According to the U. S. Census Bureau, by 2020, “more than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group.” Therefore, it will be important for literature, specifically books, to accurately represent the diversity of the population.
Growing up as a biracial child, it wasn’t easy for me to relate or identify with anyone. From people I saw on television shows, to the characters in the books, no one looked like me— or, more accurately— I didn’t really look like anyone else. This was something that I struggled with far past childhood, and into college. Even my older sister and I don’t look that similar. She has a darker complexion, despite having the exact same parents. For me, it constantly felt like I had one foot on both sides of the fence. I had one foot in each identity, but never really felt like I was a full part of either one.
We keep hearing that representation matters. It does, but we need to understand why. Having people who represent us— whether that representation is of race, gender, mental health status, or sexual orientation— let’s us know that we’re not alone, and we can be more than what society says we are.
It can also stop us from taking drastic moves to change ourselves. When she was young, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o used to pray to God to give her lighter skin, before she saw supermodel Alek Wek, and started thinking that yes, her darker skin is just as beautiful as any other skin color.
And it is.
When it comes to giving children diverse role models, books are such a great way to start. I would have loved to have read a book as kid with a biracial main character. That’s why Diverse Bookfinder is so important. It give kids access to books with characters that look like them and represent their experiences.
Launched this past September, Diverse Bookfinder is an online database of children’s books, starring kids who come from diverse backgrounds. They have a keyword search section where, with different keyword searches like “muslim,” or “multiracial,” corresponding books with characters or themes of the keyword search come up in the results.
The goal of Diverse Bookfinder is to create a bookshelf that is as diverse and representative of the real world as possible. As they detail on their website, “Our intention is to acquire and make available all picture books featuring indigenous people and people of color published in the U.S. since 2002, including reprints.” In addition to having children’s books with characters of color and indigenous characters, they also have books with disabled characters, and LGBTQ families.
One feature that the database has that’s actually pretty unusual is under the keyword “folklore.” While children’s books on folklore have never been entirely popular outside of the fairy tales and legends that have become mainstream and even commercialized, this is different: the first option to come up is Baila, Nana, Baila/Dance, Nana, Dance: Cuban Folktales in English and Spanish. As stated, the book is a collection of Cuban folktales, “representing the cultures of Spain, Africa, and the Caribbean.” Other results include books on Japanese, Malaysian, Inuit, and Middle Eastern folklore.
The team behind Diverse Bookfinder is made up of library scientist, academics, and psychologists, and actually started as the research project of Krista Aronson, the project director, and Anne Sibley O’Brien, the co-founder. Originally, the project was “designed to explore how picture books depicting positive relationships across cultural boundaries could be used to improve non-Somali children’s views towards Somali children and vice versa in Lewiston, Maine.” The database is still in progress, and they’re still compiling more results. They’re also open to critiques, if you see something wrong, have a suggestion, or find something to be problematic, you can let them know and they with try to rectify it; because ultimately, their goal is to make us all feel included.
For more information, or to search the database, please visit their website at diversebookfinder.org
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