independent publishers and amazing independent booksellers and sometimes even chains, bringing unique stories from around the world to us. These books are getting published. The trouble is often they are either considered ‘exotic’ or that there simply aren’t enough of these stories to create a body of work that complements, contradicts and surprises the stereotype.
Chimanda Ngozi Adichie says in her TED Talk The danger of a single story: ‘…the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.’
Books serve as mirrors and doors and in many cases as doorways into discovering more about friends, neighbours and the diversity of our modern societies. As a child, books were my friends. They gave me wings.
And I wish every child, irrespective of their circumstance or background to have the chance to try on new wings.
As Bishop puts it, ‘first literature can show how we are connected to one another through our emotions, our needs, our desires – experiences common to all…. Second… books can help us understand, appreciate, and celebrate the differences among us – those things that make each cultural group special and enrich the larger society…. Thirdly, literature can be used to develop an understanding of the effects of social issues and forces on the lives of the ordinary individuals.”
Allow me to give an example – my nephew turned five last year and I wanted to show him a story where an Indian (or mixed-race child) was having a birthday that is celebrated not with cake and candles, but also in an Indian way. Much to my disappointment, not only did I not find that book, I found out that there hasn’t been a birthday book for young children that doesn’t portray an animal or a traditional family in decades in the UK. At the end of that research I decided to write a story myself. I might one day even manage to get it published but there are many more children out there, whose aunts are not writers, whose parents have tried and failed at finding books that reflect their lives and children who will never believe they can be part of stories, adventures and escapades.
So I’m going to conclude the same way I started: what if aliens wandered into a bookshop to understand about humans – what would they think? Are we representing family life on earth accurately? What would the definition read for CHILDREN’S BOOKS in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? If I asked Deep Thought about what % of children’s books should represent the myriad of children in Britain today, would the answer be 42? I’ll take 42%. It’s bigger than the number we have now.
Adichie, C (2009) The Danger of a Single Story. Ted Global 2009, 23 July 2009.
Bishop, R (1987) Extending multicultural understanding through children’s books. In B. Cullinan (Ed.), Children’s literature in the reading program. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Buchoff, R (1995) Family Stories The reading teacher 49.3: 230
Cai, M (2002) Multicultural literature for children and young adults - reflects on Critical Issues. Westport CT: Greenwood Press.
Cox, S., Galda, L., (1990) Children’s Books: Multicultural Literature: Mirrors and Windows on a Global Community. The Reading Teacher 43.8: 582–589
Denson, S (2011) ‘To Be Continued … ’: Seriality and Serialization in Interdisciplinary Perspective. Proceedings of What Happens Next: The Mechanics of Serialization, Graduate Conference, University of Amsterdam, March 25–26, 2011. [Online] Available from: http://www.jltonline.de/index.php/conferences/
article/view/346/1001 [Accessed: 29 Nov 2015]
Tricia Kings is a freelance children’s librarian; she is a consultant for the Reading Agency’s Chatterbooks reading groups programme, and writes resources and reading notes for children’s books.
Chitra Soundar is an Indian-born British writer of children’s books. She has published picture books and junior fiction with Walker Books, Otter-Barry Books and her latest book You’re Safe With Me will be published by Lantana Publishing. Find out more at www.chitrasoundar.com
and follow her on twitter at @csoundar.
Galda, L (1998) ‘An annotated bibliography of multicultural children’s literature’ in M. Opitz (Ed.,) Literacy instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse students. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Huck, C., Hepler, S., Hickman, J., (1987) Children’s literature in the elementary school. Fort Worth: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Kalu, P (2015) Pete Kalu’s top tips for writing non-cliched multicultural characters (Online) Available from http://www. theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/sep/16/pete-kalus-top-
tips-for-writing-non-cliched-multicultural-characters [Accessed 29 Nov 2015]
Makowski, S. (1998) Serious about Series: Evaluations and Annotations of Teen Fiction in Paperback Series. 1st Ed: Lanham and London: The Scarecrow Press.
Morris, J (1983) Classroom methods and materials. In O. Saracho & B. Spodek (Eds.), Understanding the multicultural experience in early childhood education. Washington D.C: National Association for Education of Young Children.
Opitz, M (1999) Cultural Diversity + Supportive Text = Perfect books for beginning readers The Reading Teacher 52:8:888
Reimer, M., Ali, N., England, D., Unrau, M., (2014) Seriality and texts for young people: the compulsion to repeat. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
Rölli, M (2012) The Story of Repetition Parallax 18.1: 96–103.
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