Representation matters, in children’s literature too
“Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books? … Where are black children going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be?” - Bestselling author Walter Dean Myers for the New York Times
As Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month approach, I imagine you've been planning lessons and choosing Civil Rights related books to share with your students. If you felt a bit challenged to find quality titles in Spanish... you're not alone.
Did you know that in 2015, the number of newly published books featuring African American children was only 7.6%? That figure has improved since then to 10% in 2018, but still today remains incredibly disproportionate to white protagonists (and even books centered on animal characters).
As you can probably imagine, those numbers are even lower for books in languages other than English. As curators of children’s books, it’s a priority of ours to include literature from around the world, both written by and representative of diverse races, ethnicities, and cultures.For one of our newest collections: Black Joy: Everyday Adventures Featuring Black Characters, we wanted to include books with black and brown protagonists. Not illustrated biographies about civil rights leaders, sports legends, or famous musicians, but characters our students can relate to.
In the past three months, we’ve examined dozens of catalogs, evaluating over 500 new titles. Still, in the midst of all of this curation, we were only able to identify 13 titles in Spanish about the everyday lives of Black and Brown children.
There is much more to be done in the world of children’s literature. We have and will continue to call on publishers asking for more books featuring Black and Brown children to be translated into Spanish. Or even better: publish more authentic literature in Spanish by Black and Brown authors and about Black and Brown children.
For now, we’d like to recommend some of our favorite titles in Spanish:
¡Gracias, Omu!, written and illustrated by Oge Mora, celebrates Omu's generosity as she shares her delicious stew with each and every neighbor who is drawn to her house by its incredible smell. She's so generous, that come dinnertime, Omu doesn't have any stew left for herself... until her neighbors reflect the kindness she has shown them.
A few more titles from the Black Joy collection:
Sofi Rice and Marie Bouteillon, Curators at Hexagramm Books