I’m all for diversity in books–after all, God’s creation is full of so many different kinds of people and they are all created in His image. We should be reading about and seeing people of all shapes, sizes, and colors in books.
There are plenty of diverse family situations, too; families don’t come in neat little packages with tied-up bows: a mom, a dad, 2.5 children, and a puppy in a nice, suburban house. We each bring our own backgrounds to our family situations, and things are never as tidy in real life as the annual Christmas card pretends.
With that in mind, I am delighted that there are more books featuring families made up of more than one race/ethnicity and families that struggle through hard family situations, looking for ways to bring some restoration and healing to the mess that is around them. Some authors and illustrators seem to do this effortlessly. Frank Cottrell Boyce’s books often feature a mixed racial cast of characters; his latest, The Astounding Broccoli Boy, adds a fun twist as a racially diverse cast all turns the same bright shade of broccoli green. Hilary McKay’s books also do this well; her latest, Binny in Secret, features a single mom plus three kids muddling through and loving each other as best they know how.
Many new picture books also give us a very colorful–and often delightful–look at families with several races in the mix. As more interracial marriages happen and more families adopt children of different racial backgrounds than their own, books like these are increasingly important as reflectors not only of reality but also of the beauty of reconciliation.
What disturbs me; however, is that some of these new picture books also feature an extended family with two dads as one of the sub-units. Interestingly, the text–when read without looking at the pictures–often says very little about the makeup of the family in terms of ethnicity or alternative lifestyles. It’s easy to skim through the book, celebrate what it is doing well, and miss a picture here and there that will communicate an intentional message from the book creators: all of these family units are normal, and are occurring at the same frequency level. Just as there are increasing numbers of racially mixed family units, there are increasing units of same-sex marriages with adopted children. This may be true on some level, but it is not as widespread and typical as these books might indicate.
What this says to us as parents, educators, and gift-givers is that we must always read and look discerningly. It is our job to be gate keepers for our homes, not that of the mainstream publishers, public libraries, and bookstores. And books like the My Family Tree and Me and Over the River & Through the Wood (both pictured here) get a lot of it right: multi-ethnic families, stellar illustrations, interesting book design and concepts… Some of you may be ready to have conversations with your children about what the books also get wrong; others of you may wish to leave books like these on the shelves.