The Importance Of Diverse Voices In Children’s Literature

By Dr. Rachel Kowert

Do you know, you are almost three times as likely to see a speaking animal in the central role of a children’s book than a Black, Latinx, Indignious, or Asian child?

And out of the top 100 best selling children’s books:

  • 1 in 5 does not feature a single female character
  • Only 2 feature a Black, Asian, or minority ethnic character in a central role
  • And only 1 features a disabled child but they do not speak or have a key role.

Every child deserves to see themselves as the hero of their own story. 

Diversity, representation, and inclusion is important in our media, especially in the media consumed by children. When we don’t see ourselves represented in the media we consume it tells us that we are not important. As put by Jess Day from ‘Let Toys be Toys’, “What we tell very young children has a strong influence, and what they’re seeing in books is a world where male is the default… and Black, Asian, and minority ethnic characters are rarely at the center of the story”.

Having characters that we can relate to also enhances the medias’ impact. For example, learning opportunities within our childhood stories are maximized when we can relate to the characters because we are more likely to emulate role models of the same sex, ethnicity, and same skill level of any particular activity. I think about the characters I most relate to in my favorite children’s books, and they were all similar to me in some way (Luna Lovegood from ‘Harry Potter’ for instance). 

Fueled with discontent with the lack of diversity in children’s books, I wrote and successfully Kickstarted my first collection of children’s stories from the Tales from Cloud Canyon Universe: Pragmatic Princess: 26 Superb Stories of Self-Sufficiency which raised more than $25,000 in 30 days and earned an INDIES award for educational children’s picture books. Over the last few years, I have continued to write and expand the Cloud Canyon universe and recently launched a second Kickstarter on June 4 for a BRAND NEW collection of three topical short stories: ‘Here, There, & Everywhere’, ‘Invisible Friends’, and ‘The Secret to Success’. These stories were the ones that I felt were still missing from my children’s library. 

‘Here, There, & Everywhere’ Is the story of Eli and Ophelia. Ophelia notices Eli isn’t at school one day only to find he is at home mourning the loss of his grandmother. This is a story about death, dying, and grief told in a child appropriate way from a faith-agnostic perspective. Meaning, it would be just as appropriate in a religious home as it would be in a non religious home.

‘Invisible Friends’ tells the story of Winnie and Yuna. On a playdate, Winnie finds Yuna is talking to strangers online and sharing personal information. which I know is an ever present discussion in many homes. This story discusses the how’s and why’s of navigating online stranger danger.

‘The Secret to Success’ tells the story of Quinn and Yanni. Quinn is a quick study. but learns on a school ski trip that everything may not come as easily.  This story highlights the importance of persisting through frustration and failure and the power of friendly encouragement.

As a mom and a psychologist, I feel like I had a unique perspective to bring when it came to crafting the actual building blocks of the stories. The fictional characters in childhood stories are some of our earliest teachers. We learn a range of things through the observation of these symbolic models, such as what is right and wrong, desirable and undesirable behavior, gender roles, norms, stereotypes, and more.

The role of models is particularly influential in childhood as it can have a long lasting impact on intellectual, social, emotional and moral development. I am so proud of this new collection and hope you and your children find them inspiring too because every child deserves to be the hero of their own story.

Dr. Rachel Kowert is a research psychologist, award-winning author, and mom of three. In 2019, she launched her first Kickstarter project from the Cloud Canyon universe – a collection of female centered stories entitled Pragmatic Princess: 26 stories of self sufficiency and raised more than $25,000 in 30 days and won an INDIES award for educational children’s picture book. Dr. Kowert has been featured in various media outlets, including NPR, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, and Wired. You can learn more about her work via her website, and follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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