When I was growing up, I never looked at Nancy Drew as being "white." She was, however, smart, resourceful, and in my opinion, a lot like me because I loved solving mysteries!
Let me fast forward to today. My daughter’s fascination with the Hannah Montana series has her feverishly reading, On the Road (Hannah Montana #14) by Kitty Richards (Disney Press September 23, 2008). In regards to genre, it’s no comparison. But my point is, she doesn’t care about Hannah’s color. She also NEVER says, I want to look like Hannah Montana! (I do.)
So when I read Mitali Perkins’s, School Library Journal article, "Straight Talk on Race: Challenging the Stereotypes in Kids’ Books," I started to notice how race, in literature, is oftentimes overlooked by our young people. Perkins writes, "The more obvious explanation for the omission is that my teachers and librarians never thought about those kinds of messages, or felt tense and ill-equipped to talk about race. Adult silence about an issue sends a powerful message to young people."
British writer, Sarah Ebner, tackles a similar issue in a recent blog post, "Should children’s books be more multicultural?"
Ebner writes, "Is children’s literature diverse enough? Many people would say no; others would ask why it matters, but I think it does. Children recognise themselves in books (and TV programmes and films). If all the characters are of one colour, one nationality, even one religion, children can feel left out. They can also feel that books are not for them."
I tend to agree with both Ebner’s and Perkins’s points. However, I am not entirely sure students want to hear that "message." Yes, children see themselves in books, but I don’t believe they are looking to find themselves in those books when making a selection.
In my opinion, children read books to read. If a character is of interest to a child, the child identifies with that character. I doubt they are looking for cultural connections per se. In an ideal world, it would be nice for children to discover themselves through reading. I just don’t think it’s a realistic expectation. And it may, however, depend on the age and exposure of the child.
On a side note, when I think of people with disabilities, are they supposed to read books based on what type of disability they have? Not to say that culture and someone’s physical or mental challenges are the same, but we do tend to judge others based on those cultural connections and –isms.
Or maybe I am totally off base. I am not sure on this one.
*NOTE: I am well aware that On The Road is not high-level literature, but as long she reads, I support her selections.