FAIRFAX, VA — Literature is a powerful and essential means for educating early learners. Even in a virtual age, it remains one of the most personal, meaningful ways to reach a child — whether they read a book alone or have one read to them by a parent, guardian, or educator.
Before we can explore the specific draw and value of multicultural books for children, it’s helpful to have a clear, working definition of what culture is.
What is Culture?
Merriam Dictionary defines culture as the beliefs, customs, and arts of a particular society, group, place, or time. It’s a broad but clear characterization which shows how colorful the subject matter will be. That’s a great attraction for children. They are drawn to color and details. They invoke questions.
What are Multicultural Books for Children?
Any early learning title that communicates the experiences of diverse people, or that discusses the unique aspects of a particular culture belongs to the sub-genre called multicultural books for children. At their best, these books help children to recognize that despite our many differences, all people share common hopes, dreams, and other feelings.
Why Do Educators Recommend Multicultural Books for Children?
There is a growing appreciation and support for the educational value that multicultural books present. Like other titles, multicultural books for children should follow best practices for plot, character development, setting, theme, and more. They should ignite a child’s imagination and expand their vocabulary. Most importantly, however, they should provide an accurate, non-biased, early window into the world where diverse people work and play together, solve problems, and overcome obstacles.
How to Choose the Best Multicultural Books for Children
While any multicultural book can enlighten, certain criteria can be used to shop and select the best multicultural books or children.
Look for the Following:
• Origin Stories
• Myths and Legends
• Famous Quotations or Wisdom
• Colorful, Authentic Artwork
• Historically Accurate
• Indigenous Words
• Women in a Positive Light
• Well-defined Ethnic Groups
• Unique Perspectives
• Differing Traditions
• Common Threads
• Working Together
• Problem Solving
• Overcoming the Odds
• Worth Revisiting
• Natural Wonders
• Respect for Living Things
• Avoid Over-simplifications
• No Generalizations or Stereotypes
Spread from Destination Spearfish, a multicultural book that explores the Lakota Indians from present-day South Dakota (USA).
Multicultural Books for Children Can Help with Geography
Stories about people from distant lands expand our appreciation for just how big this world is. This is important for children, as their imaginations tend to be more boundless than the average adult. They are looking to learn as many new things as possible — and multicultural books for children deliver on that powerfully. They are going to meet fellow students whose skin is lighter or darker. Maybe they will talk with an accent that sounds foreign. Perhaps they eat different foods. Multicultural books for children prepare early learners to intermingle more seamlessly. They help them to focus on similarities as well as differences — but not view the differences as a barrier. They develop an early interest in seeing the world as opposed to only or mostly knowing the area around one’s home and work.
Multicultural Books for Children Can Help with Specific Social behaviors
Multicultural books that are focused on arts and crafts become a powerful socialization device. In December 2015, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) published the findings of 18 peer-reviewed arts studies in early childhood education. These investigated the effects of the arts on children from birth to 8 years. Two findings were clear: 1. the arts strengthen “pro-social behaviors” like helping, sharing, caring, and empathizing; 2. the arts help children learn how to better regulate their emotions.
The Greatest Single Benefit
The end goal with adopting multicultural books for children is to increase sensitivity. First, you turn the light on. Next, you make sure it is shining brightly. It’s been said by countless people across our shared history that what can be achieved together far exceeds what any one of us can achieve alone. To work well in groups, we must be able to see eye-to-eye with others. Multicultural books begin this process. We must also then wish to gain perspective from the new influence — to invite the impact and change it can have on us as people. Children don’t see boundaries as adults do, so this form of curiosity can be ignited naturally. When a child begins to feel for another person’s story — especially when that story is different than his/her own — encourage it. This is the greatest gain through multicultural books for children. You will be planting the most important of seeds at a very young age. Multicultural books help you to put their education and career on an entirely different trajectory. The world is a huge place, with much to offer. Will your child be able to take advantage of it, or will s/he have a much more narrow view and only understand what those in his/her immediate circle do?