Brown kids need brown books


Graphic by Anna Arnsberger

Anna Arnsberger

Last summer, the film adaption of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” by Jenny Han was released on Netflix and quickly rose to fame. While the movie was the talk of many, my sister’s excitement was unlike anyone else’s. The young adult novel had an extra special place in her heart—this was the first book she had ever read with a main character that was half-Korean and half-white, just like herself. A mixed Korean-American teenager, Lara Jean’s character was one of the only ones my then 13-year-old sister had ever truly identified with.

While this story, and similar ones belonging to many other people of color, are indeed touching, they reveal a larger concern in children’s literature. Why did my sister have to wait until seventh grade to finally see a girl like herself in a book?

A study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center found that, of the children’s books published in 2018, only 27.9 percent featured prominent characters of color. Eleven percent included Black characters, 8.6 percent were Asian, 6.8 percent Latinx, and a mere 1.5 percent of the stories had Native American characters. Though children’s books featuring people of color exist, there is still a shocking disparity between those and ones with only white leads.

All people should be able to read books that they can identify with in order to validate their own experiences. Constantly reading about white kids can leave a lasting negative effect on the confidence and self-view of young people of color who are being left out of the picture. By having access to stories that reflect their own, children develop a sense of worth and a reminder that they belong. Even with psychological impacts aside, reading is so much more fun when one can make connections to their own lives.

Stories have a remarkable ability to guide the minds of impressionable young kids. It’s through reading that children gain exposure to life outside of their limited bubble and therefore books wield an incredible power.

Teaching kids with a wide range of books can plant a seed of open mindedness in them. Not only do they learn about new cultures, but children are taught that their own stories are not the only ones that matter. Through introducing students to diversity from a young age, development of internal prejudices towards more marginalized members of society can be prevented.

Though the lack of representation in children’s literature is disheartening, it’s important to recognize that the current climate can be changed. In 2015, just 14.2 percent of children’s books featured people of color—a small testament to how much has improved.

But in order to bolster this trend of diversification, substantial action must be taken. Support authors and illustrators of color, and urge publishers to do the same. Donate books with multicultural stories to schools or libraries. By promoting diversity in children’s literature, future generations will grow up to be more confident and open-minded with a greater interest in reading.