Why We Need Children’s Books with All Kinds of Characters

As a young reader, I was lucky.  My parents were readers.  My grandparents were readers.  In short, the adults in my life supported my love of reading.  I was lucky because I could see myself in a lot of the books that I read whether it was the Little House books or Meg Mysteries.  But I also managed to get my hands on a lot of books that gave me a glimpse into other worlds.  I still have my copy of High Elk’s Treasure by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve.  I don’t remember these books being hard to find but I know myself well enough to know that I would have sought them out.  That’s probably part of why I was reading exclusively adult books by about 8th grade.

Today I saw an amazing Ted Talk with author/illustrator Grace Lin.  To watch it, scroll down the page.

In this talk, Lin discusses the important roles that children’s books play as mirrors (show us ourselves) and windows (showing us a glimpse of a bigger world).  For each reader, means something slightly different.  A caucasian middle class reader has no problem finding caucasian middle class characters (mirrors) but it is also important for this same reader to read about characters whose experiences are different (windows).  The same is true no matter the background of the reader.

Mirrors help our readers respect themselves.  Windows help our readers  respect other people.  Each book that you write can serve both functions depending on the reader.  Mirror and window.  I have to admit that I’m now looking at my bookshelf differently than I ever have before.