Back in November, when we were creating birthday and Hanukkah wishlists, my then-six-year-old daughter requested The Story of Divaali from the Barefoot Books catalog. She was so intrigued by this new fairy tale, by the handsome man with blue skin on the cover, and it probably helped that there was a princess too. Well, fast forward to the fourth night of Hanukkah, and the two girls each opened a stack of books. So exciting! But the most excitement was reserved for The Story of Divaali as she held it in her hands and studied the illustration’s details. She started reading it right there. But after dinner and baths, we settled in for our traditional nightly story time and our first reading of this particular tale. Now, I’m embarrassed to say my only prior knowledge of this Indian holiday was through an episode of The Office. No lie. So, I knew it was a party with fancy traditional dress, but why or when or how? Nope, no clue.
As we read this story of kidnappings and gods and true love, I was reminded of the Greek tales we’d recently read, and as animals changed form and wishes were granted, I was reminded of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen and the fairy tale lexicon that is more common. My daughter and I were both struck by how different The Story of Divaali was to our unaccustomed ears, yet at the same time, it was so familiar.
Children are naturally and insatiably curious. Offering the widest variety of books with a rainbowed cast of characters and cultures feeds that curiosity, it makes experiences universal, it creates humans deserving of empathy and friendship. The alternative is a narrow, bland worldview full of very few “us”es and far too many “them”s.
We’ll take the rainbow.
I was so pleased to see a rainbow reflected in this NPR article about eight picture books deserving of the 2013 Caldecott Medal, the award for the artist of the most distinguished American picture book. Nearly half (if you count green aliens, then it was fully half) of their suggestions offered diversity. While they didn’t select the winner, Brian Floca, the writer and artist behind “Locomotive,” I loved their recommendations.
America’s demographics have been changing rapidly, but children’s literature has been a bit slow to respond and presently doesn’t reflect the way our world, our country, and, most likely, our children’s classrooms look. This first ever Multicultural Children’s Book Day is meant to celebrate the amazing, rich, and beautiful stories that are available to our children and ourselves, as well as to create awareness and demand for more.
Please visit The Pragmatic Mom‘s site and enter three drawings, one of which is for a set of TEN fabulous Barefoot Books that celebrate diversity.