Today I snuck out of work early and stole away to a bookstore to take a look at the multicultural books recommended to me by the readers and contributors to AntiRacistParent.com in response to my column on the lack of diversity in toddler literature.
I spent an (uninterrupted!) hour and a half at the store, which happens to be the largest new and used bookstore in the world. Yes, you guessed it - Powell's Books. I was able to locate only a handful of the recommended titles, and of those only about four actually featured characters of color. Unfortunately, I found some of the illustrations to be of poor esthetic quality. A matter of personal taste and bias, I know.
For example, Spike Lee's Please Baby Please is an excellent concept. I loved the language and the playfulness of the ideas, but the illustrations, I thought, were terrible. The babies on some of the pages seemed misshapen and malformed with stubby arms and strangely twisted bodies and facial expressions that were supposed to be happy, but seemed full of agony. That was too bad, because I loved the text of the book. I know my son would have loved it too.
I was impressed with the Snowy Day Book by Ezra Jack Keats, but summer is about to hit and snow is quite a ways away. Maybe a good Christmas gift?
What disappointed me the most, though, was how few children's books with central, even secondary characters of color were displayed and stocked by the bookstore. By the end of my bookstore experience I was so sick of looking at silly pink and purple animal characters and white people on nearly every page that I felt discouraged. Just like that time I went to the same store looking for birthday cards for two friends of color. All I found were white faces or kitchy and borderline racist Asian-style cards. Man oh man. And I never said anything to the store. I suppose there is still time.
During today's excursion I did decide to browse the international folktale picture book section too though my 21-months-old son is too young for folk tales. But those books were pretty much a horror story as well. Most of the folk tales were Asian, retold by Anglos (because they tell it best - know what I mean?) with illustrations so racist (like this one) that I was shocked. Scary! And why does one have to go to the international section to find books focusing on people of color anyway?
I did buy one picture book that was recommended to me on Anti-Racist Parent. It's called This Jazz Man and is written by Karen Ehrhardt, an African-American author Karen Ehrhardt. The book introduces famous African-American jazz musicians as it counts to nine. It's beautifully illustrated with collages by R.G. Roth. We'll see what my son thinks. It's definitely not a book about construction equipment, which is his latest obsession.
Well, I won't let myself get discouraged so easily by this bookstore experience. I will keep searching. If you have any recommendations on toddler books featuring characters of color, please let me know.