Here comes another month of celebrating cultures! Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Filipino American History Month, Native American Heritage Month. While I applaud celebrating diversity, shouldn’t every day be a Diversity Day?
It is almost thirty years this month that I started teaching urban kids in Harlem. And from that time, in the mid 1980’s until today, so much has changed. We only had the books of the father of African American kid lit, Walter Dean Myers, to offer up to to middle school and high school kids who wanted to see themselves depicted realistically in books. Forget about finding any diversity in picture books then. Today we have wonderfully diverse picture and chapter books by the likes of Walter’s son, Christopher Myers, Don Tate, Kwame Alexander, Zetta Elliott, Jacqueline Woodson, just to name a few authors of color. Monica Brown, Margarita L’Engle and Meg Medina are Latina authors representing their Hispanic culture in picture and middle grade books. Not to mention this year’s multi award winner, Matt de la Pena, whose “Last Stop on Market Street,” has universal themes for kids of all colors. Joseph Bruhac continues to be the master spinner of tales with Native American settings and characters.
Publishers like Lee and Low, Tu Books, Kar-Ben and Apples and Honey Press strive to show kids of different races and religions in their publishing choices. Theses publishers were not around in the 1980’s when I first had to recommend books to kids of color. I have seen a multitude of changes in children’s lit as both a teacher and currently librarian. But I say to you, shouldn’t every day be a diversity day, to learn about a new culture? I now teach to a predominantly Haitian- American population and while we do spend a large amount of time learning and reading about African American history, which is great, I also love for my students to read about other cultures. I have had some interesting conversations with African American fourth and fifth graders about the Holocaust and how my grandfather lost many of his siblings during Hitler’s regime. If we only learn about our own culture, we are not getting the full picture of humanity. And despite what many are saying, I have seen big and great changes in the world of children’s literature over the past few decades.