Last modified on 5 November 2013, at 03:10

Choosing High Quality Children's Literature/Multicultural Literature

Authors: Kim Rice & User:LinChiehHuang(黃麟傑)

In the past, children’s books generally treated minority groups badly or ignored them completely (Tunnell, M., & Jacobs, S., 2008, p.192). In the 1960’s-1970’s, Children’s libraries were supported by federal government. This encouraged publishers to produce many ethnic groups’ books (Huck, C., & Hepler, S., & Hickman, J., & Kiefer, B., 1997, p.123). Banks (1979) stated that "It would be difficult to pinpoint its origin, but it may be safe to assume that the term multicultural literature came after the advent of the multicultural education movement in the 1960s" (As cited in Dyson & Genishi, 1994, p.57). In 1965, Nancy Larrick wrote “The All White World of Children’s Books” to report almost no African Americans appeared in any of America’s children’s books. People began to recognize and include African Americans and other minority groups in the books (Tunnell, M., & Jacobs, S., 2008, p.192). In 1966, the Council on Interracial Books for Children (CIBC) was founded. CIBC encourages authors to write about their own cultures. In 1969, the American Library Association (ALA) gave the Coretta Scott King Award to excellent African American writers and illustrators (Tunnell, M., & Jacobs, S., 2008, p.192). In 1974, the National Council for the Social Studies gave the Carter G. Woodson Award to excellent minority and race children’s books (Tunnell, M., & Jacobs, S., 2008, p.192). In 1985 only 18 books were eligible for the Coretta Scott King Award (Huck, C., & Hepler, S., & Hickman, J., & Kiefer, B., 1997, p.123). In the last decade, multicultural literature has begun to flourish. Nowadays, multiculturalism is a big issue. Understanding multicultural issues is important. Banks (1991) stated “By the year 2020, one of every two students in the United States will be a person of color” (As cited in Dietrich & Ralph, 1995). Dietrich & Ralph (1995, p.1) stated that “educators should help students explore their own cultures and contribute to intercultural understanding.”

Criteria for Selecting High Quality Multicultural LiteratureEdit

Multicultural Mix...Shaken and StirredEdit

I believe the most important guiding principle when choosing multicultural literature for students is to make a selection that will allow the reader to see the world through the character's perspective. Our students may be blessed with a variety of different looking people with diverse backgrounds: racial, religious and economic, but many of our students know little of others, for they know little of themselves or their families. They are fortunate if they know of their own cultural heritage. Multicultural literature is of untold value to those with lack of experience. When students have been labeled "language delayed" perhaps they have only been experience deprived. With multicultural literature we have the opportunity as educators to bring the experience of others different from ourselves to be shared among a host of many. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) provides a wonderful resource entitled Anti-Bias Curriculum Tools for Empowering Young Children. This can be an invaluable resource to assist teachers and parents alike in the proper selection of quality, authentic multicultural children's literature. The children's lists within this volume naturally help to build and scaffold students' understanding in a variety of subject areas. It's important that we as educators locate literature that emphasizes different points of view and multicultural literature can easily provide this. Multicultural literature allows students to make their own connections for instance when studying holidays. Students come to recognize that we don't all share the same beliefs, traditions or holiday celebrations. With respect, we can honor one another's cultural roots and customs and value one another as we celebrate one another's differences. Multicultural literature instills compassion and empathy in young and old readers. For instance, during a Civil War study it would be crucial to use a variety of literature to provide sympathy for runaway slaves: Barefoot, Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky, Minty, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, Freedom River, Follow the Drinking Gourd, Nettie's Trip South, Henry's Freedom Box. Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers provides a perspective of America when women did not have the right to vote which opens up discussions and extended readings about Susan B. Anthony and even Harriet Tubman's suffragist constribution.

Look For AccuracyEdit

Why is accuracy in multicultural literature important?

