Are you still trying to find a good Christmas gift for your little one? Skip the toy section and head for the children’s books. There you’ll find a world of relevance, wonder, imagination fantasy and fiction.
This time of year book stores are chocked full of the hottest bestselling titles. As a kid, growing up, there weren’t many Black characters in the books I coveted so much. From Charlie & the Chocolate Factory to Alice in Wonderland, it was hard to find a face that looked like my own in these classic children’s tales. However, kids today have a much larger selection of children’s books to choose from with brown characters of all shades for them to identify with — and most of them have been written by Black authors, too.
Did you know that African-American inventors are responsible for the modern day supermarket and cell phone mikes? Or that a 9-year-old was arrested at a Civil Rights protest in 1963? There are hundreds of books that will teach children the rich history of African Americans and enlighten, encourage and inspire your kids. Whether it’s learning about adoption, how to handle bullies or a little girl’s magic puffballs, there’s definitely a book for the kid in your life. And the talented writers behind these tales are nothing short of impressive, too, from the famous feminist bell hooks to Taye Diggs to Pharrell Williams.
Most publishers have African American, Latino, girl, or boy children’s book lists. Although useful, these cultural and gender-themed book lists are often inadequate, restrictive, and in many ways stereotypical. They are especially problematic for young Black boys, many of whom are reluctant readers. Children’s books depicting people of color often avoid the imagination and creativity of fantasy and fiction – the genres young boys love most. Black historical figures are important, but Black children should be able to find aspects of their culture and ethnic heritage outside of stereotypical nonfiction children’s books about history.
There are amazing children’s books that all kids love. It is important for children to learn about their history, but representations of non-white characters should be more diverse and not sacrifice the cultivation of wonderment that characterizes great children’s books or neglect the mission of children’s literature, which I believe is to help children better understand themselves and the world around them.