Children shape their sense of self through secure relationships with family, how people treat them, and how they are represented in media, television, and books. How children see themselves represented in children’s literature plays an important role in contributing to their understanding of their place in the world. One of the best ways for children to see themselves represented is through picture books from an early age.
Children’s books can foster respect for diversity and empathy for others and helps marginalised people feel visible and illuminates cultures, disabilities and ways of life that might have been previously unfamiliar. Diverse voices and inclusion in children’s picture books allow kids to imagine things for their own life that might have previously seemed impossible.
Diverse voices in Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors
A ground-breaking essay by Rudine Sims Bishop titled, Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors, highlights the importance of diverse voices in stories for children by explaining the value of inclusion for minorities for self-affirmation, and self-worth. In her essay, Bishop states,
“Literature transforms the human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation.”
In brief, mirrors show underrepresented children reflected to them in stories, windows allow other children to see a life experience different from their own, while the sliding glass door allows children to enter that world as well.
Diverse voices give value and validation to children who are marginalised and underrepresented and helps other readers discover and become familiar with diversity.
Why talk about diverse voices and marginalized issues?
Reading about diverse experiences in books also helps prepare children to talk about marginalized issues in a safe environment with a teacher or in a family discussion. Diverse experiences in children’s literature are far reaching and can include stories about multiculturalism, disability, illness, stuttering, autism, skin colour, socioeconomics, transgender, LGBTQ+, gender equality, bullying, race, and many others.
Discussing these differences fosters curiosity, empathy and understanding and ultimately should lead to the realisation we are not so different and live our everyday lives in similar ways. Beautifully written books on diverse voices bring communities together and teach children a sense of self-worth within their community.
They are just like me – Why it’s important for children with speech and language impairments to be represented in books