Why should we encourage our students to read multicultural children’s and young adult literature? Because everyone matters. Because we live in a globally-connected society. Because these books build cultural understanding. Because they are good stories…the list could go on and on.
I love Sims Bishop’s (Sims Bishop, 1990) assertion that multicultural books benefit everyone in that they serve as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. They are mirrors because they represent lived experiences of all kinds of people. They are windows because they serve as openings into other cultures and experiences. They are sliding glass doors because they allow readers a personal connection to experiences different from our own.
Students need to know that people of color have made significant contributions to history, culture, politics, and society. The very fabric of our collective humanity consists of threads of all different colors. Also, when students read multicultural literature, they learn to explore and discuss important themes such as their own search for identity, the rewards and challenges of varied cultural experiences, and even how to constructively engage in civic duties. As such, I am very much a soldier of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, which is a “call to arms” to bring national attention to the need to highlight diversity in our books.
I do want to point out that we should move beyond conversations of needing more diversity, as the problem is not with quantity or quality. There are many high-quality books featuring people of color and/or written by authors of color, and we definitely could use more. But the real problem is that these books are not being consumed, meaning they are not being read, bought, and taught (Loh, 2008). The supply is there but the demand is not – and we can do something about this.
Teachers are the key to getting multicultural books in the hands of young readers. When teachers teach or recommend a book, that book gets read. One of the most often cited reasons why teachers don’t use multicultural books in their classrooms is because they claim to not know how to teach them (Loh, 2008). Annenberg Learner provides several resources to help teachers become more confident in using multicultural books in their classrooms.
The following workshops introduce teachers to authors of color and show models of teachers engaging in effective strategies and pedagogical approaches:
- Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for Middle Grades
- The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School
- Conversations in Literature – This workshop is not specific to multicultural literature, but it does feature a variety of authors and teaches strategies to enhance the reading experience.
Other resources from Annenberg Learner:
- “Evaluate Your Multicultural Literature” from Teaching Reading, Grades 3-5– This session provides strategies for teaching young English Language Learners. It features a tool to help evaluate multicultural literature.
- Invitation to World Literature – This course offers teachers an opportunity to learn about several examples of great works of literature from around the world and from ancient to modern times.
In addition, you can search Annenberg Learner’s website for lesson plans addressing specific multicultural titles. For example, some of my favorites include:
- Critical Pedagogy: Lawson Fusao Inada’s “Legends from Camp” – This lesson focuses on the Japanese American internment experience.
- Critical Pedagogy: Ruthanne Lum McCunn’s “Thousand Pieces of Gold” – This lesson focuses on the Chinese practice of footbinding.
- Inquiry: Tomás Rivera – This lesson uses an inquiry-based approach to study texts by Tomás Rivera.
There are many, many resources available to educators who are committed to putting multicultural books in the hands of young readers who will ultimately become lifelong readers of all kinds of texts.
What are some multicultural books your students enjoy?
Loh, V.S. (2008). Asian-American Children’s Literature: A Qualitative Study of Cultural Authenticity. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). San Diego State University-University of San Diego, San Diego.
Sims Bishop, R. (1990). “Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors.” Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3).