Ever since I can remember I’ve loved reading. As I kid I couldn’t wait to open a book so I could be transported to new places, meet different people and be part of exciting adventures. To me, reading was a brilliant way to learn more about the world.
Today I’m still fascinated by stories. I’ve just finished The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, which follows the lives of three African-American families after the abolition of slavery. I learnt so much about that time and it really helped me to understand what life was like for those families.
Connecting through reading
Books can open your mind to other people’s history, their situations and their circumstances – but only if you have the opportunity to read their stories. According to research into children’s books about diversity by The National Literacy Trust almost a third of kids and young people don’t see themselves reflected in the books they read.
Reading is a window to other people’s worlds – and we need diverse books to show that everyone’s world is different. Whether it’s ethnicity, gender, physical abilities or other differences it’s important to have empathy books so children can learn about each other. From my own reading I know how books help me to understand other people better once I know their stories. For kids, seeing diversity in what they read is a great way for them to connect with other kids who may not be the same as them. It can teach them to appreciate their differences and to build empathy.
And isn’t reading more interesting when things aren’t always the same? What better way to spark a child’s curiosity than for them to read books with diverse characters and stories.
Inclusive kids’ books
In last year’s study from The National Literacy Trust nearly 40% of children and young people said they’d like the characters in books to be more like them. How can kids enjoy reading if they don’t identify with the characters in their books? They won’t be drawn into the story and have the excitement of turning the page to find out what happens next. It worries me that if children don’t see themselves represented in books they might lose interest in reading altogether.
The good news is that some progress is being made. The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education [CLPE], which produces an annual survey on diversity in children’s books, has seen a rise in the number of books featuring minority ethnic characters. Most significant is an increase in multicultural picture books, with nearly 50% of picture books now including a character of colour. The CLPE report has sparked some great initiatives with UK schools and organisations to improve diversity in children’s reading.
Also in the UK, the National Literacy Trust is providing resources, training and programmes to promote inclusive children’s books in schools. And In America, the non-profit organisation We Need Diverse Books™ has been set up to bring more books about empathy to children and young people.
There’s obviously still a long way to go for us to have more children’s books about kindness and diversity. I hope progress continues – and fast. Reading diverse stories from a young age can help children to grow up feeling included, accepted and tolerant of others. And, of course, I hope like me they’ll never lose their love of reading.
Reading list: Children’s books about diversity, empathy and kindness
- Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
- It’s OK To Be Different by Todd Parr
- Lovely by Jess Hong
- Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
- The Barefoot Book of Children by Tessa Strickland and David Dean
More diverse book ideas