Building diversity into reading with kids.

I have made a point to expose my children to as much diversity as I can. I’m not just talking about the obvious ways people look different than us, either. Different religions, economic levels, families with same sex parents, single parents, different political beliefs than us (to a point); children and adults that are differently-abled, immigrant groups, and more. We live in a more diverse neighborhood and send our kids to a more diverse school. I do not think that school ratings mean anything (you can ask me about that sometime if you want to know more), but rather the representation within the staff and teachers, as well as the students, and the teacher happiness and support is what matters most in a school. 

With all of that said… we are still an upper middle class white family. My children have it good, and it’s hard for them to know that as young as we are. We do a lot of talking about helping others and how fortunate we are, and why mom and dad work as hard as we do, etc. But for now, at the young ages, I am focusing on teaching them that all kinds of people are worth knowing, being kind to, and celebrating. I don’t want to raise kids who “don’t see color” or who ignore the differences people have to try and achieve some homogenized melting pot ideal – I think losing the differences people bring to America is the worst thing we can do. I am trying to raise good humans, that are kind to others and see the good in everyone and everything, and we start with seeing and celebrating diversity in all its forms.

I find books are one of the best ways to do this. Not only books about different cultures, diversity, and different lifestyles – but books that have non-white main characters without that being the main point of the story. Books that have kids in wheelchairs, and a classmate with two dads, and a little friend who doesn’t celebrate Christmas because they’re Jewish… and having these be normal things that aren’t pointed out FOR their diversity in the story – they are just as much a natural part of the story as any other character. I have learned that not only do we want to celebrate diversity and teach our kids to value it – but to also see it as normal. That it should be normal to have friends and classmates that are all different – that their white, middle-class, blonde blue-eyed life isn’t the only normal.

So by all means – buy books about diversity that are age appropriate for your children. Start them young, and donate them to schools and preschools as they get older so that local schools have those resources, too. But also, cruise the bookstore (yes, this often involves going to the actual store to shop), and look for books with representation in its characters that don’t make their differences the main point of the story. That’s just as important as the books that celebrate diversity. And make sure you actually read them regularly with your kids. Talk about how people are different – don’t shy away from it. We all see the differences – it’s silly to try and pretend we don’t. Let’s celebrate them, honor them, recognize how different experiences and perspectives bring so much additional vibrancy to our lives.

While I’m on a soapbox, I’ll say one more thing. Read some books about racism, different cultures, and how those who look different than you experience life for yourself, too. Make sure some of the books you read are written by authors that aren’t American, and by some that are of different races and experiencing America. Do the same homework for yourself while you do it with your kids, so you’re ready for those hard conversations as they get older. We, as a society, can’t ignore the issues of racism, sexism, and ableism in our culture anymore. We owe our children better than that – and it’s our responsibility to work on ourselves and our own biases (we ALL have them, conscious and unconscious) while helping raise a generation to be different.

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