~ tips for caregivers who are
racialized as white ~

Choose Picture Books That Centre BIPOC Narratives

Mister Rogers said, “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” And yet we know we are not hearing everyone’s story. In 2018, 50% of picture books featured white children as their main characters.

Huyck, David and Sarah Park Dahlen. (2019 June 19). Diversity in Children’s Books 2018. sarahpark.com blog. Created in consultation with Edith Campbell, Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/picture-this-diversity-in-childrens-books-2018-infographic/. Released for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0 license).

If the majority our picture books centre white kids and animals, where can we start to correct the imbalance and better reflect our world? There are so many picture books out there and they are not equal! Here are some tips on choosing picture books for socially conscious kids and weeding out books that aren’t up to the task.

  • Look for picture books by BIPOC authors and illustrators. See Resources & Booklists below.
  • Look for books endorsed by awarding bodies that honour books by BIPOC authors and illustrators: Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature; The Coretta Scott King Book Awards; and The Pura Belpré Award.
  • Look at reviews and the sources recommending the book. Are the folks being represented in the book also recommending it or are the reviewing parties a sea of white folks?
  • History is important, but it is also necessary to read books that depict present day life. Dr. Debbie Reese says that if the author’s notes refer to Indigenous peoples as existing only in past tense, that’s reason enough to move on to a different book.
  • Ask yourself: “If the child in this book looked like me or my kid, would I be okay with how they are being referred to/portrayed/treated?” If yes, read on. If no, move on.
  • Choose books that you enjoy. The more you like a book, the more likely you are to read it when asked repeatedly.

When reading aloud…

DO try to read the book before reading it to a child. If you don’t have a chance to pre-read and you find socially unconscious representations while reading aloud, it is totally ok to say “this isn’t the book for us,” close it and move onto another book. If age appropriate, you can also have a conversation with the child about why you are choosing to set the book aside. “This [behaviour] isn’t kind…how do you think you would feel if…?” is a great way to start that conversation.

DON’T use character voices that misrepresent or stereotype the people on the page (referred to in the professional voiceover world as “brownvoice”). Instead: read clearly and in your own voice OR find an audiobook or video reading by someone who reflects the character on the page.

DO breathe. If a child asks a question about the book or people/events depicted to which you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to say, “That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer, but I’ll find out!” This models openness and a willingness to learn. Author’s notes are often a great place to find additional details and resources.

Resources & Booklists

  • African American Literature Book Club
    https://aalbc.com/books/children.php
    Top 150 Recommended African-American Children’s Books and many other booklists from the oldest online bookstore dedicated to African American literature.
  • American Indians in Children’s Literature, Dr. Debbie Reese
    https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/p/best-books.html
    Dr. Reese provides helpful reviews and lists of the best books about Indigenous books released each year, as well as a list of books that are “not recommended” (books that reinforce stereotypes, employ cultural appropriation, and/or spread false information).
  • The Conscious Kid
    https://www.theconsciouskid.org/blog
    Thoughtful blog articles about racism in children’s books, as well as lists of books by BIPOC authors/illustrators. Book subscriptions are also available.
  • Diverse Book Finder
    https://diversebookfinder.org
    Between their circulating collection (through Interlibrary Loan), collection analysis tool, and innumerable links, these folx cover a lot of ground.
  • I have also compiled a booklist of my favourite books by BIPOC authors and others that centre BIPOC characters, but I suggest looking to ^^^ these folx first. They’ve been doing this longer and have lived experience.

IG Accounts I Follow With A Focus on Kid Lit & Education

The above guide was originally requested and developed for an event with A Shared Table, 2020.