In honor of Dr. King’s birthday, I wanted to reshare this post from two years ago.
As this post from NPR points out, the diversity of characters in children’s books today does not come close to reflecting the diversity of the children in our nation. While nearly half of the children under 5 are nonwhite, book characters are still overwhelmingly white.
We need more books that feature children of all ethnicities — and not just in books about being ethnic, but in books about being a child. Read on to see what I mean!
(Post contains affiliate links.)
In the muggy heat of the summer of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the now famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He spoke of his dream for a future where children of all races could walk together and “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”. This speech, this man, and this movement are all iconic pieces of American History.
It is within this context that it becomes even more interesting to note that it was in the year preceding that, 1962, that the first full-color children’s book featuring a Black child as the main character was released.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats tells the story of a boy enjoying the magic of a city blanketed in snow. The story itself is simple. But the artistic quality of the book is timeless and its message in that time period is profound.
The book isn’t a message book per se. It isn’t a book about what it means to be Black. It’s simply about what it means to be a child on a snowy day. That’s what makes it so poignant amid the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement. To me, that communicates more clearly than any overt message book could, the equality of man. Nothing illustrates life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness like a child wrapped in his favorite snowsuit, exploring the wonder of snow.
With reverberations of Dr. King’s speech, this story is about a character; not about the color of his skin.
It’s been 50 years since that groundbreaking release, and while Ezra Jack Keats produced several other wonderful books featuring Peter, just being Peter, it seems that we could still use more diverse characters in children’s picture books. Not just in books on the topic of diversity, but in books about the simple, common experiences of childhood.
As I’ve mentioned before, I want my own boys to see characters in books that remind them of themselves, with big blue eyes and even bigger personalities. But I also want them to read books where they can look into the green, black, and brown eyes that remind them of their friends.
All children deserve to be able to see themselves in a good book, and to see the rest of the world there as well.
When I try to think of a contemporary book with qualities similar to The Snowy Day, I think first of Please, Puppy, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee. The illustrations, by Kadir Nelson, are bright, bold, and beautiful. And the story itself is pure. Just two children and their new, mischievous puppy. The text is simple and lyrical. It’s certainly a favorite at our house!
So what are some of your favorite children’s books that show the diversity of children simply being children? I’d love to add to our library!
Check out this interesting article about the anniversary of The Snowy Day from the Washington Post, with a hat tip to my friend Zina of Lasso the Moon for sharing it on Facebook.
And if you want to add to your library as well, take a look at these storytime books featuring Black characters from Amazon.
(Check out the comments on the original post for more great book suggestions!)
I totally agree that it is the beautiful collage and the universality of this story that make this a classic. Keats writes about childhood and captures the wonderment and absorbtion with small daily details beautifully. My white 2 year old adores his books, and I’m so happy that his books reflect the faces we see around us. Keats’ Whistle For Willie is also good. We also love Don Freeman’s ‘Corduroy’ which is similarly a sweet story that just happens to have an African American main character. I’d love to know about other good, beautiful books that show diversity without making diversity their topic. The other author that comes to mind is Taro Yashima’s Crow Boy and Umbrella.
Stephanie Schuler says
Excellent stuff! Promoting diversity at a young age is essential to proper parenting and schooling.
This is the Dream by Diane Z. Shore & Jessica Alexander
Brothers of the Knight by Debbie Allen
Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen
Queen of the Scene by Queen Latifah
Salt in His Shoes by Delores Jordan with Rosslyn M. Jordan
Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange
The Secret Olivia Told Me by N. Joy
Baby Cakes by Karma Wilson
He’s Got the Whole World by Katie Nelson
What a great list!