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Why It's Important for Kids to See Themselves in Books

Discover three important reasons to choose books with characters who resemble your child.
on March 01, 2018

For far too long, children's books that featured culturally diverse characters were hard to come by. But, that has changed significantly in the last few years. It is becoming easier than ever before for parents and kids to find diverse titles. And that's good news because, according to the 6th Edition Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report, 47% of parents want books featuring people of color.

It is really essential that we fill our kids' home libraries with books featuring characters that look like them. Here are three important reasons why:

1. It helps to inspire and create an impact.

Kids need to see people who look like them who have faced challenges, overcome obstacles, and made a difference in the world. Whether it's reading about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad or Cesar Chavez and his work for migrant workers, reading about people from our culture who look like us gives us insight into our history and background.

Stories of other people's lives can impact our own by helping us better understand our world. Seek out books about inspiring individuals who are culturally reflective of your kids. We have included some booklists below to help.

2. It provides a mirror to identity.

Some books our kids enjoy should be mirror books. These are books with characters that look just like our kids. Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, children's literature scholar and recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, says, "Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books."

Not all mirror books need to be about a specific person who has achieved great things. Kids also need to see kids just like themselves doing ordinary kid stuff like visiting the library, going to the pool, and playing in the backyard. Highly relatable books allow kids to identify with the characters. It's validating for kids to meet a character in a story who has hair that resembles theirs or wears glasses just like they do.

3. It allows for connections to be built.

When kids enjoy reading titles with characters who look like them, it helps form a connection to the book on another level. Identifying with the characters in a story allows for a deeper comprehension of the text because kids are making these kinds of self connections.

That is not to say that all books must have characters that look like our kids. As Bishop says, books also act as windows into other cultures, allowing us to travel to other places and connect with others who are not exactly like us.

Filling your kids' reading diet with books that act as mirrors and windows allows for a deeper and more well-rounded reading experience for them. Help your kids find titles where they see themselves, and beyond. Here are some book lists to assist you in your search:

Connect with Jodie Rodriguez on her site, Growing Book by Book.

Featured Photo Credit: © FatCamera/iStockphoto

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In the Raise a Reader blog, get advice, tips, and resources from our expert contributors on helping your child read at every age and stage. Each week, find book recommendations, literacy activities, and more to spark your reader's interests.

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