What Are Black Children Reading?
We’ve heard it over and over: Black children need to see themselves in the books they read. I am of the belief that it benefits children when they are exposed to diverse forms of literature. All children, regardless of race or ethnicity need to read both “mirror” and “window” books. Window books give them a view outside of their environments. More importantly window books help children to understand that we are indeed more alike than different. We want our children to grow in such a way where they are naturally accepting of diversity. However, this can be problematic when African-American children, particularly the poor and disenfranchised, acquire a distorted sense of reality reading through windows into the lives of the white middle and upper-middle-class. Children of color are ill-equipped to handle the confusion derived from the inability to relate to the characters and storylines in window books. Mirror books help them to see themselves in the positive, encouraging, inspiring, and life-affirming ways writers and illustrators portray them.
In many of our nation’s school systems, African-American children are not assigned nor do they have consistent access to books where children of color are represented as the main characters. They need to be able to read storylines that are written with them in mind. I am not downplaying the importance of diversity, but we run the risk of rendering black children vulnerable to their own negative speculations, like wondering what’s wrong with them when they do not see themselves in the books they are required to read.
Because the scales of literary exposure persist on leaning heavily on the side of window books, children of color too often see the world through the eyes and perceptions of people who do not look like them or experience life as they do. This is cause for grave concern. In a racist culture, systemically designed to keep people of color from realizing possibility and potential, books written about and for children of color play a crucial role in building their esteem. African-American children must be given the opportunity to read books that will give them an uplifting sense of self. This can be accomplished only when they see themselves reflected through the mirror of books written for and about them.
As a writer and serious reader I know the power of the written word. It thrills me that parents of color are taking on the responsibility of educating their children about themselves and their people by assuring access to window books. I truly celebrate them! But the one fact that cannot go unattended is that when books are assigned under the authority of our school systems they carry a particular weight of importance and influence. It is crucial that children of color see themselves in books that are incorporated into academic curriculums. White parents don't have to think about what black parents have to hold vigilance over—making certain their children are exposed to and read books that influence their sense of self and identity in positive ways.
Parents are your children being assigned to read books written by Black writers IN school?
A few days ago I posted this question on Facebook. After reading over 200 comments from parents and educators I assessed the responses. Over 90% of the respondents answered no. Thankfully most of them seemed to realize the importance of teaching their children to love reading as well as making sure they see themselves in the books they read. Many went on to describe ways in which they encourage their children to read and what they do to make sure they have access to mirror books.
Resources for mirror books for African American children:
- Public Libraries
- aalbc.com/books/children (Top 132 Recommended African American Children’s Books)
- Project Lit Book Club
- Huffington Post (21 books Every Black Kid Should Read)