At A Fuse 8 Production, Elizabeth Bird blogged about children’s books (particularly for very young children) that portray people with a variety of racial and cultural backgrounds. Between the original post and the comments, there’s quite a good list building up there. There’s some debate, too, over whether the label “casual diversity” should be applied to these books — ones where the characters aren’t all white (or of colour, but let’s face it, they’re way more likely to be all white) but race/colour is not the focus of the story or text. Bird says:
I think “casual diversity” is the term to use in opposition of “intentional diversity” where the focus or crux of the book is on race. There is NOTHING wrong with a book where race is first and foremost the issue at hand. But when I’m reading a picture book to my kid (and note that I’m talking on the younger scale here today – older books are a different issue and one that deserves a blog post of their very own) I get a little nauseated when I encounter crowd scenes where everyone is white. . . . In fact, I’d argue that in cases of “casual diversity” it isn’t that race doesn’t matter but that it matters so much that it’s understood to be a part of everyday life.
I agree wholeheartedly. Whether we’re talking about colour or gender or sexual orientation or religion, the simple truth is that (unless you live somewhere really insular) our daily lives are full of people who are different — from us and from each other. And that’s a good thing. It should be reflected in the pictures and stories to which we expose our kids.
And I think the “casual” bit is important because it normalizes. It’s anti-tokenism. We’re talking about very young children here — wouldn’t it be great if the first thing a child understood about difference is that it’s normal? That variety is normal? When they get older they should definitely learn about all the heavy stuff, definitely, but why not start with the positive?
I’ve made a mental note to come back to this list when I start buying books for my new niece or nephew (due this summer). I want him or her to understand from the start that the (white, straight, Christian, working-dad-stay-at-home-mom) family she or he belongs to is just one of a huge variety of ways to be, no better and no worse than any other.