Diversity in children’s literature

“Diversity” is a word that we’re hearing more and more lately, and that’s a good thing. “We need diverse books” is the slogan of a campaign that raises awareness on the lack of representation of minorities in literature. Especially relevant is that representation in children’s literature.

But what does “diversity” really mean?

Technically, we say that something is diverse when there is a (wide) range of type of things included in something.

When we talk about diversity in books we make emphasis on other very important concepts such as “respect”, “understanding” and “inclusion”. We refer to diverse books when we describe stories that represent the differences between people, the unique character of the individual and the recognition and support of traits and attitudes that differ from the ones we’re used to.

Lately, the discussion about diversity is focused on the awareness and representation of races/ethnicities, the inclusion of disabled people and sexual minorities, as well as the misrepresentation of the women in the media. Those are very important debates and they need to be reviewed and taken into account, in order to provide a better reflection of the reality we live in.

‘Cause let’s face it: It doesn’t matter where you are from; the chances that the majority of books in your bookcase are from American/British authors are very high. And when you are a kid and you read books, the impact that those stories have on you are tremendous. If you only get to read about the same culture, the same kind of people, the same experiences, you’re not going to get a real representation of the world and your understanding of the cultural differences will be very limited. However, if you read about diverse cultures, and nationalities and ethnicities, your scope will be broader and you will be able to appreciate the differences that make us unique. We will therefore be taking big steps towards a more inclusive, less racist society.

But diversity doesn’t just mean different races. Diversity also means different cultures. There is no such thing as “African literature” – the people in Senegal have a different life than the people in Angola. In the same way than the people from Thailand have a different culture than the people from Japan. If you read a book from Peru you don’t have a vision of the South American lifestyle. Each culture is unique and special. And the way of telling stories is also different depending on the author’s origin. A book from Finland has a specific flair, a distinctive aura that cannot be imitated in – let’s say – Portugal, because their author’s experiences are not the same. And we’re missing all that because we’re buying only mainstream books, because we’re not spending time and resources to promote books from other countries.

When Ann Morgan woke up one day and took a look at her bookshelves she was amazed by the lack of diversity in it, and she decided to take action – she challenged herself to read a book from every country in the world in a year. Her quest was successful and the result of her compelling experience is described in her blog A Year of Reading the World. Her story was an inspiration for my project.

Think of all the places you’ve been, and all the countries you want to visit. Now think of all the ones that you won’t get to see in your life.

Reading allows you to travel without going anywhere. There are no limits. What are you waiting for?

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