With the amount of content in our daily lives, we process a great deal of information. Whether on our screens or in the books we read, we see a lot of visual images.
Children are especially influenced by the images portrayed in media. In children’s books, the look of characters can have a significant impact on young readers.
Let’s imagine from the point of view of a young black girl named Misty. Misty, an ambitious beginning reader goes to the library to check out 10 books at random. In 9 of those books, the main character of those books is white. She gets to the 10th book and finally sees a character that looks like her.
This experience may seem unrealistic to you, or maybe you can relate. Statistically, this is a reality that children of color face when looking for books. According to this study by Lee And Low Books, about 10% of children’s books published feature multicultural content. As the study points out, this is despite the fact that 37% of the population are people of color.
With that in mind, it’s important to have characters ensure children of all colors have characters with which that they can identify.
Here are 3 ways in which the color of characters can impact young readers:
1. It can affect their self esteem
Children are very perceptive. They notice when the main character, in the majority of books, is of a certain skin tone. That can negatively affect their concept of themselves, and make them question “why don’t I look like that?” or “why am I not included?” For children of color, being able to see a character that looks like them is important for their self esteem.
Let’s revisit our friend Misty. When she finally sees herself in a character, she’s overcome with joy! I’ve seen that look of joy from Mistys when checking out books like “Daddy’s Little Princess” by G. Todd Taylor and Morgan Taylor.
People of color largely share the experience of feeling forgotten in the products they use. As detailed by Diogen Brito at Slack in a recent article here, even details like the skintone of logos and icons can have have a major impact.
What better way to make that impact than by catering to children of color in the books they read? Making a diverse set of group of characters available helps to instill a feeling of importance that all children need.
2. It can affect their concept of others
As mentioned in Jenny Parks’ article here, multicultural education fosters positive self-regard in one’s own culture and positive attitudes toward the culture of others. However, based on the current marketplace, there is not quite enough multicultural content, which can lead to negative effects. Children of color see mostly white kids in books, they feel like white kids are the ‘standard’ or normal. White kids see mostly white kids in books, they feel like they are the ‘standard’, and view children of color as outsiders, not normal.
A few years ago, in a revamp of the doll study, CNN found that the cultural bias of children hasn’t improved much over the past 65 years. According to the study by Margaret Beale Spencer, white children and black children show a bias toward white children. She concludes in her study, "we are still living in a society where dark things are devalued and white things are valued."
Some of this can be contributed to how people of color are represented in media. As children see children of all ethnicities equally represented, they’ll will have an example of how to equally value others.
3. It impacts how well they interact with others
Lastly, as children of all colors learn about other cultures, including their own, the better they will be at adapting to new cultures. According to psychologist Phyllis Katz, children, as young as six months old, are curious about people that look different than them. As they are encouraged to learn about and interact with children of other cultures, they will be able to adapt to a multicultural world. That can translate well into adulthood, as we can all benefit from being willing to interact with people of other cultures. We all benefit from being able to be learn from different cultures, personality types, and customs.
For these reasons, it's important to diversify the color palette in children's literature. Here are a few examples of publishers that focus on including books with diverse characters:
Our character Fundo teaches the fundamentals through diversity and creativity. We pride ourselves on introducing young readers to a unique character that they can learn from. Check out our book, “Fundo’s Animal Alphabet” an educational book for readers ages 2 through 8. This exciting book is designed to teach young readers the alphabet and enrich their vocabulary.
Publishing house featuring characters of color such as the "Daddy's Little Princess" mentioned in this article.
The largest multicultural children's book publisher in the country.
- The new entertainment platform for kids and their parents that celebrates diversity. Their platform features multicultural main characters, with a focus on Latino, Indian Asian, and African-American (LInAA) kids.