What we read to our children matters.
Last month, Dr. Seuss Enterprises made waves when it announced it will cease production of the following six Dr. Seuss titles: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super! and The Cat’s Quizzer.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises and a panel of experts chose these six titles because of their “hurtful and wrong” depictions and descriptions of people of color. Dr. Seuss Enterprises stated in a press release that “ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”
Markette Sheppard, author of children’s books My Rainy Day Rocket Ship and What is Light?, told Ms. she “applauds” Dr. Seuss Enterprises for their decision. “I think that it’s always good when a person or an organization or any powerful entity decides to self correct. Because when you have a lot of power, you have a lot of leeway as well. You have a lot of privilege, and things are afforded to you that maybe aren’t afforded to people who don’t have the influence that comes along with having power and resources. So I actually applaud Dr. Seuss Enterprises.”
She went on to make a connection between the sentiments in Dr. Seuss’ books and the recent uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes. “[Some of Dr. Seuss’s books were] insensitive to people of Chinese descent, and in this day and age when people of Asian descent in America are facing heightened aggression from ill informed parties and––just plainly––racism, it’s good when people look inward to see what they can do to help.”
According to new data from Stop AAPI Hate, there were 3,795 hate crimes reported to the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center between March 19, 2020 to February 28, 2021, and women were 2.3 times more likely to report hate crimes. The most recent of these horrific crimes occurred on March 16, when eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were shot by a white man in two Atlanta area spas.
What we read to our children matters. “Books teach children who they are in the world and who others are in the world around them,” Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, an expert in children and young adult literature, told ABC Action News.
Research shows many children are aware of and make judgements based on race well before they reach kindergarten—meaning they could be absorbing the images they see in Dr. Seuss books (or elsewhere) more than their parents realize.
For this reason, it is important that parents are thoughtful about what books they share with their children. Not all books stand the test of time, and many children’s books that have been written in recent years have far better representations of diverse communities.
Below is a selection of picture books written by authors of color that celebrate diversity, instead of perpetuate racial stereotypes.
Written by Kevin Noble Maillard. Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal.
This book uses the refrain of “Fry bread is _____” to show the many uses of fry bread, a food staple in many Native American households. “Fry bread is food,” “Fry bread is sound,” “Fry bread is history” the text explains, while the illustrations by Juana Martinez-Neal show multiple generations working together to make fry bread. This gorgeously illustrated book shows the diversity of Indigeneity, and the inside cover contains a list of all of the Indigenous groups in the U.S.
Written by Markette Sheppard. Illustrated by Charly Palmer.
Author Markette Sheppard told Ms., “My Rainy Day Rocket Ship is a book to inspire low tech fun and imagination.”
This book, written in lyrical verse, is about a little boy who uses his imagination and objects he finds around his house to go on an outer space adventure.
Written by Isabel Quintero. Illustrated by Zeke Peña.
This is a story of the love between a father and a daughter, and between a family and a community. Daisy and her father ride through their city every night on his motorcycle, taking in the sights and sounds, waving to their friends and family.
My Papi Has a Motorcycle imparts to the reader the importance of community, while also lightly touching on the concept of gentrification in a way that is accessible to children and doesn’t overshadow the overall message of love for one’s community.
Written by Joanna Ho. Illustrated by Dung Ho.
Joanna Ho has written a classic story of learning to love the beautiful things that make us different. A young Asian girl becomes aware that her eyes look different than her friends’ “big round eyes.”
Over the course of the book, she realizes that her eyes look like her sister’s, her mother’s, and her grandmother’s, and learns that all of their eyes “glow like warm tea” and “crinkle into crescent moons.” This book teaches the importance of loving yourself not in spite of your differences, but because of them.
Written by Tami Charles. Illustrated by Bryan Collier.
All Because You Matter is a love letter from a mother to her child. A mother tells her newborn son about all the ways in which he is loved: “You were dreamed of, like a knapsack full of wishes.”
She also worries about the difficulties he may face in his life, from struggling in school to being confronted with stories of police brutality on the news. Through all of the messages from the world that he doesn’t matter, she reminds him: “You mattered. They mattered. We matter… and always will.”
Author Tami Charles said of her book, “I wrote All Because You Matter to provide parents with a starting point for conversations about the racial climate in our country today. These are issues that should be discussed in all families, of all backgrounds, if we are to raise empathetic future leaders.”
If you’re looking for more ways to engage in social justice education with children in your life, Ms. has compiled 15 Feminist Books for Kids That Prove You Can Be a Feminist at Any Age and Patriarchy-Smashing Children’s Books for Young Feminists. In addition, The Conscious Kid has many resources, such as articles on how to talk to kids about race and teaching consent to kids.