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Tips for Choosing Picture Books Featuring Diverse, BIPOC Characters

If you’re an adult who understands the importance of seeking out picture books that feature Black and Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC), it can still be challenging to know how to choose a good book from among what’s available on the “diverse books” market.

The most common advice is to avoid books with stereotypical or negative portrayals, and to seek out books by authors/illustrators who share an identity with the characters in the book. There’s not a whole lot more guidance out there. Here’s some additional advice for how you can evaluate the quality of picture books featuring BIPOC. Give these tips a try using the Diverse BookFinder’s comprehensive collection of picture books!

1. Choose a compelling book & consider your audience. 

There’s no such thing as a perfect book featuring BIPOC that will appeal to every child! Choosing books only because they’re recommended could cause children to experience them as obligatory, “good-for-you” materials…like medicine. So ask yourself: Does this book have an engaging story that grabs your attention? Will children respond to the content in some way? Would they enjoy an inspiring biography? An adventure, fantasy, or something historical? A nonfiction informational book? Does the book use meaningful topics and themes that will s peak to children ? Does it have vivid language, images, and well-developed characters that will make them feel something ? Will they be drawn to the characters? Can the book build on current levels of knowledge or experience?

2. Include books in which BIPOC characters are the stars. 

Who is telling the story? Who has the power? This matters as much as, if not more than, who shows up in the story. Picture books that feature a white main character with BIPOC as secondary or background characters can send the message that BIPOC are only ever Incidental to the lives and experiences of white people.

The Diverse BookFinder data also shows an increase in the amount of picture books being published that feature characters of color whose race/culture is unspecified (e.g. “brown-skinned”). While it’s OK to read books in which characters’ racial or cultural identifications are not central to the story, they shouldn’t be substituted for books featuring clearly-identified BIPOC as the stars who drive the action and/or meaning.

3. Look for books that depict positive interactions across differences (Cross-Group). 

These books can be hard to find since there aren’t many, so special effort may be necessary here — but it’s definitely worth it! The Diverse BookFinder’s research (and others’) has shown that early and sustained exposure to such stories can reduce the intergroup anxiety that leads to prejudice.

4. Do ongoing research. 

Talk to librarians and book sellers about diverse picture books they recommend and why. Explore current and past diverse picture book honorees. The Texas Woman’s University libraries provide a helpful collection of relevant links here. Check out the articles on the Diverse BookFinder’s resource list for evaluating the quality of racially/culturally diverse books and peruse the Diverse BookFinder blog to learn more.

The Diverse BookFinder is a comprehensive collection of children’s picture books featuring Black and Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC).

Excerpted from “8 tips for choosing “good” picture books featuring diverse, BIPOC characters,” an Action Guide produced by EmbraceRace.org. You can read or download your own copy of all eight tips, and many other Action Guides in English and Spanish on EmbraceRace.org.

Source: EmbraceRace | 8 tips for choosing “good” picture books featuring diverse, BIPOC characters, https://www.embracerace.org/resources/8-tips-for-choosing-good-picture-books-featuring-diverse-bipoc-characters | EmbraceRace ©2020

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