I didn’t grow up reading classics that may be a part of your personal canon. I wasn’t very interested in books like Little House on the Prairie or Ramona the Brave because I had my trusty Berenstain Bears books AND several books that featured little black girls. I connected to those images unconsciously. Naturally, content was the most important thing to me in a book, but how could I not want to see someone like me? A black girl doing cool things?! Yeah, let’s read about that! [Shout out to the American Girl, Addy]
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters was one of my favorites growing up and still is; click here to read my post about it. My father was very Afrocentric, so I had many books about Africa and Black History on my bookshelf. I went to a mostly African-American Catholic elementary school and was lucky enough to have as my second grade teacher Mrs. Reid, who taught us about Black History. I distinctly remember the day we learned “We Shall Overcome.” This is where I come from. So I often wonder why it’s “expected” that I’ve read certain western children’s classics, especially in my personal reading time, as a child. I respect the western children’s classics but I don’t necessarily relate to them.
I’m just asking you to respect my canon. It is powerful too. More importantly, respect the fact that many children of color have a hard time connecting to what they read. Every child is different. Some kids, you throw any book at them and they’ll devour it. Other kids have to find that one perfect book they can relate to, that lights a spark for them. These kids might see a positive representation of themselves in a book and think quietly, “Oh hey, I can do that too?” and then they’re off. That’s all it takes. So guess what we need? MORE of these books. Let’s encourage these books in order to support these authors to get these stories out there for our children.