Why African-American Children's Books Matter, Today and Always
Updated: May 6, 2022
For any of you that have ever seen one of my television interviews, you may have heard me talk about why I started writing children's books. In short, I was about to become a first-time auntie and had trouble finding books about African-American kids just being kids -- doing regular kid stuff. Making snow angels, riding a bike, winning a science fair or a cooking contest, or whatever. Just plain ole being a kid.
Books about "Little Martin" or "Little Malcolm" and the like, are important, but so are books where our history and our plight aren't the focus. Children of color not only need to see themselves ethnically represented in the books they read, but they also need to see their life experiences depicted in the stories they read. What message do you think it sends our children to surround them with stories and characters that don't represent them? It tells them that their stories and experiences don't matter. And don't get me started on the school's required reading lists and what they consider "classics." The lack of positive protagonists of color, outdated language and storylines that would be considered overtly racist by today's standards seem to be the overall theme, more often than not.
Books that promote diversity and inclusion aren't just for the kids they represent. They should be a part of every kid's home library and classroom. Diverse stories also foster acceptance, pride, and worth in kids of color while promoting respect, love, and yes, entertainment for all readers. The consequences of a lack of diverse characters can extend well beyond the classroom. "The stories that children read at a young age tell them who matters and who doesn't matter, who's human and who isn't human," explains Philip Nel, professor of English at Kansas State University.
Positive self images at an early age and throughout childhood is everybody's issue, and thus, everybody collectively is part of the resolution; parents, teachers, caregivers, librarians, retailers, etc. of every race. Be part of the change that the world so desperately needs, right now. As an author of African-American children's books, and the mother of two very beautiful Brown children, I make it my mission to write and publish stories that highlight positive "Black life," while surrounding my children with a library full of books that celebrate them as humans. #MakeReadingFun
Lori Nelson Lee