For most children in the UK and US there is no problem finding books containing characters they can relate to. As books have become more inclusive it has become easier for children in some minority groups to find characters that are like them in children’s literature. However, some groups still struggle to find characters that they can relate to. This is particularly important as children start to deepen their understanding of character motivation. If children have to start by empathising with characters that are not like them then they will have a more difficult time understanding these principles.
Statistics also show that a lack of positive role models of their own race and social group in literature can be disadvantageous to children in terms of their own reading. In the US several studies have been done on the prevalence of different races in children’s books. In 2011 Only 3% of children’s books were written by latino authors or about latino characters. A study in the same year showed that just 18% of latino fourth graders in the US were proficient in reading. This compared with 44% of white children in the same grade. Teachers who work with large Latino populations speculated in an article in the New York Times, that the lack of Latino characters in children’s books is off putting to their Latino students, and may contribute to them feeling that their familiar culture and imagery is not desirable in the US.
Other groups who also struggle to find characters they can relate to include the children of same-sex couples and children with disabilities. Whilst some publishers are actively tackling this issue, others are relying on their authors to provide a solution. Active measures to tackle inequality bring with them their own set of issues. If a character or book has been placed by a publisher as a token “inclusive” or “diverse” character or book it can seem forced or stilted. This only serves to make the children reading the book feel even more marginalised.
So what is the solution?
Well with the advent of the Indie publishing revolution parents and teachers have a greater choice of books than ever before, and all they have to do to make a independently published book appear to be mainstream is to purchase a print copy through createspace, or a copy for their classroom ipads or other tablet devices (should they be lucky enough to have them) through Kindle or ibooks.
Some suggestions can be found below.
LGBT friendly childrens’ books
Latino childrens’ books
Books that feature characters with disabilities