Special Edition 1865: Black Children's Literature and Changing The Cultural Construct

Whether you’re in a library, classroom, or afterschool program there is bound to be a variety of books to select from. As a child, you don’t know the power in imagery, and the role it plays in life especially in developmental phases. As a child, you don’t know you’re being brainwashed through subliminal messaging in picture books.

Here’s why representation is important, especially in the Black Community. From my research on this topic, I gathered 9 points I’d like to share with you below.

1) According to a study published in 2001 by the International Literacy Association titled African American Children’s Literature That Helps Children’s Find Themselves: Selection Guidelines K- 3 – “From the time that they enter school, most black children read literature that seldom offers messages about them, their past, or their future.
2) The books used in primary classrooms contain the same few characters, or they include certain characters who “the history books like to acknowledge by their contribution.” or who deem of importance (i.e., George Washington Carver, The Wright Brothers, MLK, and The Tuskegee Airmen).       
Our Black History includes much more than them. It's rich. What about Mansa Musa? Garvey? Nefertiti? Assata Shakur? To name a few - our history is opulent.

3) Most stories say very little about the African Diaspora. It's taught that we became slaves, and some of us are sold into indentured servitude.

4) When you can’t find text that relates your life experiences.

5) For children, one of the biggest motivating factors is the ability to relate to the character that resembles them and their life experiences.

6) A question I often ask my younger self; How did I develop my sense of Cultural Identity was I spoon-fed what they wanted me to believe as an adolescent?     
7) By the early 1990s, less than 2 percent of books published were about African Americans/Black, a decrease from about 20-30 percent in the 1970s. The number of picture books published in the 1990s was lower than published in the 1970s ( 3)
8) Modern African American/Black children’s literature, published since 1965, was created in part to fill a void, to ensure that African American/Black children would not continue to be virtually invisible in children’s books. 
9) Literature for black children published by black authors first documented in around the 19th century. However, the books were banned from schools, bookstores, and even libraries. It replaced with books that deemed instant classics such as “Peter Rabbit, Charlotte’s Web, The Little Engine That Could, Scarlett Letter and Dr. Seuss.”  


In conclusion, representation matters. 

IHefflin, Bena R., and Mary Alice Barksdale-Ladd. “African American Children's Literature That Helps Students Find Themselves: Selection Guidelines for Grades K-3.” The Reading Teacher, vol. 54, no. 8, 2001, pp. 810–819. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20204996. Accessed 18 June 2020.
Davis, Olga Idriss. “The Rhetoric of Quilts: Creating Identity in African-American Children's Literature.” African American Review, vol. 32, no. 1, 1998, pp. 67–76. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3042269. Accessed 18 June 2020.
Mann-Boykin, Joan Katrina. “What the children are reading: A content analysis of minority male characters in preschool children's libraries.” (2016). (3)
 Harris, V. (1990). African American Children's Literature: The First One Hundred Years. The Journal of Negro Education, 59(4), 540-555. doi:10.2307/2295311
Bishop, Rudine Sims. “Walk Tall in the World: African American Literature for Today's Children.” The Journal of Negro Education, vol. 59, no. 4, 1990, pp. 556–565. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2295312. Accessed 18 June 2020.

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