Monday, January 26, 2015

Looking for yourself in a story . . .Aah! Finding yourself. Multicultural children's books

I have said that when I was little I was an avid reader (of course), but interested as I was in the stories I read,  my desire was that there be stories about us, as we are, as 'normal' people. I might now add, in relation to my last post, not necessarily quaint.

Fast forward to my MEd. Study,  “I will not look at books the same way again”: Teachers’ Feelings About the Use of Caribbean Children’s Literature (2003). One of my quotes in the literature was: Pugh (1988) cites Bill Martin Jr. “Without consciousness of how or why ...the reader is forever rummaging and scavenging through the pages for a glimpse of self ...”  Isn’t that what we do?  And if we don’t, is it that we have no concept of self?  We do not expect to find ourselves there. For our children, that would be a pity.

Come with me then. In my constant search for children’s books to read, ( I love reading children’s books), I came across The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan. Shame and more shame, I had not read him before. But that’s why we all need exposure to other people’s literature. And he is very main-stream, very popular.

So I’m ambling through the book and something catches my eye on p.3, where the young hero describes his father, “He has dark brown skin like mine, piercing brown eyes, a bald head and a goatee  . . . ”

Clearly I’ve misread it. . . .dark brown skin . . .I read it again. Hmm. Then on p. 7 the young hero, along with his father, go to pick up his sister. He says, “You would never believe she’s my sister  . . . she takes after our mom who was white, so Sadie’s skin is much lighter than mine. She has straight caramel-coloured hair . . . .her eyes are blue. I’m serious. . . .”

By now I’m breathless. And so yes, I now realize that the hero is indeed a child of colour; he is from a mixed race family. I say that calmly now, but then I just kept reading and rereading.  Have I really found ‘myself’ in this boy, in this book? Somebody wrote about us, as a hero, in a book which wasn’t identified as an  African American, Black British or Caribbean book? Somebody wrote about us in a ‘normal’ book!

I conclude that the writer must also be at least mixed race. At least! I look him up. He is not. He is a normal Caucasian looking man. He has written a number of books with a base of mythology, which fall into various series. The Red Pyramid  is from the series called the Kane Chronicles and has a lot to do with Egyptology. Fascinating!

The point is, however, if with all of my experience, I was still blown away by finding us in a ‘normal’ book, as the hero, not just one of a group to  be politically correct, much as I welcome that, how do children feel when they find themselves in a book? How do they feel when they don’t?

We have been talking about the need for our children to see themselves in books forever, it seems. However, now I dare to think that there may be a further breakthrough. Tuesday, January 27 is Multicultural Children’s Book Day in the USA. So we join with them in their recognition of this need. Books included here are just some of what we offer.

 Books shown here: Cricket is My Game by Jason Cole from Barbados; Shaggy Parrot and the Reggae Band by Jana Bent and Friends, Jamaica; A Tumbling World . . .A Time of Fire (an E-book on Amazon) by Diane Browne from Jamaica; Drog a Dreggen Story by Hazel Campbell from Jamaica,  and Boy Boy and the Magic Drum by Machel Montano from Trinidad and Tobago.


  1. I agree with you that kids need to find themselves in books. It helps validate them. I loved the range of books you chose in which you saw yourself! Thanks so much for sharing at Multicultural Children's Book Day!

  2. Great points in this post - representation is so important. I appreciate your words, and your support of Multicultural Children's Book Day!