Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Multicultural Representation in Board Books

Eliza Dresang, Beverly Cleary Professor for Children and Youth Services, Information School, University of Washington, recently shared Sandra Hughes-Hassell's website with me as well as Sandra and Ernie J. Cox's recent study conclusions: "Inside Board Books: Representations of People of Color" from The Library Quarterly, Volume 80 Number 3 (July 2010).

Visit here for Sandra's great list of board books featuring African American babies and families. And then read these quotes from "Inside Board Books: Representations of People of Color." The 2000 U.S. Census shows 33% of children under age five are multicultural. We need to address this need, authors, illustrators, and publishers!

First look at the included summary of the board book from Moira McKenzie and Gay Su Pinnell's “Changing Conceptions of Early Literacy” in Children’s Literature in the Classroom: Weaving Charlotte’s Web:

"Interactions with board books help infants learn to recognize familiar objects and to develop basic concepts related to people, animals, possessions, familiar events, and daily routines. Through naming and pointing, board books help build a toddler’s vocabulary and aid in understanding language. Rhymes, rhythms, physical actions like hand clapping, and the exploration of textures build a toddler’s sensory awareness. Young children who are regularly read to exhibit early literate behavior."

The report continues by explaining the need for board books with multicultural representation:

"Research suggests that exposure to books and other resources about people who look like them,and stories that reflect their world, may contribute to an infant and toddler of color’s developing appreciation of self."

A challenge is made to illustrators to depict races beyond just changing skin color. Races themselves should be shown. I particularly liked the charge to expand Hispanic representation beyond Dora the Explorer:

"To address better the needs of Hispanic children, the publishing houses could commission Hispanic authors and illustrators, such as Pat Mora and David Diaz, to create “true” board books that provide multiple mirrors on the Hispanic experience. If nothing else, they could mine their backlists for appropriate picture book titles by Hispanic authors and illustrators to convert into board books."

Brava! Joan and I wholeheartedly agree.

The reader is then reminded that while we represent everyone, we must be careful not to perpetuate stereotypes.

The study concludes: "We believe that white privilege is apparent in the production and publication of board books....beginning in infancy children of color not only get the message from books that their lives and their stories are not important but also that to be white is better."

But if we produce the books, would they sell, you might ask? After noting amazing book purchase figures by Asian Americans and African Americans, the study concludes:

"If board books that featured people of color were published and appropriately marketed, it is likely that the publishing industry would find the endeavor to be financially rewarding. Appropriate marketing is key."

Readertotz applauds Sandra Hughes-Hassell and Ernie Cox for their study. We stand alongside them and challenge authors, illustrators, and publishers to represent all groups for our very youngest readers.


Joan Holub said...

Very interesting, Lorie Ann. Many thanks to Eliza Dresang for sharing Sandra and Ernie Cox's site.

Lorie Ann Grover said...

Such great advice and direction!