As teachers, we need to constantly review our teaching
practice to optimize and diversify the learning
environment. Recent news events have indicated
that we are still a society divided with misconceptions
and misunderstandings about people who are different.
How do educators help students to become knowledgeable,
and affirm people who may not share the same history, culture,
religion, political beliefs, or values?
More than 60 years after Brown vs. Board of Education,
school systems in the U.S. continue to be separate and unequal.
It is estimated that by 2022, the number of Hispanic
students in public elementary and secondary schools is
projected to grow 33 percent from the 2011 numbers. The
number of multi-racial students is expected to grow 44
percent. Therefore, in 2016, the likelihood that you are or
will at some time teach a group of students who may be
the first generation to grow up in America, or who speak
Japanese, Spanish, Cantonese, or another language is
more likely than not.
Our society is becoming increasingly diverse. It is more important
now than ever before that we learn to create a welcoming,
culturally respectful and responsive classroom environment
that affirms diverse cultures, lifestyle, and perspectives.
Literature is an accessible and appropriate way to bring diversity
into the classroom.
Multicultural and diverse literature plays an important role
in the lives of young people and in the classroom. It can be
used as a tool to open students’ minds. It helps to stimulate an
understanding of diversity in the classroom and helps to build
an understanding of and respect for people from other cultures
and lifestyles. Students from the mainstream culture learn that
there are other perspectives and ways of doing things that are
just as valuable as their own. Also, multicultural literature can
be used to examine prejudices. The use of Literature circles
can be a powerful tool to weaken and dissolve prejudices.
Multicultural and diverse literature can also play a very important role for teachers. It opens up the conversation, affirms
that they care about the individual differences of students and
provides a current world view.
Factors in Selecting Multicultural Books
In order for a multicultural book to do the culture justice, the
characters should be authentic, not stereotyped. The characters
must reflect the distinct cultural experiences and views
of the specific group that is being portrayed where character
representations must be portrayed in a true-to-life and balanced
The settings should be consistent with the environment
of the culture that is being portrayed. Also, the themes that
are developed within the story must be consistent with the
values, beliefs, customs, traditions, needs, and conflicts of
the specific culture. In addition, the pictures, gender roles,
and language characteristics of the cultural group should
be accurate. One way to do this is to create places in the
curriculum for students to explore all kinds of diversities.
The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) has been
collecting data on books for children about and by people
of color since 1985 (www.ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/
pcstats.asp). Also, We Need Diverse Books (www.weneed
diversebooks.org) is a grass roots initiative that cultivated
a significant interest and recognition of the lack of diverse
books being published for youth. If you want to focus on
increasing images of American Indians, check out American
Indians in Children’s Literature. AICCL is an insightful
and thoughtful blog that analyzes books by and about
American Indians at www.americanindiansinchildrenslit
erature.blogspot.com and maintained by Professor Debbie
As you choose multicultural and diverse books, consider the
criteria originally published in 1980 by the Council on Interracial
Books for Children as the Ten Quick Ways to Analyze
Children’s Books for Racism and Sexism and updated on the
Teaching for Change Books website (www.tfcbooks.org/2013-
To help you identify quality diverse literature
to incorporate into the curriculum and reading
experiences of children, here are some sources
for award-winning titles:
Coretta Scott King Award
Focus: Since 1970 this award recognizes outstanding
authors and illustrators of books for youth that appreciate
African American culture and universal human
Pura Belpré Award
Focus: Since 1996 this award is given to the author
and/or illustrator whose work best portrays the Latino
Schneider Family Book Award
Focus: Since 2004 this award recognizes the artistic
expression of disability experiences for child and adolescent
Jane Addams Peace Association Award
Focus: Given to the children’s books that effectively
promote the cause of peace, social justice, world community,
and the equality of the sexes and all races as
well as meeting conventional standards for excellence.
Stonewall Book Award
Focus: Since 1971, this award recognizes high quality
books that reflect the gay/lesbian/bi/transgender
Sydney Taylor Award
Focus: Since 1968 this award encourages the publication
and widespread use of quality Judaic literature.
Gold medals are presented in three categories: Younger
Readers, Older Readers, and Teen Readers.
Here is a small sample of diverse authors whose
writing and illustrating reflects diversity:
Author/illustrator: Julia Alvarez
Diversity: Hispanic American
TITLES: Return to Sender; How Tia Lola Learned to Teach
Author/illustrator: Cece Bell
Diversity: Deaf Culture
TITLES: El Deafo
Author/illustrator: Grace Lin
Diversity: Chinese American
TITLES: Dim Sum for Everyone; Ugly Vegetables
Author/illustrator: Yuyi Morales
Diversity: Hispanic American
TITLES: Nino Wrestles the World; Just a Minute
Author/illustrator: Pat Mora, Rafael López,
John Parra, Libby Martinez, Patrice Barton
Diversity: Hispanic American
TITLES: Tomás and the Library Lady; Book Fiesta!
Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day Celebremos El dia
de los niños/El dia de los libros; I Pledge Allegiance;
Author/illustrator: Lesléa Newman
Diversity: Gay/Lesbian; Jewish American
TITLES: Heather Has Two Mommies; October Morning
Author/illustrator: Andrea Davis Pinkney,
Diversity: African American
TITLES: Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed
America; Martin & Mahalia: His
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