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Guidelines for Choosing Multicultural Books

— Reading Is Fundamental
Updated on Jul 26, 2007

Multicultural books for children should introduce a variety of family compositions, including single parents, grandparents who play key roles in nurturing children, and extended families who share a home and each other's lives.

Characters should not be relegated to stereotypical roles and behaviors. They should be depicted as achieving success through actions that are accepted and valued by their groups, such as not giving up a behavior held dear by family or culture to "make it" in the world. Minority characters should not have to be "the best" at something to be valued and accepted by the majority group. For example, a minority character should not have to be an extremely talented athlete to win the game, nor be unnaturally forgiving when friends are unkind. Minority characters should be shown as independent thinkers who can face challenges and solve problems.

Illustrations and Photographs

Illustrations should not use stereotypical caricatures of a group's physical features. For example, it is inappropriate for an artist to draw all people from one race with identical facial features. Illustrations should depict people from different races in different ways. For example, it is not appropriate to indicate that a character is African-American, Asian, or Hispanic by merely darkening his or her skin color.

Photographs in books about present day events should be current. Captions on all photographs should be accurate and specific. For example, an appropriate caption for a photograph of a city might say, "Harare, Zimbabwe," not "Africa."

Check the Content

Some multicultural authors and experts on multicultural literature believe it is extremely difficult to write a book about a specific culture when one is not a member of that group. Because values, beliefs, storytelling style, and more are rooted in culture, they believe it can be difficult to understand and represent the subtleties of daily life for a culture other than our own.

Others believe that an empathetic writer, whose work is based on extensive research, can tell a story from outside the culture and ethnicity of the characters, setting, and experiences.

  • Choose books with strong plots and well-developed characters.
  • Look for accuracy in stories about modern day experiences, historical fiction, and all nonfiction.
  • Look for books with culturally-based themes and books about realistic, everyday events and activities that include characters from diverse groups.
  • Consider your own views about the author's culture and experiences.

Finding Multicultural Books for Children

In the 1960s, fewer than 5 percent of published books for children were written or illustrated by minority authors. Since then, multicultural children's books have made only modest increases in number (they now represent about 7 percent of the total books published), but they do offer greater diversity.

A number of small, independent presses publish multicultural literature. Some focus on a particular culture, while others publish books from multiple minority groups. The 2000 U.S. Census, which shows increased representation in many minority groups, indicates the need for more high quality multicultural books for young readers.

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