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Why Diversity Needs to Be at the Heart of Children’s Literature

By Jerie Blintt
 | May 05, 2022

Literature has always been an indispensable part of society. At a young age, we're introduced to books at home, and later at our school or neighborhood libraries. Helping us navigate this world were our librarians, who used their expertise to guide and enrich our journeys into literature.

Unfortunately, these connections to literature are being challenged. Writer Mark Weakland in a February post titled “They Tried to Ban My Book” explains how the state attempting to control the dominant ideology is a continuous occurrence in history.

Weakland writes that the concern around books as harmful or radically biased against the elitist status quo doesn't justify the censorship that tends to silence the already marginalized voices. Censoring actually works against our desire to protect our children, and it is only with diverse literature that we can rear responsible, well-rounded, and critical members of society. Here's a look at what diverse children's lit can do for our kids.

Promote empathy

Studies in developmental psychology have consistently shown storybooks as empathy-building vehicles for children. The simulated, abstract experiences and narratives help kids build awareness of what people in different situations may feel. Research published in the National Library of Medicine details how book reading fosters one's identification with someone outside of their self and their own circle, which leads to minimizing fostered prejudice and bias.

Improve children’s confidence

Confidence in oneself sets the stage for crucial decision-making and resiliency skills as an adult. Brianna Holmes of Johns Hopkins University criticizes the rampant racial inequality of American society, and stresses how diverse representation and inclusion, with an anti-bias curriculum especially in the academe, is key to a confident child who treats everyone with respect.

Set the stage for future careers

An anti-bias curriculum has also been shown to inform behavior and reduce prejudice. Exclusive literature results in an exclusive society, which can be dangerous not only for excluded populations but also for society as a whole.

This repercussion is particularly noticeable in public health. Telehealth company Wheel highlights health care’s diversity gaps, which is caused in part by a lack of inclusive health care research that tackles minority communities. It is thereby the role of diverse children’s literature to open our minds, especially if we wish for our children to become successful doctors, researchers, and leaders.

Build critical thinking

Development is impossible without discourse. When we censor, we discourage open discussion instead of building our children's capacity to think for themselves. History has proven authoritarian attempts to control information as being ineffective and counterproductive. For example, a study by Cambridge University Press found there was increased access to information after the censorship of Instagram in China in 2014.

Wanting to protect our children is valid. However, in times of uncertainty, inclusiveness and empathy become all the more necessary. It is therefore by promoting awareness and diversity in our children’s literature that we will truly be able to protect them.

We should be cultivating our children’s ability to decide what is right and wrong, and we can do this by encouraging diversity in the materials we consume no matter how controversial the topic may be. In this day and age of technology where information is a weapon, we must give children the tools for growth and trust that they'll be able to make the right decisions.

Jerie Blintt is an avid reader who is passionate about bringing technology and literature to the forefront of every classroom. When she's not writing about the latest innovations, you'll likely find her meditating in her local park.

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