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Reflections on Read Aloud Titles Used in America

What do you remember about family, siblings, and teachers reading to you when you were young? Which books were your favorites? We all have favorite books from our childhood, and we often most remember books that depict characters with which we can identify. I used to love Nancy Drew books as a child. My son was crazy about The Berenstain Bears books.

When I was in school, Fun with Dick and Jane was the reading text used in classrooms across the United States. These stories depicted a middle-class white family with a dog. The mother stayed home and the father went to work each day. The children were dutiful and listened to Mother and Father. When we look at these books now, we laugh because of their stereotypical nature and single demensions. People read these books today out of a sense of nostalgia, not out of a sense of a true reflection of American life. We have grown beyond these depictions.

Yet have our children's books really changed that much? Think about the books being read in classrooms across America. Beyond the books like The Berenstain Bears that depict animals acting as people, more than 90% of the books depict middle-class white characters. And this lack of true integration seems to be systemic. Look at the data. Why, even the "Battle of the Books" titles, which are sanctioned by the International Reading Association and chosen by librarians, woefully underrepresent children of ethnicities other than white. In fact, titles for Battle of the Books generally have a representation of less than 10% for all other ethnicities other than white.

Studies show that children learn self-worth and esteem through the books they read as children. Studies also show that children learn about the world around them through these same stories. If we continue to expose our children to books that only depict white faces, we are doing a vast disservice to all of our children. African-American children do not see characters of their same ethnicity and therefore come to believe that their ethnicity is less valuable, and this belief can also be instilled into Hispanic, Asian, and Native American children as well. Furthermore, as white children interact with other ethnicities, they may understand, accept, and appreciate less of the rich diversity of America's fabric because of the shortfall of depictions of all ethnicities in the books they read. Therefore, children of all ethnicities suffer from this underrepresentation.

Is this underrepresentation necessary? Are there simply too few books to properly represent the students present in our classroom? The answer is, "No." Plenty of books, great books, have been written that depict characters of all ethnicities.
As this site discusses learning about the African-American culture, stories, diaspora, and experience, the links below offer read aloud titles that depict African-American titles for grades kindergarten through five. You are encouraged to do further research on amazing children's books that depict other ethnicities.

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Copyright © 2007 by Catherine M. Wishart. All rights reserved.