Why Multiculturalism in Children's Literature is Important

Published Jan 31, 2018 | Updated Oct 28, 2019

There is a need for diversity in children's books. This is my personal perspective on the issue.

...Curly hair, very fair. Eyes are blue, lovely too. Teacher’s pet, is that you? Yes Yes Yes.

So went a nursery rhyme I learnt in school. This was in India, where of the 1.2 billion population very few have fair skin and blue eyes. Being the teacher’s pet felt unachievable, a far-off fantasy.

In a country where fair skin is inexplicably revered, I remember how when we went to social gatherings, uncles and aunts would fawn over the fair skinned children. The dark skinned children were left to feel inadequate and inferior. Sometimes we would be cornered and examined. Judgement would be passed about our (bleak) marital prospects. Some of us were even given solace that since we were so ‘ordinary looking’, we didn’t have to worry about on-toward attention.

I am not a child anymore and I have had many more experiences that give me perspective and make me see things for what it was. I call it having a lack of having everyday role models for young impressionable minds.

I find myself now in the United States of America. My children will grow up Asian-American. There might be similar moments that they - in fact, a lot of multicultural children will go through. These moments invariably go into the foundation of thinking of who we were and how worthy we were.

In a recent study by Lee and Low it was found that 37% of children in the US identify themselves as multicultural, yet only 14% of the children’s books have multicultural content.

Other statistics by the CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center) state that maybe only 3-4% of children’s books have characters from Asia/pacific.

There is no doubt a huge need for diverse books in the children’s books market. Our children need to grow up exposed to different cultures, different languages, different dresses, different foods. They need to be curious and open. They need to understand that normal can be different for different people. They need to celebrate the variety, the diversity around them.

Recently I became American. During the oath ceremony, I was so heartened to see 454 applicants from 61 different countries gathered there, taking our pledge of allegiance together. As they addressed us in English and then Vietnamese, Tagalog, Chinese, I felt a coming together of all our different identities. Growing up in the melting pot that is India, I was struck that day by the unity in diversity in my new adopted land.

My hope is to bring all the diverse, unique experiences we have and share it with everyone so it becomes one with the psyche here. Our children need to be proud of their roots and excited for what they can share with the rest of the world. They need to have role models that look like them and do things like them. They need to know that each one of them is special and unique.

With my upcoming book “Ten Gulab Jamuns” I would like to give children of color a sense of belonging. I would also like to present some nuggets of South Asia and India to a wider audience. It is an attempt to bring global and diverse together in a fun way.

The story in this book is based on a true event. I took a favorite childhood story of mine and adapted it to my current context with my two sons. There are two characters in the book - As an aside, Idu and Adu also mean “This” and “That” in Kannada which is my mother tongue.

I have a Kickstarter for this book. My humble request to everyone to please contribute and bring this project to life. I cannot do it without you! 

You can make a difference. Promote diversity and enrich the landscape of the children’s book market.

You can also make a difference by checking out this amazing Kickstarter:

Sandhya Acharya
By Sandhya Acharya
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