Being a part of a mixed race family, I know that it’s still thought of as different or a curiosity for many. Norah from Loving Lion Books, introduced me to her book Love Family, and explained her hopes are to get people to see multiracial families as the norm. I love her message about why books with multiracial families matter and I hope you do too! Check out her site to see what her book is all about!
Why Books With Multiracial Families Matter
Children need books that are windows, where they see images of people who look like them, and their loved ones, doing beautiful everyday things in books. It validates the experiences of kids and shows them their own immense value. This is especially critical for kids of color as it helps them develop positive self image and pushes back against implicit and explicit biases they see, hear or feel.
Yet, children of color are woefully underrepresented in children’s literature, as are mixed race families and kids. In the 2013 census, about 10 percent of babies were classified as multiracial. This is up from 1 percent in 1970. Yet, there are barely any kids books featuring biracial families.
This lack of representation contributes to making mixed race families an ongoing curiosity for many. My family receives a lot of questions or comments from people asking me, “Are those kids yours?” or, my least favorite, “What are they mixed with?”
Books about mixed race families can help end this curiosity and bias by giving a window into the beauty and love of mixed race families. Just like kids need mirror books, kids also need window books to see the immense value of the lives of people who don’t look like them.
Kids who are white don’t have enough windows into the lives of mixed race families which makes it easier to consider mixed race kids and families “other.” This makes it easier for white kids, who eventually become white adults, to think, do and say things that cause harm.
The only way to stop feeling like an “other” or stop treating someone like an “other” is to redefine normal. Children’s books and lots of conversation with kids about race and racism can help us do that.
Here are some helpful hints to get you started using children’s books to talk about mixed race families, race, and all skin colors.
Find Diverse Books
Talking about race felt daunting at first, so we started using our kids’ story books to begin the conversations. It was a natural choice – children’s books show people doing fun things and we could talk about the skin color of those people and compare, contrast, and talk about what, if anything, their skin color meant.
As mentioned, it’s hard to find books about mixed families and kids. It’s hard to find books that feature kids of color. You will have to work hard at this. It’s so hard to find them my husband, friend and I started a children’s book company where families can choose, from a pre-drawn menu, the race and or ethnicity of the main characters. The company is called Loving Lion Books, and our goal is to create books for mixed families and all families of color.
Point Out Skin Color
Finding these books is only half the battle. We also have to talk with our kids about race, our own, and others. If you can’t find biracial families or books featuring kids of color, point out that it’s strange not to see these characters in books as we see them in our everyday lives.
Our family reads cuddled up on the couch, cozy and warm, right before bed. We use some of that time to focus on skin color. We compare and contrast the skin color of our own family with the characters in the story, making it clear that families with many skin colors like ours, and families with skin different than ours are beautiful, normal and their families are equally filled with love.
The conversation allows kids to freely ask questions and take in information, just as they do when you point out scenery or plot points in stories. Sometimes we’ll just say, “Oh, look she has gorgeous brown skin like you and very white skin like mommy.” Other nights we might ask, “Hmm, do you have any friends at school with a parent who has the same skin color as this daddy?” It makes race what it actually is, the color of ones skin.
Talk about Racism
Children’s books are also great for debriefing and contextualizing racism that children and families experience.
When a man at a hardware store asked me where my children had been adopted from, my four-year-old daughter didn’t seem to notice. That night, while reading a book about a mixed race family, I brought the comment up and she, to my surprise, remembered the comment and wanted to discuss it, asking “Why do people always want to know if I’m adopted?”
So, we talked. We talked about people being curious about race, especially when family members were of different races or ethnicities. We talked about adoption and how special and wonderful adopted kids and families who adopt are. We talked about how strange it is to ask people about whether they were adopted. We decided that we would reply “We are a family” anytime anyone asked that question from then on. And, finally, we talked about the love in our family and in families of all different makeups and colors.
Just like my daughter, kids want to talk about race but don’t always have the words or ability to express their discomfort. Books offer a safe and easy way to start those conversations.
Compare and Contrast Families
White families can use books to show their children families of color and talk about the similarities, (“Look they go the beach, just like us!”) and differences, (She has lovely Asian skin and ours is a beautiful deep brown”). In doing so, it allows kids to voice questions they might be afraid to ask and helps to normalize mixed race families and families of color.
If the man at the hardware store had been exposed to more diverse books and more explicit conversations about race he may not have even cared to ask about our family, knowing that mixed race families are normal and beautiful.
Keep It Up
Until books and media catch up with the actual diversity of the planet, and even when they do, it is up to us as parents to talk about race, racism and give our kids a chance to push back against everyday biases.
Norah Barrett Cooper is the author of Love Family and the Co-Founder of Loving Lion Books. Love Family is a sweet and vibrant children’s story for kids aged 0-5. Customers can choose the race and/or ethnicity of the main characters to find family members that are most reflective of their own.
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