[This article was first written for and published on The Opinion Panel.]
As I was growing up, the children’s books I read mainly featured white, straight characters all of which could fit under the umbrella term of ‘white cishet’. They portrayed strong illusions of heteronormative (the suggestion or belief that only hetrosexual relationships are normal and that men and women have naturally different roles). This continued to be the case the older I got, even as my reading level matured.
Searching for diversity in the mainstream
Popular writers like Jacqueline Wilson, who we all know and have loved, Cathy Hopkins, Cathy Cassidy, Meg Cabot and Sarah Dessen have all written a great deal of bestsellers. But how many of their books have main characters that aren’t white, straight and able-bodied?
Sure, we could argue that the Tracey Beaker books fall under diversity. But again, Tracey herself fits in with white and cishet.
It was only in recent years though, that there have been books featuring characters of all different backgrounds, religions and ethnicity. It’s been spoken about and questioned many times over. Why aren’t there more books about black girls and boys going on adventures to battle dragons, trolls, flying on magic carpets and saving unicorns and fairies? More stories about little Muslim children playing games and being excited for iftar during Ramadan and decorating their homes for Eid? Why aren’t there stories about children having two mums or two dads? Where are the stories about single parents raising children?
We need to introduce more stories about Hispanic children, black children, Middle Eastern children, Asian children. Children who use wheelchairs, wear glasses, who are deaf. Children who have cerebral palsy or autism.
We need more inclusion.
Paving the way for diversity
Books like A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll help to make a difference in a child’s life. The children’s book tells the story of an 11-year-old Addie who campaigns for a memorial of the witch trials that took place in her Scottish hometown; she relates to the ‘witches’ and challenges how people in her town see her, and her autism.
Publishers like Knights Of are also amazing, especially for featuring diversity on their covers. Their illustrations feature children from different ethnic groups bringing more inclusion, diversity and fairness to the genre.
But we’re still a long way off where we should be, held back by many popular authors who fail to bring diversity to their literature. Sarah Dessen for example, writes young adult literature and she features no diverse characters in her books. Like none at all.
Why we need more inclusive literature
There are children who need to feel seen. Children who need to be able to read books and feel like they see themselves in the words, and in the pictures. We need to be able to do better, to include every child, every background, every race and ethnicity, every religion, every disability, every sexuality.
I was able to find this list of a few best diverse children’s books.
Books for Diversity is also good to check out for more books which feature more cultures and ethnicity. I know I’ll be getting some of these for my boyfriend’s nieces and reading it to them, so they can learn more about other backgrounds, languages and cultures.