Pin It
Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Why Diversity in Children’s Books Matters

By
Mira, Niu Niu and Little Brother reading Asian-American women writers

I just finished reading Lac Su’s memoir, “I Love Yous are for White People,” a story about growing up poor and Vietnamese American in Los Angeles dodging gangs, alcohol and an abusive father. It was a tough read but a sobering reminder that many Asian Americans do not fit neatly into the model minority stereotype.

 

Now I am reading Bich Minh Nguyen’s memoir, “Stealing Buddaha’s Dinner,” last year’s Michigan Humanities Council’s Great Michigan Read, about growing up Vietnamese American in suburban Grand Rapids and her fixation on American food.

 

Both writers ache to belong to the world around them.

 

I always share passages from books with my children as I read, retelling the age appropriate stories they can understand without taking on the painful grittiness of the whole book. Since I read primarily books by Asian-American women writers to supplement my very traditional dead white guy literary education, my children do not have to wait until college to discover women writers and writers of color in an Asian-American literature or women’s studies class. They get these stories because they often see the similarities to their own lives; they appreciate the humor; they love the food; they know the characters; and they are able to use these stories to gather strength to face their own challenges.

 

I am always pleased to catch them reading off my bookshelf and even more pleased when they retell me the stories in the books they are reading. Who needs social networking when books can be used the same way?

 

I recently received an e-mail from a Caucasian reader in Pennsylvania whose gifted seven-year-old daughter would rather be normal than smart. We think we have come such a long way; her father struggles to convince her that there are lots of other smart kids around the world who do well in math, yet this seven-year-old girl already knows.

 

The ache to be normal does not necessarily follow lines of color or culture or class.

 

Books are one way to expand the definition of normal beyond that presented in the mainstream. Through books, we can peer into another world, appreciate another point of view, find resonance where we did not expect it.

 

Yet, statistically, there are many more books written with boys as active main characters than girls. Think Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, even Harry Potter. Girls are the supporting characters, the cheerleaders to the boys’ heroics, the victims to be rescued by the boys’ daring. Hermione Granger is a great, smart, strong, fully developed character, but the book is not named after her, is it? Neither is it named after Cho Chang, or Parvati or Padma Patil.

 

We need to curate our stories. For example, it really bugs me that both Sleeping Beauty and Snow White spend most of their respective stories asleep, waiting for the Handsome Prince to rescue them with a kiss (Isn’t that called date rape these days?), after which they up and marry him. Little Mermaid takes one look at the unconscious nearly drowned Handsome Prince and forsakes her family and identity as a mermaid to follow him onto land. Rapunzel agrees to marry the very first man she ever meets (a Handsome Prince, naturally) during their first conversation. Curious George is a good little monkey, but Pandora and Goldilocks are both punished for being curious in the same way.

 

So in our home, somehow, the fairy tales always come out, And after the beautiful princess and handsome prince got to know each other really well, became best friends, and finished graduate school, then they decided to get married.

 

March is both National Reading Month and National Women’s History Month.

 

Originally published at AnnArbor.com, reprinted with permission of the author.

© 2014, Frances Kai-Hwa Wang. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


Si­, Yes: Raising Bilingual Twins

Language acquisition in three-and-a-half year old, bilingual twins.

The West's Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep

How the West sleeps is different from the rest

How I Moved to Thailand with my Family on Less than $1000

It's cheaper than you think to make that move abroad you always dreamed about

Are French Kids Better Behaved Because They are Spanked?

Should spanking be part of your parenting toolkit to have well behaved kids?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and Hawaii. She is editor of www.IMDiversity.com Asian American Village, a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog, Chicago is the World, JACL's Pacific Citizen, InCultureParent and Multicultural Familia. She is on the Advisory Board of American Citizens for Justice. She team-teaches "Asian Pacific American History and the Law" at University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at www.franceskaihwawang.com. She can be reached at fkwang888@gmail.com.

Leave us a comment!









Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!



Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!

What Cultural Norms Around Bare Feet Taught This Mother in Guatemala

Her baby's bare feet ended up being a lesson on poverty and privilege.
Hi Kim! I am so glad that this article was useful for you and made you feel validated as a parent. It's not often in this judgmental world of parenting we get that, right?! That's the main reason...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
I love reading your work. I can olny imagine what it would be like to have such beautiful customs and true community. I understand why it is so very very important to keep these traditions alive. Be...
From No Kids Allowed: How Kenyan Weddings are Changing
Your mother in-law seems somewhat reasonable. Many Chinese Mother In-laws are not. In their scenario, they would be number 1 to the child and you would be number two. Many want to have a bond closer...
From How My Chinese Mother-in-Law Replaced my Husband
I think Konstantina is actually responding to what is probably more familiar/praised/or preferred socially as well. I was an English teacher in Poland with a distinct accent. I struggled to get Engl...
From Should I Worry about My Child’s Accent in Her Foreign Language?
Noor Kids' title "First Time Fasting" is another great rea...
From 6 Favorite Children’s Books about Ramadan
This article was shared in a community I run to connect globetrotting parents and everyone LOVED it. You should join us! We all relate to your experience. Many of us, including me, are in the same b...
From Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get
Please help: I Love my wife and my son. I am also EXTREMELY involved as a dad. I had to move to china ( in a tiny tiny town) where I am the only foreigner so that my wife can take over the family bu...
From How My Chinese Mother-in-Law Replaced my Husband
Thanks for writing this!! My baby is 7 months, and I love having her sleep in my room. I don't mention it too often to people who have had kids because they seem a little judgy on it. So tonight I...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
Honestly, it looks like the author married into a very backward and old fashioned family. Not stimulating children's curiosity, differences between boys and girls, and women slaving in the house, wh...
From French versus Italian Parenting in One Multicultural Family

More Adventures in Multicultural Living