In the month of February, I feel noticed. Noticed by bookstores, publishers, educators, and the country at large. It’s Black History Month and for 28 days I can confidently take my children to our local Barnes & Nobel and know that they will see reflections of themselves featured in promotional displays. The reflections that they see will be of Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson, and Rosa Parks to name a few. All critically important figures whose life stories and accomplishments I want my kids to identify with and internalize.
However, children and families of color should not have to wait for February to come around each year to be noticed and valued. Unfortunately, authentically written contemporary stories about the everyday lives of black children and their families are still sorely lacking on store bookshelves. Furthermore, the few stories that clear the publication hurdle are seldom turned face-out in bookstores at any other time of the year.
I’m not saying anything new. This issue has been around for a very long time. But, diversity in children’s books is again becoming a hot topic on and offline. Now is the time for even more frank discussions and action. Children of color of all ages deserve to see the many dimensions of their lives told in great stories. The need seems even more pressing in the light of the recent breakdown in race relations in the multiple police shootings of unarmed black boys and men across the country.
With Kwame Alexander's The Crossover recently winning the Newbery Medal for Best Children's Book, it feels like change is a comin’. But, I wish it would speed up!
In the meantime, I’ll continue to write stories that give voice to the everyday experiences in the lives of not so infamous children and families of color. I’ll keep hope alive that my stories and the stories told by many other writers of color will be published and reach the open hands and hearts of all children for future generations.
In the meantime, my children and I will re-read all of the stories we’ve come to love until there are new ones to add to our collections. Until then, we’ll continue to search for our reflections.
Carol Higgins-Lawrence wrote her first story at the age of five. Her father paid her a quarter for it and she's been writing ever since. She's taken a variety of courses in writing for children. Multicultural perspectives are of particular interest to her. Carol is of Jamaican descent and was born and raised in Canada. She has a BA in Communications and Sociology and she has completed coursework towards a MA in TESOL. She has worked as a literacy educator for the past 15 years. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and two young children. You can visit her website at carolhl.weebly.com
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