Children’s literature is critical to their growth, development, and maturity throughout their childhood and allows them to see the world in different ways. With the continuous evolution of society in the 21st Century, children’s books have also evolved to expand their diversity and inclusion of different races, genders, and other ethnic groups. Children are living in a unique society where diversity is part of their daily routine and they are exposed to a variety of situations; therefore, it is only appropriate that their books reflect some of the situations that they encounter in their own lives. Children are exposed to many different situations and people at school and in their communities; therefore, books enhance their real-world experiences and provide them with tools to grow and thrive within their surroundings (Koss, 2015). The increased diversity in children’s literature also enables children to learn how to accept others, regardless of their race or culture. At the same time, the transition to greater inclusion and diversity in children’s literature has not fully reached its ceiling and must continue to evolve going forward.
Diversity in children’s literature begins with picture books, which have become increasingly accepting of diversity in the form of multicultural pictures and stories, and children can learn about discrimination through these books (Koss, 2015). This reflects how children identify themselves and relate to others, and when children are from diverse cultures and cannot identify with the pictures that they see, they may feel marginalized or isolated from society (Koss, 2015). It is important for children to experience greater inclusion through the stories that are told in pictures, and these stories should include pictures of people from different races, ethnicities, and genders to provide a well-rounded experience for children (Koss, 2015).
With the ever-increasing prevalence of children in single parent and unique family structures, children may begin to recognize patterns in stories that mimic their own lives and expose them to families which are different from their own (White, 2015). Young children have the ability to recognize patterns and differences, and literature provides them with a window to new experiences that can be further discussed at school and in the home environment (White, 2015). Children should communicate regarding these experiences and teachers must play a significant role in enabling them to share their ideas and to open new doors to different forms of knowledge (White, 2015). Since children have great imaginations, it is important to allow them to explore their own ideas and to gain the support of others to explore these differences as best as possible, using the tools that are available (White, 2015).
One of the areas of weakness within children’s literature that requires further examination is how diversity and multiculturalism may contribute to bullying, and these experiences are very difficult for any child; however, literature has not yet expanded its portfolio at a high level to address bullying in a comprehensive manner (Flanagan, Vanden Hoek, Shelton, Kelly, Morrison, & Young, 2013). There are coping strategies that are prevalent within some of these books, but additional knowledge is required in this area to enable children to understanding how diversity may contribute to bullying and how to overcome these challenges (Flanagan et al., 2013). It is also important for children’s authors to examine how to integrate multicultural and diverse themes with bullying because there is a higher risk of these incidents taking place in schools and in the home environment (Flanagan et al., 2013). Children’s literature may bridge some of these gaps and provide opportunities for children to better understand how to overcome the challenges of bullying due to diversity and for other reasons within this platform (Flanagan et al., 2013).
Children’s literature must continue to expand its level of diversity and evolve to provide realistic portrayals of many communities. When these experiences are explored within literature, they provide children with opportunities to explore new ideas and to share them with their teachers, parents, and others in their surroundings. Children’s literature should also expand its ability to teach children about core values such as respect for all persons, acceptance of others, support of different groups, and integration with individuals and groups who may look different and communicate in different ways. These issues require authors to explore new options in children’s literature and to recognize the importance of expanding their knowledge so that they can understand the world around them more effectively. In addition, these tools prepare them for a variety of different experiences throughout their youth, some of which may be unfamiliar to them, and enable them to respond with a high level of respect for others and an understanding that their differences may make it difficult for them in unique ways.
Children’s literature has evolved significantly to become more inclusive and to provide opportunities for growth and development for young readers. With increased diversity, children learn about different racial and ethnic groups earlier in life and can better understand these differences as they grow and mature. It is important for children’s literature to provide examples of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in different ways, to examine critical issues of importance such as bullying, and to be mindful of how children learn and grow by reading these books and making sense of the world around them. These practices are necessary because they provide opportunities for children to explore new ideas and to adapt them to their own increasingly diverse surroundings.
- Flanagan, K. S., Hoek, K. K. V., Shelton, A., Kelly, S. L., Morrison, C. M., & Young, A. M. (2013). Coping with bullying: What answers does children’s literature provide?. School Psychology International, 34(6), 691-706.
- Koss, M. D. (2015). Diversity in contemporary picturebooks: A content analysis. Journal of Children’s Literature, 41(1), 32
- White, L. M. (2015). Impact of Children’s Literature on Family Structures and Children’s Perceptions of Family.