Reading Between the (Color) Lines

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I’ve always been a reader. In fact, my mother reminded me that I started reading from an early age—I think I had just turned 3. So it was especially sweet to see my son drawn to books too.

We started reading to The Youngster when he was a baby baby, just days old, hoping to create both a routine and love of books for him. Maybe it was all the time spent nestled into the board pages of The Going to Bed Book, I Love You All the Time and, of course, The Very Hungry Caterpillar that got us our darling, little bookworm. Or perhaps it’s (ahem) in the DNA.  Either way, we’ve got a book lover on our hands!

Many months ago, I noticed QB buzzing around the book shelves in my office. It started with the pocket dictionary and then on to a book about Buddhism (methinks the round belly Buddha on the cover was the draw there). He started to flip through a range of books—novels, classics, psychology tomes, whatever was literally within his reach on those lower shelves.

He’s recently started to appreciate magazines, too. Pointing out things he recognizes: the lady, the chair, the guitar, and, naturally, the shiny car.

It got me thinking about my kid recognizing himself, seeing himself—a black child, moreover, one from an interracial marriage— represented in the pages of these books he enjoys. Right now, most of the characters in his short stories are animals walking upright. So it’s not that big of an issue.

But later, when he’s able to read into things, understand the next layer of the tale.  What about then?

It’s like when I shop for greeting cards from QB to his dad. I have yet to spy one depicting a black boy playing catch with or getting a piggy-back ride from his white dad. I skip the cards featuring two white people and usually go for the … animals. Even though my son isn’t aware of what’s on the card (or the reason for the card, frankly), I still want him to be represented.

Recently, I heard from an old family friend and mom of two boys. She’s black and her husband is white. She asked me if I could recommend any good books “about raising biracial kids.” She mentioned that she was reading I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World, and was also looking for kids’ books with black main characters. So I threw the question out on Facebook and Twitter.

Here are a few suggestions that came back: You Be Me, I’ll Be You, We’re Different, We’re the Same, Shades of People, The Skin You Live In, and The Hello, Goodbye Window. (If you have any others, please share in the comments section below.)

But this whole thing leaves me curious about other parents. How important is it to you that your kids (girls, boys, twins, multi-racial, blondes, red-heads, etc.) “show up” in the books they’re reading?

  • 1
    Sarah W says:

    Again with the great topics and again about children! :) So great! I have the same problem…My husband is black, I’m white. It’s even hard finding Valentine’s Day card options (usually I do something with words and no pictures too). My stepchildren are black and hispanic so same issue there too.

    I think it’s important for when I’m a parent for my children to be able to identify appearance-wise with some of the characters they read about in books. As they get older, they can glean information about different types of characters and can identify with someone not just based on appearance and as their reading materials should advance as well.

    That’s my two cents… :)

    • 1.1

      I was never really a fan of the pictures on Valentine’s Day cards, so I’m good with just words. :-)
      Thanks for the comment, Sarah. You make a good point about when the wee ones get older and being able to relate to characters in books for various reasons, not just appearance.

  • 2
    Erin says:

    I did a project on this for school. The link at the end of the list provides all the information about the book and a brief description.

    •Ada, A. F. (Author) and Savadier, E. (Illustrator) (2002). I Love Saturdays y Domingos.

    •Adoff, A. (Author) and McCully, E. A. (Illustrator) (2004). Black is Brown is Tan.

    •Adoff, A. (Author) and Hanna, C.(Illustrator) (1991). Hard to Be Six.

    •Barkow, H. (Author) and Brazell, D. (Illustrator) (2001). That’s My Mum.

    •Davol, M. W. (Author) and Trivas, I. (Illustrator) (1993). Black, White, Just Right!

    •Friedman, I. R. (Author) and Say, A. (Illustrator) (1984). How My Parents Learned to Eat.

    •Garland, S. (Author & Illustrator) (1992). Billy and Belle.

    •Gaskin, P. F. (1999). What Are You?: Voices of Mixed-Race Young People.

    •Graham, B. (Author & Illustrator) (2005). Oscar’s Half Birthday.

    •Herron, C. (Author) and Tugeau, J. (Illustrator) (2007). Always an Olivia.

    •Hoffman, M. (Author) and Northway, J. (Illustrator). (1987). Nancy No-Size.

    •Igus, T. (Author) and Wells, D. (Illustrator) (1996). Two Mrs. Gibsons.

    •Jones, N. A. (2005). We the People of More Than One Race in the United States.

    •Lacapa, K. (Author) and Lacapa, M.(Illustrator). (1994). Less Than Half, More Than Whole.

    •Mandelbaum, P. (Author & Illustrator) (1990). You Be Me, I’ll Be You.

    •Monk, I. (Author) and Porter, Janice L. (Illustrator) (1999). Hope.

    •Rattigan, J. K. (Author) and Hsu-Flanders, L. (Illustrator) (1993). Dumpling Soup.

    •Ringghold, F. (Author & Illustrator) (1991). Tar Beach.

    •Shaare Tefila Congregation v. Cobb, 481 U.S. 615 (1987).

    •White, T. (Author) and Claremont, L. (Illustrator) (2008). I Like Who I Am.

    •Williams, V. (Author & Illustrator) (1990). More More More Said the Baby.

    •Wing, N. (Author) and Casilla, R. (Illustrator) (1996). Jalapeńo Bagels.

  • 3

    Love this topic! And love even more books that depict different races, without pointing out the fact that they’re depicting different races. My favorite one right now that I read to my 7-month old is Everywhere Babies.

    • 3.1

      You know what? We have that book! It’s one that our little guy enjoyed as a little-er guy. He still goes back to it now and then in order to “act out” things on the page. So when “everyday, everywhere babies are crawling”…guess who jumps down and does the same? So funny, that kid.

      And you’re right about the better books being the ones that are not hitting you over the head with the “LOOK! LOOK! We’ve got color!” brick.
      Thanks for the comment, Colleen.

  • 4

    […] from Ms. Mary Mack posted this morning, Reading Between the (Color) Lines which really hit home and got me thinking some more about the topic throughout the […]

  • 5
    Brenda says:

    I so agree with you! My kids are now 24 and 22 years old but when they were little , it was next to impossible to find much reprsentation, other than books from the Canadian writier Robert Muncsh (he had adopted kids so his family was mixed by choice). I also adopted kids with my first husband who was white and I am Black. One of our kids was mixed race and the other was black. We got a lot of looks sometimes because of the rainbow configuration . One woman thought I was the nanny to my mixed son!
    I agree it is important to have representation in a natural way so our kids can see positive images of themselves everywhere. In Toronto, Canada where I live, we are an incredible multi-cultural city and more and more couples are inter-marrying, either across religions, cultural or racial grounds. This will increasingly become important so I hope there will be a reponse from publishers .

  • 6
    Francine says:

    Oh I am so thankful for this post as I have been meaning to get him some books like this. With his birthday coming up this is very timely!