The search for diversity in children’s books, or indeed in any books, can be a deeply personal thing. Please welcome Sachi Parikh, our Featured Young Writer, as she shares her perspective on this important topic.
Many books describe characters with the exact same features. Pale faces, light blue eyes, and golden-blonde wavy hair are what make up children’s books main characters. Truth be told, most of us don’t have those features, yet we think the rest of the world is like that. We’re not. The discrimination of diversity in children’s books have made children less and less interested in books, because they don’t feel the connection to the main character of the book, or think they are only reading about one type of person. When you read a good book, you usually feel some sort of connection to the protagonist of the story. Some children aren’t able to see that. Neither can I, at some points. I know from experience.
When I was a first-grader, I used to be obsessed with a book series called Rainbow Magic Fairies, by Daisy Meadows. One day I decided to dress up as Rachel, one of the main characters in the series. When I was all dressed up, I realized that I didn’t look anything like her. I tried on something else, but I still didn’t look like her. Frustrated, I tried to find a character that I looked at least something like. I found nothing. That day, I gave up on that series, and tried to find a book that had people or a person that looked like “me.” Most of the books I found were either historical fiction books that were about racial discrimination or picture books that were explaining that everyone has or should have equal rights and it shouldn’t be judged by the color of their skin. There were no books that I found that had an Indian girl as a normal main character; not during some war, or explaining about treating people the right way. This made me feel alien, even though there are a number of Indians in San Jose.
I had found no books with an Indian girl protagonist; instead I started reading books like the Magic Tree House and In The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, with different people as characters. Rainbow Magic Fairies had started putting in Chinese and Indian girls as characters. I also started getting into historical fiction later on, like The Mighty Miss Malone and Crow, and books that had different people in them, like Harry Potter and Out of my Mind. I think people who are different are part of diversity as well. Having diversity in books makes you feel like you are exploring new cultures and learning about different people. Reading about diverse cultures and people is fun, because you are getting exposed to other people’s way of life. People are making more historical fiction and diverse books, and I’m reading books like Year of the Dog, which is about a Chinese girl growing up in America, Bud not Buddy, which is about an African-American boy growing up during the Great Depression, and When the Mountain Meets the Moon, which is about old Chinese folklore.
I want people to start thinking that it’s okay to be different. There is nothing wrong with that. One of the ways we can do this is to write about different people, and writing and reading about this will make us think this way. Diversity in children’s books is important because you need to get exposed to different cultures and races, and also different people, or you will be stuck in your own world with the same people, nothing new. Diversity is really cool, because exploring people’s lives in different places by reading is an amazing way to experience other people’s lives.
Thank you, Sachi! Not only have you given us some food for thought, you’ve also expanded the reading lists of everyone who visits today.