Imagine if every child had a book that reflected who they are and the people they love with strength, dignity, and possibility. Imagine if every child had a book that supported their self-confidence, and allowed them to be proud of who they are. And now imagine if every child had two, or three, or eight of these books that bolstered their sense of self while affirming their connections with others.
Books like these are vital for children of color as well as white children to affirm a strong foundation of racial equity, dignity, individuality, and partnership. As adults, we also benefit from the conscious re-education books can provide so that we may unlearn the biases that have been instilled in us from a very young age.
If you don’t already gift books to children, do consider conscious and deliberate book gifting to nurture confident and loving children. As we know, books are a great opportunity to recognize, validate, and open the world to young readers. More than that, a love of reading can increase a child’s educational success.
When gifting books to children of color with the intention of strengthening their sense of self, make sure that the books:
1) Reaffirm their heritage, identity, and being in the world.
Look for positive depictions of characters that share the child’s racial heritage. Avoid books that portray people negatively, or as villains or perpetrators.
2) Counteract the stereotypes and invisibility that run rampant in mainstream media.
Keep your eyes peeled for caricatures and cookie cutter depictions. Pay attention to how people of different races are portrayed in the book. Look for equitable representations; look for signs of individuality.
3) Are written and illustrated by people who come from the communities the book is about.
When possible, buy books that are written from first voice perspectives – that is, told by people who come from the communities they are depicting. Owning a book created by someone a child can identify with adds an additional layer of pride and possibility to their experience of the book.
4) Expand a child’s sense of possibility.
Wonderment, joy, fun, and opportunity will bring kids back to a book again and again. This will support a love of reading, and allow a child to water the seeds of strength and resilience that the book will plant.
5) Are beautiful and well-produced.
All children deserve beautiful, high quality books.
Janine Macbeth is an artist, illustrator, nonprofit social justice worker, and founder of Blood Orange Press, a literary home for diverse readers. www.bloodorangepress.com