By Deborah Hoger
A month or so ago I came across an intriguing social media post on @littleblacklibraryau which posed the question, ‘how diverse is your book collection?’ The post was based around the idea of conducting an audit of your bookshelves, the purpose being to review the diversity that is reflected through the main protagonists in your books.
I thought this was a really fabulous idea, and it led me to reflect on the importance of ensuring that children, particularly in the early years, are exposed to books which feature people of all cultural backgrounds, sizes, skin colours, genders, languages and family structures.
Why a book audit is important for fostering inclusion
Representation in children’s literature is critical in breaking down stereotypes and fostering inclusion. It also contributes significantly to a child’s sense of belonging.
When a child can see themselves, and hear their own voices in books, they are empowered. Conversely, the impact of not seeing or hearing yourself reflected in the books you are exposed to can be quite damaging for a young, impressionable mind. Children that don’t see themselves in the books they read, can feel invisible, or perhaps worse, children that see themselves reflected in books in ways that are negative, demeaning or stereotypical, can be left feeling like they don’t belong, or are not valued by society.
Four easy steps to conducting a bookshelf audit
What sort of message are you sending to children through the books you expose them to? Conducting an ‘audit’ of your bookshelves is an easy way to identify what gaps there may be in your book collection. Little Black Library provides some easy to follow instructions for doing this:
Divide your books into human main characters and
non-human main characters (animal/vehicle/vegetable/etc.)
Split your animal books into gender
For your Human Protagonists:
- Split by Gender
- Split by Race
- Split by Differently Abled (Physical and Neurodiverse)
- Split by LGBTIQ Representation
- Split by Family Structure
Review your results!
They may surprise you. Even those who are quite intentional in their book selections may still find gaps in their diversity.
Story Box Library also conducted a similar audit of their collection earlier this year and they used recent research (Adam & Barratt-Pugh 2019) to provide a benchmark for comparison, in terms of breadth of cultural representation.
As part of this study, 2,413 books available in the kindergarten rooms of four long day care centres in Western Australia were audited, and categorised according to the following: Culturally Authentic, Culturally Neutral, Culturally Generic, Solely Caucasian and No People. The findings revealed that 18% of books audited in this study contained any representation of cultural diversity, with only 2% containing a main character of minority background.
How did your bookshelves stack up? Are the books you are sharing with your children demonstrating diversity and are they accessible for children of all backgrounds? Do they provide ways for all children to connect with the characters in positive ways? Do they foster a sense of cultural pride?
Being deliberate in our book choices is beneficial to all children
Books are a powerful mode of learning, and it is essential that we provide young children with access to a wide range of books in which they see themselves and their families represented. Being deliberate and intentional in our book choices, and actively including books with diverse characters, is beneficial to all children. In addition to ensuring all children have the opportunity to feel like their cultural backgrounds are celebrated, such books expose children to a multicultural world, increasing their awareness of other people and their backgrounds, and promoting inclusion and appreciation of these differences between people.
How diverse is your bookshelf?
Adam, H & Barratt-Pugh, C 2019 ‘The challenge of monoculturalism: what books are educators sharing with children and what messages do they send?’ The Australasian Educational Researcher 2020 47:815–836.
Cultural diversity in kids' books - Readings.com.au