I get a lot of children’s books that come into my office. I was drawn to “Circle” by Jeannie Baker because of the beautiful illustrations of the bar-tailed godwits birds flying over oceans. Then I opened it up. On the first page, a little boy is tucked into his bed and he says “Ahhh — I wish I could fly.” On first hurried flip through, I missed the wheelchair next to the bed. Then on the next page, we see him and his mom on a beach watching the godwits fly. He’s in his wheelchair.
The book is really about the godwits, and Baker could have had any kid in her story. Yet, she chose for a kid who uses a wheelchair to be seen in a book that’s really about the birds. That’s the kind of diversity our kids need to see in their books.
Last year, our children’s books writer Sharyn Vane wrote about the movement to include more diversity in children’s books and the local authors who are leading the charge, and I also wrote about realizing that maybe my own kids didn’t get as diverse a selection of children’s books as I would have wanted.
When we talk about diversity and children’s literature, we often think about race, but there’s more to diversity than race. It’s about putting real people (or even real animals) into our kids books. That means choosing to put a kid in a wheelchair into a book about birds because that kid in a wheelchair isn’t really that different than any kid who likes to look at birds and wonder where they go. It means that a kid who uses sign language could be one of the characters in a book that isn’t about diversity or the deaf world. It’s just about kids. It means that we see girls who wear a hijab and boys who wear a yarmulke and they aren’t used as tokens of a diverse world in a book that’s about Christmas time.
We need more authors like Jeannie Baker, who have diverse characters because the world is diverse and not to make some point.