Diversity in Children’s Literature
Dictionary definitions of diversity look something like:
di•ver•si•ty n., pl. -ties.
- the state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness.
- variety; multiformity.
- a point of difference.
- having or including people from different ethnicities and social backgrounds.
I spend a lot of time looking for children’s and YA books which showcase diversity in all forms; religious; cultural; sexual; family format – anything really. With the recent #loveislove campaign on social media, family diversity has been a topic of conversation in our house, and this week with the Adam Goodes issues, it’s a good time to talk about culture diversity. For lots more reading on diversity in children’s and YA literature, see the #weneeddiversebooks Tumblr page here.
I use books with my children to discuss all manner of subjects, as books give us the words when we have none – or don’t feel we have the ‘correct’ words.
With Adam Goodes all over the media, it has made me ponder how many Indigenous books I have in my collection at home – and we in fact have 30+ in picture book and chapter book form, but we do have a fairly large book collection – #librairan. As far as I am concerned, our Indigenous books are just books – we don’t distinguish them as anything special at all – they are part of our collection and we read them regularly. PudStar’s favourite book since she was two years old has been ‘Tom Tom’ and just recently (she is now seven) we were talking about Book Week 2015: Books Light up our World and she said that the book that most lit up her world was ‘Tom Tom’ – a story of a little Indigenous boy living a life so vastly different from PudStar’s yet still a character she felt a deep connection with. Her review is below.
Do you include diverse books in your own home or school library? What are some of your favourites? How do you use them? Comment below and tell me!
Bedtime books need not be fluffy puppies, blooming sunflowers and chubby, smiling babies – not that there is anything wrong with any of those things. Bedtime books, for me, is a time to discuss some of the big issues in life, and far from sending little brains off to sleep worrying – I think we send them off to sleep full of wonder and with lots of dream fodder. We read books about the cycle of life, friendships and playground politics, different types of families, books about difference and equality and all the wild and crazy wonders of the world…and sometimes books about puppies, flowers and babies. A balanced reading diet is as important as a balanced food diet (says me who has absolutely no balance in her food diet).
The books below are ones you might like to consider for your own home or school library to discuss some of the issues talked about in the media in the last few weeks.
To add these books to your home, school or library collection click on title links or images of book covers.
‘Whoever You Are’ (cultural diversity). This one has been around the longest time now and I often purchase it as a newborn gift – guaranteed to bring new parents to tears. It’s message of ‘whoever we are, we are all the same’ is just stunning and the book is so lyrical that the words swirl around in my head for days after I have read it; “Little one, whoever you are, there are children all over the world who may look different, live in different homes and different climates, go to different schools, and speak in different tongues but all children love, smile, laugh, and cry. Their joys, pain, and blood are the same, whoever they are, wherever they are, all over the world.” This is just a beautiful text about human contentedness.
‘Just the Way We Are’ (family diversity). A brand new title by Jessica Shirvington and Claire Robertson, this one is a beauty for looking at diversity among families! The book takes us through a number of different characters and their family form; mum and dad; several generations under one roof; parents who work or don’t work; two dads; single parents; guardians. Each story of a family ends with beautiful lines such as, ‘we might be different from your family, buts that nothing to be worried about. You see, all families aren’t the same and I think mine might be perfect…JUST THE WAY WE ARE’. Going straight to my favourites pile!
‘The Great, Big Book of Families’ (family diversity)
‘Flying High’ (Indigenous) – written by Sally Morgan who you can read more about here. This gorgeous small chapter book is part of a series which features Indigenous children as the lead characters. Other titles include ‘The Memory Shed’, One Rule for Jack’, and ‘Going Bush with Grandpa’.
