Multicultural Books: Why Do They Matter?
When our son was about three years old, we went to a folk music concert that was held at our library. We had seen many of the musicians before and enjoyed listening to their music as a family. We were in the back of a very large and crowded room, and about half way through the show, our son became agitated and said that he wanted to leave. He pleaded with me to take him out of the room, so we did.
Upon entering the hallway, our son turned to me with tears in his eyes and said he was sorry but that he had to leave. Thinking he was referring to leaving the show, I told him it was okay but asked him why. Didn’t he like the music? He said no, that he had to leave here, leave Michigan, and go back to Guatemala. He was really sorry but said he had to go back, to go where people looked like him.
Oh my heart. I felt a punch in my stomach and a wave of guilt and sadness as I looked at our beautiful little boy. I told him that if he had to leave, we were going with him. We would be together wherever we needed to be. It was then our turn to apologize, for our not seeing what he saw so clearly and felt so deeply: He had been the only person of color in that room.
Thus began a series of changes in our family, a new intentionality that brought race and culture to the forefront of our minds instead of them sitting in the back. We began looking at all aspects of our life, and we realized how little we had done to help our child feel comfortable in his own skin.
Our son longed to see a reflection of himself throughout the pages of his life, and we were slowly learning how to find that for him.
So why do multicultural books matter? They matter because children are able to see reflections of themselves in the pages of a book. Their reflection tells children that they are significant, that they have value, that they belong. Regardless of whether a child is growing up with or around people of their same race or not, regardless of which race a child is categorized as being, every child is affected by the presence or absence of others of their race and ethnicity. They are affected by who is shown (or not shown) in the books they are exposed to, whether consciously or subconsciously.
Books can be mirrors, but they can also be windows, “offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange.” (*Find this citation here.) Windows allow us to see beyond ourselves, and when we do that, we grow in empathy, in compassion, and in understanding. I believe every child deserves to have their world opened up to the world of others, to experience seeing beyond themselves. Wouldn’t our world be a better place if we could all move beyond ourselves, move beyond our fears, our ignorance, move past tolerance, and move into understanding and appreciation?
Everyone needs mirrors and windows in their life, and what a safe place in books to be able to see more of yourself and learn more about others. Multicultural books are beneficial for everyone.
Stephanie Kammeraad is a children's bookseller and educator, specializing in multicultural children's books. As the founder of Mama-Lady Books she creates and facilitates multicultural story times at elementary schools, presents professional development workshops for teachers regarding racism in the classroom and on multicultural books, and facilitates school fundraising book fairs. She shares information about books, reading, and parenting and teaching multiculturally through her blog, monthly newsletter, and through social media outlets, such as Facebook.
Stephanie is also a home educating mama of two and along with her husband is the co-owner of Cooperfly Creative Arts. She and her family live in Grand Rapids, MI.