Moving Beyond Black and White: Recommendations for Using Multicultural Children’s Literature in Early Childhood Classrooms

terry-husband Terry Husband is an assistant professor of Early Childhood Education at Illinois State University.  He teaches courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels related to literacy instruction, assessment, and issues of diversity in schools.  In this post, he offers meaningful and practical tips for both new and veteran teachers.  Keep reading for more!

Children’s literature has become more and more diverse over the past 50 years.  Today’s early childhood teachers have many more multicultural books available for them to use than in years past.  Yet and still, all multicultural books in press are not the same.  Frankly speaking, some books are better than others.  While some books are highly culturally authentic, other books are extremely culturally inauthentic.  Even more so, some books are offensive and racist.  Thus, the issue of selecting appropriate multicultural literature for use in the classroom can be somewhat of a challenging task for many early childhood teachers.  How can a teacher determine if the book she or he is using is portraying a particular cultural group in an accurate and authentic manner?  What should early childhood educators look for when selecting multicultural children’s literature?  What should early childhood educators avoid when selecting multicultural children’s literature?  In this blog post, I provide 10 recommendations for early childhood teachers to use when selecting multicultural texts for use in their classrooms.  While certainly not exhaustive in nature, the recommendations are as follows:


1. Check for offensive, attitudes, and or stereotypical representations. Years ago, many children’s books were overtly offensive and stereotypical content.  While the children’s publishing industry has made tremendous progress in this area, there are still many books on the market today that represent the experiences of people of color in a negative and or stereotypical manner.  Thus, teachers should carefully interrogate the multicultural texts they plan to use for offensive and or stereotypical content.

2. Check to see if the author/illustrator is from the same racial/ cultural group being depicted in the text.  A racial/cultural insider is more likely to represent the nuances of a particular group of people more accurately that a racial/cultural outside.  Thus, teachers should strive to incorporate texts that are written and or illustrated by the people who share the same racial/cultural identity as the characters in the story.

3. Check to make sure the historical events in the text are accurate.  Unfortunately, many children’s books on the market tell an incomplete and or inaccurate version of history.  For example, far too many picture books today still portray Christopher Columbus as a wonderful hero who “saved” Native Americans from many different adversities.  Needless to say, this historical narrative is flawed at best.  Thus, teachers should do a bit of research to ensure that the historical events being presented in a particular book are factual in nature prior to incorporating the book in their classroom.

4. Check to make sure the book is of good literary quality.  The traditional literary standards related to plot, characters, setting, illustrations, etc. still apply when judging the quality of multicultural text.  Just because a book has people of color in it and has accurate facts and dates does not make it a quality piece of multicultural literature.

5. Check to make sure the book doesn’t oversimplify highly complicated events in history.  Unfortunately, far too many multicultural texts provide an oversimplified and “Disneyland” representation of race and culture.  In order for students to develop a critical consciousness of race and culture, teachers should use books that provide a more nuanced and complicated version of historical events and people.

6. Check to make sure the book uses authentic language from the racial/ cultural groups being represented in the text.  Teachers should strive to use books that include real words and phrases from the cultural group in the book.  For example, a teacher who is using a book about a Spanish family might look for a text wherein the characters are speaking some words and or phrases.

7. Check to make sure the book uses clear and appropriate language to describe the racial/ cultural group being represented.  For example, teachers should avoid books using terms such as “hillbillies” or “rednecks” to describe people who represent Appalachian culture.

8. Check to make sure the book does not romanticize issues of power and marginalization in society.  For example, there are far too many children’s books on the market today about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that represent the historic March on Washington as a “fun” experience of years ago.

9. Check to make sure the book reflects the inherent values and traditions of the racial/ cultural group being represented.  For example, a book about Mexican-Americans might depict values such as family, community, and hard work.

10. Check to make sure the book reflects a diversity of experiences of a particular racial/ cultural group.  Teachers should avoid using books that portray “all” members of a particular racial/cultural group as being monolithic or homogenous in nature.  Teachers should strive to incorporate books that provide different representations of people from the same racial/ cultural groups.




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