digital library: a case study in designing for a multilingual, multicultural, multigenerational audience. Information Technology and Libraries, 24(1), 4-12.
McGillis, R. (2013). Voices of the Other: Children’s Literature and the Postcolonial Context. London: Routledge.
Sutherland, Z., Arbuthnot, M. H. & Monson, D. L. (1991). Children and books. New York: HarperCollins.
Vasquez, V. M. (2014). Negotiating critical literacies with young children. Routledge.
Winograd, K. (2011). Sports biographies of African American football players: the racism of colorblindness in children’s literature. Race Ethnicity and Education, 14(3), 331-349.
Wolf, S. A. (2014). Interpreting literature with children. Routledge.
Yoo-Lee, E., Fowler, L., Adkins, D., Kim, K. S., & Davis, H. N. (2014). Evaluating Cultural Authenticity in Multicultural Picture Books: A Collaborative Analysis for Diversity Education. The Library, 84(3).