Note: I’m writing this from a mom, teacher, and author’s perspective.
19, 2023, my 18-year-old son, a freshman in college, faced racial
discrimination by two high schoolers at our local YMCA, where he has been a
member over the past few years. He reported it to the person at the front desk,
who alerted the owner/boss. Aside from her filing a report with her supervisor
and just talking to the boys, I don’t think anything was done.
sister said my niece, an 8th grader, who is half Korean, but doesn’t
look Asian, receives racial discrimination daily at her school, such as a book
being thrown in her face. I asked why she doesn’t report it. “It will make
matters worse,” I was told.
mom (and aunt), I’m outraged. How can racial discrimination still be going on,
especially among youth? Just turn on the news, and we’ll all see it sadly is.
on my teacher hat, (I’m a kindergarten teacher at a public school), I’ve seen
over the past years, literature slowly changing. More books showing people of
color have been published. Yay! Librarians have been challenged to check the
number of books on their shelves featuring white characters versus people of
color. However, many diverse books seem to focus more on a cultural holiday or
how to say someone’s name, rather than just a regular story that happens to
have a diverse cast of children. In my classroom, I read lots of books that
feature children of color, especially those represented in my class, so kids
can not only see themselves, but to make diversity the norm. I saw evidence of
this when a couple of my Caucasian students drew their parents with Crayola’s
skin-colored crayons, but colored dark skin. Ha!
same day my son faced discrimination, in my inbox was the listing of acquired
books in Publisher’s Weekly’s Children’s Bookshelf. I read through the picture
book section, and noticed that most picture books listed had animal characters.
How can we teach diversity if most children’s books feature animal characters?
Don’t get me wrong—my kindergartners and I love reading books with animals.
But, if we want students to accept each other, they need to see children of
color in books, not just animals. (And I know, reporting in PW isn't a total representation of books, and some reportings were acquired long ago.)
Data: There were 9 picture books listed in the weekly
4/9 or 44% featured animals.
2/9 or 22% featured white characters as far as I could
1/9 or 11% featured a black character.
2/9 or 22% featured Asian characters (but like I said,
they seem to be holiday or folklore themed, not about current life).
Now, putting on my author hat, I say, we’re not done in this area. Sure, a lot more diverse books books have published over the years. You can see stats for 2022 from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center here. I don’t think the 2023 data is available yet. And Scientific American has a recent article titled, “Are Children’s Books Improving Representation?” My advice to illustrators is—please don’t change an author’s characters to animals. Instead, illustrate with a diverse cast of races. My advice to authors, especially those of color, not only write stories about your culture’s traditions, holidays, and folklore, but also current everyday life stories that feature a family/character of color. Teachers need books showcasing diversity for all different topics, not just when it comes to holidays, etc… A good read is “Teachers Push for Books with More Diversity, Fewer Stereotypes” in Education Week. I appreciate Instagrammer & video creator Maya Lê of Maistorybooklibrary who showcases children’s books with people of color in themed topics as well as other Instagram reviewers who highlight these books. Thank you so much for what you do for educators and parents.
From Martin Luther King
Jr.’s “I have a dream speech”: I have a dream that my four little children will one day live
in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the
content of their character.
I'm thankful my forthcoming picture book, God's
Little Astronomer, features characters of color in a nonfiction book.
More about that later, in another post.
you, Grog Readers, for sticking with us. Please support people of color
creators by checking out their books (or buying them) and sharing them on
social media, reading them to your kids and grandkids and students.
you haven't yet, please subscribe to our blog in the blue box at the top right
side of this site! Thank you!
Tina Cho is first a teacher of 20 years with a master's degree. She is the author of Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (Little Bee Books 2018), Korean Celebrations (Tuttle 2019), My Breakfast with Jesus: Worshipping God around the World (Harvest House 2020), The Ocean Calls: A Mermaid Story (Kokila/Penguin Random House 2020), God’s Little Astronomer (Waterbrook 2/20/2024) & God’s Little Oceanographer 2025. Her lyrical middle grade graphic novel, The Other Side of Tomorrow, debuts from Harper Alley (11/12/2024). After living in South Korea for ten years, Tina, her husband, and two kids reside in Iowa where Tina also teaches kindergarten.