Sparks firmly believes that children can start absorbing an anti-bias message just from what we read to them because children’s books are one of the first ways we introduce infants to the world.
“The simplest [way] is to create a very diverse environment with accurate books and pictures of people of this country in their current lives,” Sparks said.
Certainly there's a lot to overcome.
“One of the first stereotypes [children] learn is about Native Americans,” Sparks said. “Native Americans wear feathers or they wear buckskins or they go around shooting bows and arrows or they live in teepees.”
Children learn these stereotypes from “thanksgiving greeting cards, they learn it from Disney decorations, they learn it from children’s books that haven’t changed how they look. It’s around them.”
Many parents have complained for years about the lack of diversity in books for the 0 to 5 set.
Last year, 5,000 kids books were published. The center evaluated 3,600 of them for “multicultural” content – books by or about people of color. The results: 3.3% of books were about African Americans, 2.1% about Asian Americans and 1.5% about Latinos. Only 0.6% of books published last year were about Native peoples.
Megan Schliesman, a children’s librarian at the University of Wisconsin said as a result, little children are not seeing an accurate representation of “who we are as a nation in terms of diversity.”
To counteract this, a few people have come up with resources:
- Schliesman and her colleagues have created lists of publishers of color, the 50 multicultural books that every child should know, and even a list of online resources where multicultural books are available.
- Journalist and new mother, Christabel Nsiah-Buadi, has started a “global south” story-time for kids, “Awesome Little Being,” in toy stores around Los Angeles.
Nsiah-Buadi said she started the story time after realizing the lack of books that spoke to her own 6 month old’s heritage. She began by volunteering at her local library story time, bringing books with diverse characters with her.
“I want kids of all stripes to see themselves in books,' she said, "not as the friend, or the sidekick, or as the lesson, but as the protagonist."
Have a favorite children's book? Share it with us here.