If the author wrote wrong information about that culture, it may lead readers to distort other cultures and have stereotypes. Agosto (2002, p.1) stated, “Accuracy of cultural representation is a crucial aspect of high quality multicultural literature.” Shioshita (1997, p.1) stated that books must have current, correct information, be careful of not reinforcing stereotypes, and use actual language in books. Harris (1993,p.50) also stated, "Information should be factual and up-to-date." In other words, an accurate multicultural book must give readers the right information about other cultures. When readers understand other people who live in the world have some similarities with them, they do not have xenophobia anymore. “A good multicultural book must avoid racial and cultural stereotyping” (Tunnell, M., & Jacobs, S., 2008, p.190).

As teachers, we can evaluate accuracy as follows:

  • Are those non-English words written or translated accurately?
  • Does the author describe other cultures accurately (food, clothing, customs, religious beliefs, history, and holidays)?

Look For The Language of Both The Author and The Fictional CharactersEdit

  • Background Knowledge

Having cultural background knowledge to write multicultural books is important, because insufficient cultural background knowledge can make writers write a distorted multicultural book. Agosto (2002, p.1) stated that multicultural writers must have enough background knowledge to write. Dietrich & Ralph (1995, p.2) stated that “Accurate background information prevents the students’ prejudices and stereotypes from coloring the text.” Shioshita (1997, p.2) stated, “Some people believe that writers should belong to the cultures they describe; others believe that it’s enough if writers empathize with members of a culture even though writing from an outsider’s point of view.” “The authors can be outsider of that culture, but they must understand the culture very well and write with an accurate voice” (Tunnell, M., & Jacobs, S., 2008, p.190).

As teachers, we can evaluate cultural background knowledge by checking the author’s website or autobiography and see if the author comes from the same culture in which the book is written or the author has some experiences traveling to that country. We can also ask people who come from the same culture of the book to read and judge whether it is a good book or not before we read it to students.

  • Language/Terminology

Harris (1993, p.50) stated, "In light of the history of racism,offensive terms such as brutal, conniving, primitive, savage, and backward, should be avoided as descriptors of people of color. Writers should also avoid terms such as shacks, superstitions, and costumes, that would be offensive were they applied to their own homes, religious beliefs, or everyday wearing apparel."

Look For Value (Respect)Edit

The world is parallel. People should value and respect each other. The writers who write multicultural books must value and respect the different culture they are going to write about. Agosto (2002, p.2) stated, “Creators of multicultural literature should exhibit respect for the cultures they portray.” Newling (1997, p.1) stated, “It has to be done respectfully” (As cited in Shioshita). People may mistrust, fear, or hate other people who are unlike them (Tunnell, M., & Jacobs, S., 2008, p.189). “The character of the book must represent members of cultural minorities and must have their own set of personal values, attitudes, and beliefs and must present a positive image” (Tunnell, M., & Jacobs, S., 2008, p.190). Kruse and Horning (1991, p.9) state, "High standards must be applied to the evaluation of all books, as always. Evaluation criteria must always make room for any book to be valued for what it is, for the way in which it is unique, and for what it contributes..." (As cited in Harris, Violet. J).

As teachers, we can evaluate value as follows: Harris (1993, p.51) stated, "Put yourself in the place of the child reader. Is there anything in the book that would embarrass or offend you...if so, choose a different book."

Look For Quality Theme (Setting)Edit

A quality theme is the soul of a multicultural literature book. Booth (1996) stated, “This type of literature describes a variety of ethnic backgrounds and racial characteristics that discuss themes applicable across cultures” (As cited in De Leon, 2002, p.50). Dietrich & Ralph (1995, p.2) stated that “Multicultural literature offers opportunities for personal reflection and identification with many cultures.” Shioshita (1997, p.1) stated that accurate setting is important for books and authors should offer multiple perspectives.”