‘Yirra and her Deadly Dog, Demon’ (Indigenous). Yirra’s mum’s sick of vacuuming up fur balls, the neighbours are fed up with having their undies nicked from the clothesline, and her step-dad just wants his slippers back. If Yirra doesn’t find a dog-trainer soon, she’ll have to give her beloved Demon to a new family – one who likes dogs who run and dig a lot. Bursting with energy and madcap fun,Yirra and Her Deadly Dog, Demon gives young readers a contemporary view of urban Indigenous life in Sydney.
‘Matty Forever’ (Indigenous and family diversity). Bill and Matty are neighbours. And best friends. Together they share their deepest, darkest secrets and lean on each other when things aren’t right at home. Bill is missing his father and having a hard time at his new school. And Matty is realising that her family is not quite the same as everyone else’s. But when new girl Isabella decides she wants Bill all to herself, Bill and Matty discover what true friendship means. An enchanting story of friendship, acceptance and trust.
‘Deadly D and Justice Jones: Making the Team’ and ‘Deadly D and Justice Jones: Rising Star’ (Indigenous, Maori, football). A school deputy principal and an NRL star seem an unlikely pairing to write a novel in my mind! Then again…some of best novels for younger readers’ pair unlikely characters, so it has the potential to work! Dave Hartley is a Barunggam man, the traditional people of the Darling Downs/Chinchilla region, and a deputy principal at a school in Logan. Scott Prince, of the Kalkadoon People in Mt Isa who plays/ed a game with a ball (husband: Scott Prince is interviewed on YOUR blog? Are you SURE? Can I read it?) called NRL, for the Broncos – they wear maroon shirts. Scott and Dave have teamed up to write the ‘Deadly D and Justice Jones’ series and I am so very glad that they did. More about Scott Prince here and more about Dave Hartley here.
Eleven-year-old Dylan has to move from Mt Isa to Brisbane and he’s not happy. But as soon as he gets to Flatwater State School he finds a former Mount Isa Miner’s footy supporter in his principal and a ‘Broncos tragic’ as a teacher. He also makes a friend in Justice Jones and an enemy in Jared Knutz. Dylan is cursed with an abnormality transforming him into a fully-grown man whenever he gets angry. Always a worry, the ‘curse’ proves to be a blessing in the city when his alter ego attracts the interest of the Broncos during a class excursion to watch the team train. Dylan becomes ‘Deadly D’ – a star player with the fire to rival even the great Prince! But how will he continue to keep the ‘curse’ a secret?
This series is an absolute sure-bet to engage reluctant readers. The books are written first person and use much schoolyard style language and humour to keep things moving along and there is some great line drawings to entertain. There is also much to engage NRL and Rugby League fans, with names of key players mentioned and lots footy talk. More about Scott Prince here and more about Dave Hartley here.
‘Sister Heart’ (new Sally Morgan title – Indigenous).
A young Aboriginal girl is taken from the north of Australia and sent to an institution in the distant south. There, she slowly makes a new life for herself and, in the face of tragedy, finds strength in new friendships.
Poignantly told from the child’s perspective, ‘Sister Heart’ affirms the power of family and kinship.
Aimed at 10-15 year old readers, ‘Sister Heart’ will start many an important conversation about the Stolen Generation and, really, is so important to have these conversations over and over. Readers will relate the story of story of deep female friendship and they will be challenged by the very real issues of loss – of family, of friends and of culture. ‘Sister Heart’ is jam packed with heartbreak and issues of national significance, but the verse novel form ensures that readers are not overwhelmed by the weight of the words. I predict this will become an important text in schools, and will pop up on shortlists all over the country in the next little while.
For YA LGTB titles which celebrate diversity see here.
And I will be talking further about diversity in children’s literature on 612ABC Brisbane tonight at 8pm.Booktopia. You can also compare prices on Fishpond and Bookworld for Australian purchases.If you live in the US or would prefer to use Amazon click here. If you live in the UK or would prefer to use Book Depository click here. Purchases clicked through from the Children’s Books Daily site result in a small commission. Commission is used in part to maintain Children’s Books Daily and to support community groups which connect children with books.