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Chapter 8: Culturally responsive children's books

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    Children’s books offer a rich foundation for children’s literacy explorations. However, the quality of literature children are immersed in matters. Emergent readers, writers, and speakers need consistent opportunities to engage in texts they find compelling. Educators can use books to spark and provoke children’s interests. Intentional literature experiences encourage children to consider multiple perspectives and allow children to vicariously experience worlds beyond their immediate classroom environment. Narrative texts (fiction texts) invite children to problem solve along with central characters, explore places beyond their own communities, and listen to lived experiences of other people. Expository texts (nonfiction or informational texts) promote children’s inquiry and encourage children to use texts as mediums for learning about how the world works and consider how people influence our communities. Educators play a critical role in determining children’s access to print and their intentional selection of compelling children’s texts is essential.

    Children need to see themselves represented in the books embedded within their early learning spaces. In 1990, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop published a seminal article titled, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” Dr. Sims Bishop explains,

    Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. (p. ix)

    Children’s early literacy experiences offer the opportunity for children to learn about new worlds or ideas. For example, in the book, Bilal Cooks Daal, the main character, Bilal, cooks daal with his friends who have never had it or made it before (Saeed & Syed, 2019). Daal is a term used throughout India and South Asia to broadly identify a variety of spiced lentil and bean-based soups. The dish is described in the book along with the cooking process and serves as a window for children who have never heard of daal, a sliding glass door for children to walk through and experience new cultural practices (such as how daal is served in the bowl and the preparation practices), and a mirror for children who regularly eat daal with their friends and family.

    Daal is frequently served with rice or flatbread like naan. So, for Prashant, Bilal Cooks Daal serves as a mirror, reflecting the familiar food items his family prepares at home. At the same time, the story offers windows and sliding glass doors for his peers and educators who may not be as familiar with Indian or South Asian cuisine. The story invites all children to vicariously experience the rhythm of cooking daal and can subsequently be used to extend the play scenarios Prashant and his friends create. Diversity rich classrooms encourage conversations and offer children opportunities to learn about people and families that are different from themselves (Baker, 1990).

    NAEYC’s 2019 Advancing Equity in Early Childhood Education underscores the intentional infusion of literacy opportunities that reinforce the dignity of each child, stating “children of all genders, with and without disabilities should see themselves and their families, languages and cultures regularly and meaningfully reflected in the environment and learning materials” (NAEYC, 2019, p.7). Educators must always be mindful that in selecting materials, they are exercising power to choose which windows, mirrors, and sliding doors children will be exposed to. Accordingly, it is important for educators to infuse children’s literature that show children and families of color as the central characters even if the classroom demographic appears to be predominately white. When selecting texts, educators need to “remember that the learning environment and its materials reflect what [they] do and do not value by what is presented and what is omitted” (NAEYC, 2019, p. 7). With this power comes a responsibility to use a critically responsive lens when selecting children’s texts. Diverse texts allow children to celebrate and honor cultural, linguistic, socioeconomic, ability, family, and gender diversities. It also creates opportunities for educators to challenge storylines that stereotype, misrepresent, and marginalize.

    Pause and Consider: Diverse Children’s Texts

    Looking for Diverse Children’s Texts?

    If you are currently in an early learning context, take a moment to review the children’s texts available to your young learners. Alternatively, take a moment to reflect on the diversity of children’s text you read as a child. Mentally tally how many texts included children and families of differing ethnic, economic, ability, linguistic, and regional backgrounds. Then consider, whose voices were underrepresented or not represented in the mental evaluation you conducted? Consider if generalizations, stereotyping, or misrepresentations are present. How might the texts you reviewed serve as windows, sliding glass doors, or mirrors for children?

    Developing literacy opportunities and class libraries that meaningfully infuse books with children and families that bring diversities to the classroom takes planning. Fortunately, there are a number of resources educators can access to support their efforts in acquiring diversity rich texts. Take a few moments exploring some of the resource sites in Table 5.4 “Finding Exemplary Children’s Books.” Then, make a plan for enhancing children’s access to a wide variety of texts with multiple cultural, familial, and ability representations.

    Finding Exemplary Children’s Books

    Table 5.4 Finding Exemplary Children’s Books



    Web Link

    American Library Association (Coretta Scott King Award Books)

    The Coretta Scott King Award recognizes African American authors and illustrators capturing the African American experience.

    American Library Association (Pura Belpré Award Books)

    The Pura Belpré Award is presented to a Latinx author or illustrator capturing the Latinx cultural experience.

    American Library Association (Schneider Family Book Award)

    The Schneider Family Book Award recognizes authors and illustrators presenting stories of the disability experience for children.

    Learning for Justice

    Learning for Justice is a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center that published guidelines to support educators’ considerations of children’s texts. The free resource guides educators to use a critical lens when selecting text for children.

    The National Museum of the American Indian

    The National Museum of the American Indian online bookstore presents a selection of texts that show children contemporary experiences of Native Peoples and challenge stereotypes that continue to marginalize tribes.

    National Council for the Social Studies

    The National Council for the Social Studies Carter G. Woodson Book Award also honors a few children’s texts each year “that depict ethnicity in the United States” (NCSS

    We Need Diverse Books

    WNDB provides a platform for curating “literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people” (WNDB, 2020).

    This page titled Chapter 8: Culturally responsive children's books is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Christine Pegorraro Schull, Leslie La Croix, Sara E. Miller, Kimberly Sanders Austin, and Julie K. Kidd via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.