Excellent Criteria Articles/Links for Multicultural LiteratureEdit

Benefits of Reading Multicultural LiteratureEdit

Multicultural Literature Helps Readers Be Themselves and Respect OthersEdit

Diamond & Moore, (1995, p.13) stated, "Multicultural literature further heightens understanding,respect, and affirmation of differences because it acknowledges that it is alright to be who you are." Royce (2006, p.33) stated that reading multicultural literature about their own culture can help minority children increase self-esteem and help majority children know people who are different from them. “Multicultural literature helps children identify with their own culture, exposes children to other cultures, and opens the dialogue on issues regarding diversity” (Colby, S. A., & Lyon, F. 2004, p.24). De Leon (2002) stated that adolescents are interested in novels which talk about their own culture and these novels make them more open to others.

Teachers and Students both Benefit from Reading Multicultural LiteratureEdit

Davis, Brown and Liedel-Rice (2005, p.176) stated, “Teacher candidates can understand differences through multicultural literature reading.” Dietrich & Ralph, (1995, p.1) stated, “When multicultural literature becomes an integral part of the curriculum and teachers act as models and guides, classrooms can become arenas for open exchange.”

Multicultural Literature Constructs Children's Version of the TruthEdit

Children often see other's perspective through characters who are their age. After children see these multicultural characters suffering from social injustice, they will make a decision to redress social injustice. Diamond & Moore, (1995, p.14) stated, "Once students understand the harmful effects of social injustice and inequities, they can make informed and rational decisions about the most effective ways to correct injustices in their community."

Multicultural Literature Prepares Children for a Future in an Increasingly Multicultural WorldEdit

The world demographic is quickly becoming more diverse and Multicultural Literature provides an excellent opportunity to teach and understand compassion and cultural understanding. In order to combat racisim and break down cultural barriers, literature provides the perfect vehicle to inspire and educate children in understanding the benefits of cultural diversity. Multicultural Literature provides children the tools to live, work and participate for the future in an increasingly multicultural world.

Excellent Multicultural Literature ExamplesEdit

*My Name Is Maria IsabelEdit

My Name Is Maria Isabel by Alma Flor Ada is an excellent example of multicultural literature. In this story many important topics are dealt with delicately and admirably. One's given name is very important for one's family has chosen it in memory or honor of someone or some occasion and one's name should remain special and honored for what it is. The author Alma Flor Ada had the misfortune of having a teacher Anglosize her name and she based this story on some of her childhood recollections. This book also deals with the diversity of religious celebrations: Christmas and Hannukah and how the main character was drawn to customs and culture different from her own. Maria Isabel is intrigued by Hannukah, the story of Amahl and the Night Visitors, dreidels and latkes. Maria becomes more confident in herself and demands to be addressed by her given name of Maria Isabel Salazar Lopez and not Mary.

*The Funny Little WomanEdit

In Japan, a funny little woman who liked to laugh, "Tee-HE-HE-HE" liked to make dumplings out of rice. One day, when she was making a rice dumpling, the rice dumpling rolled and fell to the floor. She followed her dumpling and tried to catch it and encountered many Japanese Onis or evil demons. Onis caught her and asked her to make rice dumplings for them. One day, she looked to the right and left and saw no Onis there. She escaped and went back to her house.

*The Snowy DayEdit

Peter, an African-American boy, woke up and found out it was snowing outside. He ran outside and made a snowman, and snow angels. He loved snow, so he picked up a handful of snow to make a snow ball and put it in his pocket for tomorrow. Unfortunately, the snowball was gone when he checked his pocket before he went to bed. He was upset and went to sleep. He dreamed that the winter was gone. He woke up and found out snow was still everywhere. He was so happy.

The Snowy Day ActivitiesEdit

Ask students some questions before reading The Snowy Day: “Have you played in the snow?” “Have you made a snow man?”


Ask students some questions after reading The Snowy Day: Where do you think Peter lives? What do you think when Peter knew he wasn't old enough to join the snowball fight? What is something you will do when you are old enough? What do you think Peter and his friend will do in the snow?


