African American Children’s Literature Matters… There Is Power In Imagery

Check Out and Purchase A Child One Of The Suggested Books Highlighted In This Blog… Imagery Matters!

 I am in love with reading books at this age, but I was not in love with books as a child. Reading was never a challenge for me, but it definitely did not interest me. The first time I remember reading for anything other than compliance in school was when I entered High School. It was not until the 10th grade that I actually understood what it meant to simply read for pleasure. Until then it never occurred to me that a book could actually be so captivating that I could become fixated and not want to put it down. That pull didn’t happen for me until I was introduced to Flyy Girl, written by Omar Tyree and The Coldest Winter Ever, written by Sister Soldier. Those books changed my life. At that point I didn’t recognize the difference between great authors and mediocre authors, all I knew was that I was hooked. From that point forward, I was hooked on literature, but not just any literature. I was hooked on literature written by African American authors, literature that was culturally relevant, literature whose pictures resembled my image, literature whose voice sounded like the voices in my community and literature that represented conversations I thought were important in the Black family. My love for reading didn’t stop there, it was at that time I began attending book signings and participating in book readings with authors such as Eric Jerome Dickey and Nikki Giovanni while attending Temple University and even found myself with the desire to read a book rather than to even watch television. When I reflect on the difference between my disinterest in reading as a child and my love for reading as a young adult, I realize it centered around the type of literature I was exposed to.

Literature is how children develop themselves. It is how they learn critical thinking, use their imaginations, expand their vocabulary, and get a clear picture of the world around them. Children’s literature is a powerful vehicle that shapes the views of young minds and determines most of what they believe. Unfortunately, the current state of children’s literature doesn’t teach children (Black and White alike) what we want them to learn. As a child the books I was exposed to in school did not resemble me or the life I lived, therefore my buy-in to reading just was not there. Now that I think about it, I definitely remember Essence and Jet Magazines in our home, but I don’t remember just having leisure books around the house that exemplified cultural greatness or promoted beautiful Black faces. Reading was expected but reading simply for the joy of reading was not necessarily a priority.

For centuries Black people have been under-represented, misrepresented, or invisible in children’s literature. Every year, there are more animal stories published than books representing people of color. I would say it’s appalling, but we are well beyond that at this point. The bottom line is that our children are missing out on imagery and good representations of themselves and we have the power to change that.

Children’s books often contain the same stereotypes and biases of other media, and because children are interested in a story’s plot and characters, it is unlikely that they will know or consider whether a book includes racist or sexist messages or other stereotypes. Sadly, if young children are repeatedly exposed to biased representations through words and pictures, there is a danger that such distortions will become a part of their thinking. It is, therefore, the responsibility of us as adults to help children select literature that is both entertaining and that provides them with accurate representations of who they are and the greatness within them. Additionally, because there is such a relatively small number of children’s books about people of color, it is extremely important that adults make every effort to see to it that high-quality children’s literature by African American authors and about African American people are made available to our children in their home and in schools.

Each time we choose to purchase and expose our children to African-American literature we are fighting the underrepresentation of black people in literature. Statistics reveal to us that in regard to children’s literature, less than 8 percent of books published in 2015 were written by or about African-American people, according to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Such poor representation should alarm readers of all races, as inequality of authorship only leads to one-sided storytelling and therefore an inability for readers to see themselves in the stories they love.

Over time I’ve found myself being questioned as to why I get such joy out of purchasing Black books every chance I get, why I choose to fill our house with African American literature and why I choose to purchase only Brown dolls for my daughter. I actually found myself answering these questions for a very long time and trying to justify my perspective on this subject, but I’m so happy to now be unapologetically clear on the importance of African American literature and imagery in the life of a child. I get joy every time I purchase a book and bring it home to our children. I still get chills when my daughter finds beauty in the Brown images with the puffs in their hair that looks just like her puff. I still get giddy when I find a book that honors Black Boy Joy and Black Girl Magic. Imagery matters! If you are in need of more convincing on why we as adults must promote Black literature and imagery in our homes how about these reasons:

Why you should promote Black literature and imagery in your home...

  • It is the best way to learn our truth

As Black people, we have amazing roots. These roots run deep and impact our culture. Black books allow our children to relate easily to their culture. It also helps them shape their identity. Some books actually do show our history in the right way. Rather than imply Black people are symbols of oppression, culturally relevant books teach our children that they are Kings and Queens, symbols of hope and that they come from a rich lineage.

  • It teaches self-love

Self-love is powerful, and it fuels confidence. Black books teach our children to love themselves. It teaches them that their skin is beautiful and their hair is just fine. It teaches them not to isolate themselves from the world or people of other color. 

My husband and I try our best to provide our children with a rich collection of Black books with characters and realities just like them. We know the gift of reading is one of the greatest gifts to give. If you are wondering how to get your child interested in reading for pleasure, how about starting by purchasing them books that interest them and represent the greatness in them and in their culture. Trust me, they will relate to it and you will see instant results.

If you are looking for a few amazing children’s books written by African-American authors, here are a few you should check out. The links are below and will direct you straight to Amazon where you will be able to purchase any book that interests you. Support Black Literature… 

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