MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN’S LITERATURE
This page provides an overview of how to evaluate and use literature in your classrooms, along with some examples of books, and links to other bibliographies and curriculum guides. This list is not an exhaustive bibliography of multicultural children’s literature, but is designed to provide a starting place and overview.
When looking for multicultural children’s literature for your classroom, keep the following guidelines in mind:
1. DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF TO THE AGE OR GRADE LEVEL ASSIGNED TO THE BOOK.
Because children’s ability to understand messages and themes change as they mature, there are some great books that teach about diversity that could be used on one level in an elementary class and on another level in a high school class/university class.
2. DON’T LIMIT USING BOOKS TO LANGUAGE ARTS OR ENGLISH CLASS.
Using books in other subjects is a great way to incorporate different perspectives, create debate, and infuse diversity into the curriculum on a whole. Some of the books in the list below are appropriate for different subjects.
3. BE AWARE OF VARIOUS IDENTITIES WITHIN A CULTURE.
The Anglo-Saxon culture has a lot of variety, why wouldn’t others? For example, when selecting Indigenous literature, seek out books that depict characters from a well-defined specific Nation — as opposed to generic ‘Natives’. We caution that there are several popular books that do not demonstrate understanding of specific differences. For example, in Annie and the Old One by Miska Miles — which is a story of a little girl dealing with the death of her grandmother — descriptions and illustrations are totally incorrect for the Navajo culture. And no one in any Aboriginal culture would call his or her grandmother “old one.” If you are unsure how to evaluate a book focusing on an Indigenous culture, consult our list of resources to teach about Indigenous cultures and histories below.
4. AVOID BOOKS THAT PERPETUATE STEREOTYPES.
In particular, be cautious of books that suffer from what Joseph Bruchac refers to as “The Dances with Wolves Syndrome” — books in which all Aboriginal people are noble and all white people are bad. Any children’s book that builds up one culture at the expense of another ultimately keeps racial tension alive.
5. CHOOSE BOOKS WRITTEN BY A MEMBER OF THAT CULTURE.
Although there are some exceptions, try to choose books that are written by a member of the topic’s culture or has lived within this culture a long time. Cultural experiences are diverse and unique. For example, the Black experiences of the Canadian Maritimes do not mirror the experiences of immigrant Blacks nor do inner-city situations parallel rural settings. Make sure your classroom library reflects this diversity.
6. YOU DON’T ALWAYS HAVE TO REJECT BOOKS WITH OFFENSIVE EXPRESSIONS, NEGATIVE ATTITUDES, OR STEREOTYPES.
These can actually be learning experiences but the teachers have to be well PREPARED. Without a lot of preparation, stereotypes can grow rather than be challenged.
7. CHOOSE STORIES THAT ARE WELL WRITTEN.
Seek out good literature with a strong plot and believable character development. The story should be worth revisiting again and again.
8. MAKE SURE THE ILLUSTRATIONS AND TEXT DO NOT LEAVE THE STUDENTS WITH STEREOTYPES.
For example, many folktales portray Jews living in small European villages before World War II. Although many did live in rural areas, many others lived in large cities such as Odessa, Warsaw, and Berlin. Kids shouldn’t come away from a book with a quaint notion of any group.
9. AVOID BOOKS THAT INFER THAT THERE WAS A SINGLE CAUSE FOR OR A SIMPLE ANSWER TO THE HOLOCAUST...
...or that stereotype events or characters, whether Jewish or German. They should address issues of human rights and oppression in a way that shows that people living under brutal conditions often did so with dignity.
10. DON’T SHY AWAY FROM BOOKS THAT HAVE DIFFICULT TOPICS SUCH AS RACISM OR TRAUMATIC EVENTS.
High quality literature is a powerful way to explore these topics.
11. AVOID THE FALSE CONNECTION BETWEEN IMMIGRATION AND MULTICULTURALISM.
Although immigrants arrive everyday, many cultures, such as the Afro-Canadians, East Indians and Asian are also multi-generational members of Canadian society.
12. INCORPORATE BOOKS THAT DEPICT WHITE-SKINNED IMMIGRANTS SUCH AS EASTERN EUROPEAN IMMIGRANTS.
Avoid the stereotype that all immigrants are People of Colour.
A CHECKLIST FOR GOOD MULTICULTURAL LITERATURE
Not all literature treats multiculturalism accurately or sensitively. It is important to evaluate each source you use in the classroom to determine if the book’s portrayal of cultures is authentic and non-stereotyping. Several organizations provide excellent guidelines for assessing children’s literature for issues of racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination. Some of the best that we’ve found are:
10 Quick Ways to Analyze Children’s Books For Racism and Sexism
(Children and Libraries en Espanol)
Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books
(Teaching for Change Books)
How to Tell the Difference: A Guide for Evaluating Children’s Books for Anti-Indian Bias
Aboriginal Content Validation Form
(Education, Government of Manitoba)
OTHER RESOURCES FOR FINDING AND USING MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN’S LITERATURE
Searching for Multicultural Library Materials for Students
Curriculum Laboratory, University of Lethbridge
Provides a list of bibliographies and trustworthy sources on multicultural literature related to curriculum and assessment. Also provides helpful hints for searching for materials.
K-12 Multicultural, Anti-Racist Annotated Bibliography
Created by the Multicultural Anti-Racist Book-Loving Educators (MARBLES), this document provides a list of literature by grades, with notes for each publication, all focusing on multiculturalism and/or anti-racism.
Antiracism Annotated Bibliography
A list of books with descriptions for grades 5-12 that help to teach antiracism.