Sunday, July 11, 2010

Children's Literature Stereotypes

Saturday I ventured out to my first Ethiopian cultural event. While there, I attended a children's literature workshop discussing the stereotypes found in cultural and adoption literature. My English Major Brain kicked into high gear, and I listened attentively to the presentation.

Here are some noteworthy ideas from the workshop:
  • Choose books where the main character is a person of color, and the story is just a story. For example, not every book with a person of color needs to be about the person feeling like a person of color. Choose a book that's about something else but the main character just happens to be of color. Example, "Lola at the Library."
  • Stay away from books that discuss "THE African American experience." There is no ONE African American experience; the stories are as many as there are people. And did you know that Africa is bigger than the US, China, and Europe combined? So often we generalize "Africans" but with the diversity of countries and cultures, there isn't just one African experience. See "Africa Is Not A Country."
  • Think about who holds the power in stories, and who is the victim. Are the heroes of the book consistently white? Are they generally boys, or girls? Who has the ideas and who solves the problems? Make sure there is diversity in gender and race.
  • Remember that people within a particular race look different from one another. Oftentimes we think of people who look different from us being of a different race, but I know in my family, my sister and I don't look a ton alike, and we have the same parents! It's good to choose books that show people of the same race looking different from one another. The book, "Jazz Baby," is a good example of this.
  • If the book isn't written in standard English -for example if it contains a dialect like a Southern dialect - how are the people speaking that dialect portrayed? Are they the "smart"ones of the story, or are they seen as second-rate?
  • Is the language used in the book inclusive?
One of the presenters shared that she was at the library with her 3-year-old and they were looking at a book about a princess. There was only one person of color in the book, and that person was the maid. What kind of message does that send to kids? This mom didn't check out that book because of the way it portrayed people of color.

I hope that I will put a lot of thought into the books my children have and how the books are portraying people around the globe. Regardless of what race my children are, I don't want to give them books that reinforce stereotypes or give them subtle messages that people of a particular race or gender have to be a certain way. I want them to dream BIG and not be held back by stereotypes regarding race and gender.

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