Activity One: Footprints “When Peter walked through the snow, he left footprints. A teacher provides a snow scene with a variety of different animal footprints in it. Then, the teacher makes patterns of the animals which would make the prints. Have your students match the print to the animal. (The Snowy Day. 2000).”

Excellent Multicultural Literature Internet LinksEdit

Related Articles to Help Readers Select Quality Multicultural LiteratureEdit

Bushner, D.E., & Brewer, A. (1998). Multicultural literature. The New England

Reading Association Journal, 34 (2), 29-34.

Isaacs, K. (2006). It’s a Big World after all. School Library Journal, 52(2), 40-44.

Isaacs, K. (2007). Book Your Trip Now. School Library Journal, 53(2), 44-48

References (A~Z)Edit

Ada, A. (1995). My name is Maria Isabel. Simon & Shuster Children's Publishing.

Agosto, D. E. (2002). Criteria for evaluating multicultural literature. Retrieved from http://www.pages.drexel.edu/~dea22/multicultural.html

Baer, E. (1992). This is the way we go to school. Scholastic, Inc.

Baer, E. (1995). This is the way we eat our lunch. Scholastic, Inc.

Davis, K.L., Brown, B. G., & Liedel-Rice, A. (2005). Experiencing diversity through children’s multicultural literature. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 41(4), 176-179.

De Leon, L. (2002). Multicultural literature: Reading to develop self-worth. Multicultural Education, 10(2), 49-51.

Diamond, B.J., & Moore, M.A., (1995). Multicultural literacy: Mirroring the reality of the classrom. Longman Publishers USA.

Dietrich, D., & Ralph, K. S., (1995). Crossing borders: Multicultural literature in the classroom. Boise State University.

Dooley, N. (1991). Everyone cooks rice. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Dorros, A. (1992). This is my house. Scholastic, Inc.

Dyson, A.H., & Genishi, C.,(1994). The needs for story: cultural diversity in classroom and community. The National Council of Teachers of English.

Edwards, P. (1999). Barefoot: Escape on the underground railroad. New York: Harpers Collins Publishers.

Harris, Violet. J.,(1993). Teaching multicultural literature in grades K-8. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc.

Hopkinson, D. (1995). Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. Random House Children's Books.

Huck, C., & Hepler, S., & Hickman, J., & Kiefer, B., (1997). Children’s literature in the elementary school. Times Mirror Higher Education Group, Inc.

Keats, E., (1962). The snowy day. New York: Viking Press.

Levine, E. (2007). Henry's freedom box. Scholastic, Inc.

Morris, A. (1993). Bread, bread, bread. Harper Collins Publishers

Mosel, A. (1972). The funny little woman. New York: Dutton Press.

Norton, D., (2007). Through The eyes Of a child, an introduction to children's literature. (7th ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.

Rappaport, D. (2007). Freedom river. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.

Ringgold, F. (1995). Aunt Harriet's underground railroad in the sky. Random House Children's Books.

Royce, J. (2006). Walking two moons: Crossing borders with international literature. Knowledge Quest, 35(2), 32-39.

Schroeder, A. (2000). Minty: A story of young Harriet Tubman. Penquin Young Readers Group.

Shioshita, J. (1997). Beyond good intentions: Selecting multicultural literature. Children’s Advocate newsmagazine.

Sparks, L, and the A.B.C. Task Force. (1989) Anti bias curriculum: Tools for empowering young children. National Association Education of Young Children. Washington, D.C.

Tunnell, M., and Jacobs, J., (2000). Children's literature, briefly. (2nd ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Tunnell, M., & Jacobs, S., (2008). Children’s literature briefly. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

Turner, A. (1995). Nettie's trip south. Simon & Shuster Children's Publishing.

Winnich, K. (1999). Mr. Lincoln's whiskers. Boyds Mills Press.

Winter, J. (1992). Follow the drinking gourd. Random House Children's Books.