Promoting Cultural Diversity Through Children’s Books

What part of yourself do you wish was represented more in the books you read? Is it your family, where you grew up, your culture, or even an experience you had?  Is there an aspect that you have never seen in a book before or wish was portrayed more often?

It is especially important for young children to see themselves reflected in books.  Children find interest in relatable experiences and are typically engaged and interested in books that reflect their family, home, culture, etc. For example, children in Tucson may not find books regarding building a snowman and sledding very relatable.  However, reading and learning about the seasons in the Sonoran Desert is more applicable to them.  Likewise, this is true when reading books about different cultures.

It is important to have books that children can connect with in libraries, classrooms, and homes.  These books help children learn about themselves and build acceptance toward others.

Make Way for Books is committed to finding books that reflect the cultures, families, and languages of the children and families we serve. Sometimes this is easier said than done. There is certainly a lack of diverse books:

Published in 2014, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (based in the University of Wisconsin-Madison) published a study of around 3,200 children’s books they received in 2013.  This is the breakdown of their findings:

•  93  books had significant African or African American content
•  67  books were by Black authors and/or illustrators
•  34  books had American Indian themes, topics, or characters
•  18  books were by American Indian authors and/or illustrators
•  61   books had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content
•  88  books were by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage
•  57   books had significant Latino content
•  48  books were by Latino authors and/or illustrators

As you can see, books written about or for culturally diverse characters represent a mere percentage of what is published each year, making these books more difficult to find!  Keep in mind this study does not include non-ethnic cultures such as the LGBTQ community or those with differing abilities.

There is a lot that goes into selecting these books.  Here is a look at some of the factors that go into selecting these books:

• Authenticity

Once you find a culturally diverse book, will it be authentic?  In other words, does it properly reflect the values and beliefs of the culture it is portraying?

• Accuracy

Are the details of the book accurate?  Aspects such as the proper language and dialect spoken by the characters and the parts of their everyday life need to be correct. A book can be authentic but not accurate.  Likewise, a book can be accurate but not authentic.  It can be a definite challenge to find books that are both!

At Make Way for Books, we are dedicated to promoting all aspects of early childhood literacy.  We are passionate about making sure the books we share and provide are representative of the children and families we work with. We also provide workshops to support educators in promoting cultural diversity through children’s books.


For book suggestions including multicultural book lists, please check out our booklists!