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Why More Diversity in Children's Literature Is Absolutely Necessary

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DIVERSE KIDS READING
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Hollywood actress Amanda Peet will soon add children's book author to her resume. She is writing a book from her own experiences growing up Jewish in mainstream America. She wants her own two children to be able to see themselves in books.

Like Peet's children, every child deserves and needs the mirror experience in literature. But that is not possible unless our libraries, schools, and homes contain diverse books, books that allow all readers to see their lived experiences, their cultural traditions, and their language worthy of being in print. Many authors see the need to diversify literature and started a social media campaign, #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

We really do need diverse books for reasons that far extend literacy.

The benefits of shared reading from as early as infancy are well documented. Research on early brain development shows that the biggest gains in the number of connections in the brain are generated during the first three years of life, and these connections are dependent on the amount and types of stimulations infants and toddlers experience. These experiences include every type of sensory stimulation babies experience, including hearing their native language through conversations, being read to, and holding books and turning their pages.

Zero to Three, a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing parents, policymakers, and early childhood educators with knowledge necessary to nurture early child development, advocates not only the importance of reading to young children, but the importance of the shared positive interactions that occur when caregivers read to them.

These shared positive interactions help foster a secure attachment relationship between parents and children, and research shows the importance of these high quality parent-child relationships to both the developing brain and later academic and social outcomes.

Children who have high quality relationships with their parents show greater social competence and academic achievement than peers with lower quality parent-child relationships. The benefits of shared reading provide children with both cognitive and emotional literacy.

But it's not as easy for some mothers to read to their children as it is for most of us.

Not all families have access to books in their language.

Not all children have mirrors, books that reflect themselves and their families.

When the only books children can access are in a language their parents do not speak, they miss out on the benefits of shared reading. When they only see other people in books -- other cultures, traditions, and languages -- we tell them their culture is not important or their language is not worthy of being in print.

Year after year of this can be devastating on a child's relationship with family members, self-esteem, and desire to engage in school, literacy abilities, and academic progress. While children are resilient, many turn away from their families and cultural life, and others turn off the school that ignores their culture. Some do both.

Perhaps some of us have never noticed the lack of diverse books around us. That might be because we've never lacked a book in English, about families that look like us, celebrating Christmas, and driving to their family vacation at the beach. We've always had plenty of mirrors.

It is not just children from diverse families who benefit from diversifying our libraries. All of our children benefit. Literature should not only provide a mirror of our own experiences, but also a window into others' lives. We can begin to teach appreciation for differences to young children by reading books about diverse people and cultures.

Libraries and educators need to ensure that every family in their area knows the value of shared reading. They need to make sure literacy is an activity that embraces every language and culture, and does not just promote one. There should be no obstacles to shared reading for any family. That is why we need more diverse literature in our public and school libraries.

Amanda Peet is one actress turned author that is part of the needed change-not just for her children, but for all children.