The days of avoiding serious subjects in children’s books — things like complex emotions, racism, mental illness, even death — seem to be over. Authors targeting young readers tackle uncomfortable truths, producing more diverse and sophisticated content with which to engage them.
According The Philadelphia InvestigatorCarl Lennertz, editor of the Children’s Book Council, explains that authors of children’s books have been creating complex story arcs for young readers since the 1960s. These books, however, were an exception, and children who had no not raised in a nuclear family – and were not white – continued to be ignored in children’s literature.
“There was a time when we wanted to keep kids safe from these problems; that time is now behind us,” said Naren Aryal, CEO and Publisher of the Children’s Imprint Books on mascots, reported The Inquirer. “But we’re learning as a society that it’s better to talk about those things that haven’t been said in the past.”
Fast forward to 2022, and publishers have increased the variety of children’s books available, especially historical and non-fiction books. For example, A Kids Company About — which, according to its website, is a black-owned children’s media company whose goal is to inspire a new generation of children through diverse storytelling. She has published over 70 books for readers up to age 9. The books cover a variety of topics, including divorce, racism, voting, cancer, empathy, and being non-binary.
Although things seem to be moving in a positive direction within the book industry, there is still work to be done. In 2015, publisher Lee & Low conducted a survey of diversity in the publishing industry and found that only 2% of children’s books were written by black authors and featured black children; likewise, Latinos were rarely featured. There was only a slight increase in the number of books featuring black protagonists when the survey was repeated five years later.
Lennertz told The Inquirer it wasn’t until the protests following the May 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody that the publishing industry began to scrutinize his output. more serious. Since then, there has been an increase in the number of non-fiction children’s books dealing with black history.
However, many school districts across America are banning books that humanize LGBTQ+ children’s experiences and discuss the specifics of black life, with some white parents believing that reading them makes children feel uncomfortable.
“Children can manipulate the material. Their minds are open, they don’t prejudge,” Lennertz said, according to The Inquirer. “And if the cop [who killed George Floyd] read a book that humanized black children 20 years ago? Imagine how different our country would be.
The resurgence of more worldly children’s literature is fueled by a number of books by authors with Philadelphia ties, such as schoolteacher Hallee Adelman, who has a series of books about children and big feelings, and the ABC News Live presenter Linsey Davis, whose book “How High Is Heaven?” helps young people cope with the death of loved ones, a topic particularly relevant in the wake of COVID-19 and unending gun violence.
Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow is also the author of several books, including “Mommy’s Khimar”, which is about a Muslim girl who dresses up in her mother’s headscarf, and “Your Name is a Song”, which tells the story of a youngster whose teacher and classmates are unable to pronounce her name until she teaches them to sing it. This latest book fell under a book ban imposed by the Central York School District.
“It’s disturbing that people want to ban people like me from existing in a book,” Thompkins-Bigelow said, The Inquirer reported. “Do you mind if your children see me? There are no explicit messages in my books; they are only presentations of people who exist.
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