Books / Culture

Our Books, Our Selves

where can i buy provigil in south africa IMG_6085The recent New York Times article about the lack of children’s literature by and about Latinos rang familiar to me. I have always had to do some extra homework to find media that featured characters that look like me – and now that I am raising children, I’m even more aware of the lack of diversity out there. As one might guess, our multiracial, queer family seldom encounters children’s literature that naturally reflects our familial composition or stories. So I was especially glad to see the exposure the issue is getting – and the great response from the Latina blogging community.

One part of the article that stood out to me was the interview with the Philly elementary teachers who stressed the importance of normalizing Latino characters and storylines:

“At Bayard Taylor Elementary in Philadelphia, a school where three-quarters of the students are Latino, Kimberly Blake, a third-grade bilingual teacher, said she struggles to find books about Latino children that are ‘about normal, everyday people.’ The few that are available tend to focus on stereotypes of migrant workers or on special holidays. ‘Our students look the way they look every single day of the year,” Ms. Blake said, “not just on Cinco de Mayo or Puerto Rican Day.’”

I think this is also so very relevant for queer (and all variations of nontraditional) families. It’s true that we’ve come a long way from Heather Has Two Mommies, but so many of the titles that appear on lists-of-books-that-are-LGBT-family-friendly aren’t really starring LGBT families, but rather explaining them. Books like these are important, and they deserve a place on library bookshelves and as a resource to teachers and families who are earnestly trying to enlighten themselves and others. But they cannot stand in for great stories that naturally revolve around truly diverse characters and families – stories that kids can identify with, be brave or scared or in love with. If my children continue to enjoy reading as much as they do now – and as much as I did throughout my youth – how great it would be if they could really see themselves amongst the characters they get to know over the years.

We live in a wonderfully diverse world, and each of us has many layers to our identities. I do realize that not every character can reflect every child – but that’s the point. There should be a much broader range of protagonists in children’s literature – not only so little Latino boys with queer parents can relate, but so that each of his peers can as well. It’s also vital for those children that don’t know anyone with a different color skin, two dads or who speaks another language – when they inevitably do meet someone different, they aren’t surprised to learn there are lots of different kind of families, cultures and races out there.

I know progress with things like this seems to come in baby steps. In the meantime we do some improvising when reading book after book that fails to mention non-mother characters playing any caretaking/housekeeping roles. Of course, it won’t be long before our two year old catches us switching out names and pronouns – and how great would it be if we didn’t have to.

I think the campaign by Latina bloggers and the NYT article are great steps toward amplifying a national dialogue around the significance of continually diversifying our literature. While we eagerly await the literature that this awareness produces, let’s be sure to enjoy some of the gems that do already exist. I was only able to find one book (ONE!) that features both and LGBT family and Latino characters (Antonio’s Card/ La tarjeta de Antonio, by Rigoberto Gonzalez), but there are growing numbers of books featuring LGBT families and (or should I say “or”) children of color. Let’s make sure we are creating a demand for these books – and perhaps we can even be the ones to write our stories.

Tags: ,

No Comments

  1. Thanks for this post. I’m often struck by the amount of nursemaids, coal chutes, petticoats, and other things irrelevant to the way we’re living that I encounter when I read to my daughter. While there’s nothing wrong with exploring Anglo-European history, I would like for her to grow up in a world of books that reflects her own experiences in a multi ethnic/racial/religious/lingual world of people who are queer and not, disabled and typical. And if I could have all that without any “very special episode” messages that would be even better. One of the sad things I’ve realized as I’ve studied African American and interracial children’s literature from the 1930s and 1940s is that the books that were published in the past, many of which are quite lovely, quickly went out of print. You’ve inspired me to branch out in my book buying, not only for my girl, but for her daycare class.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.