Why is it important for representation in children’s books?

I want you to take a moment and think back to a favourite book you read as a child or teen.  What is it about that book that resonated with you?  As a teacher-librarian and children’s author, I feel that children being able to see themselves reflected in the characters in the story will resonate deeply with them.

Reading books with valid reflections of the students’ own race, abilities, cultures, and experiences can contribute to the students’ self worth.

Let me say that again. 

Reading books with diverse representation of characters does not only benefit students belonging to minority groups. It benefits ALL students. Some of the benefits of reading multicultural books are:

  • Exposure to other peoples’ experiences and cultures thus increasing awareness and acceptance.
  • Promotes empathy when a child can see the similarities they have with children from around the world.
  • Multicultural books can help counteract stereotypes that children have been exposed to about other cultures.

As a caucasian woman with roots in Scotland and England, I feel I have to go on further to explain that although books “about” diverse characters are important, it is even more important to have books written BY diverse authors.  I wrote Billi, the Maker because I could not find a picture book about a young indigenous student engineer and I felt that type of book needed to be in the hands of my students. 

As a mother, educator, and librarian, I am always actively searching out authentic voices in diverse books because that is the BEST way to reflect the lives of my students. In the future it is my hope that the world of children’s books reflects the diversity of our world, until then I will strive to create books that all children can see themselves reflected in and keep amplifying the voices of under-represented groups in the world of children’s literature.

April Hilland is a teacher-librarian and children’s author living on Vancouver Island. She is author of 6 children’s picture books and has just launched Billi, the Maker on Kickstarter. Click here to learn more about this project.