The Other Side of Children’s Literature

POSTED BY PHILADELPHIA PRINTWORKS · NOVEMBER 29, 2016

 

By Brittany J. Thurman @janeebrittany | Photo by Gordon Parks

Being black is exhausting. Being a woman is exhausting. Being black and a woman is exhausting. But what I’ve realized, is that if this experience of blackness is exhausting for myself, a twenty-nine-year-old black woman, how much more exhausting is it for those kids with brown skin and kinky hair, those kids who also get stares and side-eyes for just being born themselves?

As a children’s librarian, I am aware of the lack of diverse books on bookshelves. I lead story time for toddler’s, preschoolers and school-age children. I try to pick out books that reflect the diversity of our population and the unique attributes that come with each individual child. Often, I find myself reading the same stories, repeatedly. Stories such as I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont,The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats and Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler. For older children, I love the works of Jacqueline Woodson, and anything with a musical connection, such as When Louis Armstrong Taught Me Scat by Muriel Harris Weinstein. Nothing beats seeing a child excited about reading. When I see children tuned into the stories that I read, I know that I am helping to contribute to a life-long love for literature. I don’t just read stories that feature people. One of my favorites happens to be Bark, George by Jules Feiffer.

I am also a writer, particularly for children, with a goal to increase representation on library shelves. While the aforementioned books are great go-to’s, the limited selection of books that reflect diversity, in particular, African-American characters in children’s literature, is pitiful. On my quest to achieve publication, I recently attended a children’s writers conference. At this particular conference, held in Western Pennsylvania, I was one of two people of color, out of one-hundred and fifty writers. One-hundred and fifty writers. Two writers of color. I, being the only African-American, the other writer of color being a woman from India. keep reading

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