Using Children's Books to Explore Multiculturalism in Its Less Visible Forms
Farrington, Eleanor, NATE Classroom
At Seven Stories we believe that children and young people should be able to choose and enjoy books that reflect the lives of young people from different cultures in the world today. Today, Britain's under 16s come from more minority ethnic groups than any previous generation. This presents challenges and opportunities in producing and finding books that reflect this demographic. The books young people and children read play a vital role in helping them to communicate, express creativity, explore emotions, recognise their own identity and share experiences with others. Recognising how much we all have in common and learning to value the differences they see in people around them, their tolerance and respect for others is vital. Seven Stories, along with teachers and school librarians are seeking an ever more diverse range of children's literature and resources to tempt and enthuse culturally diverse young readers.
Understanding the terms 'multicultural' and I 'cultural diversity' is not without its problems. I There is a need to overcome the perception that it only refers to books that feature black or Asian characters, or any culture other than of a white European origin. 'Multicultural', in relation to literature for children and young people, should mean books that reflect the wide cultural diversity in our society. Books can sometimes concentrate entirely on diversity of race, ethnicity and religious practice, but at Seven Stories we promote children's books and develop learning projects and resources that also explore its less visible forms--not only racial, ethnic and religious but generational, class based, gender based, urban-rural and others. Different types of diversity overlap in complex patterns. Children and young people need the opportunity to explore how they coexist in particular situations, through the books that they read. Furthermore, the danger of only dealing with these concepts in simplistic ways denies them the opportunity to understand the injustices and inequalities that do exist and the factors that lie behind them.
In 2009 Seven Stories and Frances Lincoln Limited jointly founded The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children's Book Award to encourage and promote cultural diversity in children's fiction. Frances Lincoln (1945-2001) in whose memory the Award was founded, had an unswerving commitment to finding talented writers who brought new voices, characters, places and plots to children's books. Julia Eccleshare in the TES described her as 'the publisher best known for pioneering multicultural books for children'. Jake Hope Reading Development Manager for Lancashire County Council and Diverse Voices Judge, said:
'The award feels hugely positive because its format allows consideration of diversity and its shifting cultural base. It has been structured to bring together writers, publishers, literary arts agencies, libraries and schools, which gives a potent base and a powerful reach. It is, arguably, through working together that we have the best leverage for changing the literary landscape so that it encompasses and embraces wide ranging experiences and lifestyles.'
The award is for a manuscript that celebrates cultural diversity in the widest possible sense, either in terms of its story or the ethnic and cultural origins of its author. Its main purpose is to increase the representation of people writing for children from or about different cultural perspectives. It recognises that as children's books shape our earliest perceptions of the world and its cultures, promoting writing that represents diversity will contribute to social and cultural tolerance. Seven Stories is currently developing activities around the Diverse Voices Award to engage children and young people and involve them in the judging process. This is an important step to ensure that the award reflects their experiences and challenges stereotypes in multicultural Britain today. …