Why My Students Need More Books of Kids Who Look Like Them

Thursday, July 13, 2017

   The absolute favorite book series across my middle school campus is Diary of A Wimpy Kid. The books were eventually turned into several movies that the kids can't get enough of. They are written in an almost a comic strip-like form with lots of pictures. My kids, who have many foundational reading issues, devour these books because the words still come to life even if they aren't quite able to grasp each concept. Both my boys and girls love the entire book series and it's one of the few books where I can capture their attention for a maximum of 15 minutes while they're making their rounds in small group rotations.

   I love that my kids are interested in these books and they always look forward to the movie that aligns within each book in the series. However, their experiences do not at all align with the main character "Greg" who is white, middle class, and lives in a suburban neighborhood. My kids are Latino and Black, working poor to impoverished, and live in an urban neighborhood. They never tell me that they do not identify with "Greg" and that his experiences have nothing to do with them but his life is certainly something that they tend to aspire to. He goes to a safe school, his biggest obstacles in life are his annoying older brother and being embarrassed by his bumbling best friend "Rowley".

    This book series tends to work as an escape for my students to a life that they could only dream of someday. But this book does not highlight their own complex, but still very beautiful journey through adolescence in an urban area. The characters of color in the story are used as tokens and are usually relegated to punchlines. The Indian American student, "Chirag Gupta", is portrayed as an "other" that doesn't quite fit in with the other kids. "Greg" doesn't fit in with the other kids either but he's still the star of the show and always wins in the end.

   I don't want my children to stop reading the Diary of A Wimpy Kid Series but I wish there were more books that represented their experience in this world. Many of the books we read have male leads and the girls don't get to see the nuances and challenges of living as a girl growing into a woman on the urban landscape. Stories that include their experiences and characters that look just like them, might improve interest in reading overall. My kids devour books that involve a topic or character that they can relate to. The main character in Diary of A Wimpy Kid is their age and is also trying to overcome the challenges of middle school. This peaks their interest, but my kids still need more positive books of color to give them a different perspective.

   I want the books that feature children of color to bring more positivity in the classroom about being of African American or Hispanic descent. Many of my kids are ashamed of their social status, culture, and inability to speak "perfect" English. More books with kids of color are needed to create an inclusive classroom environment where students discover that their experiences matter. Their urban neighborhood, language, complexion, and interests all matter in the classroom. No one is less than anyone else and a child of color in a book should be at the forefront of classroom literature and not a stereotyped sidekick.

Happy Summer!

    If you're looking for the perfect summer read for a girl near and dear to you or a student, check out my two titles "My Hair Is Beautiful And So Am I" and "This Is My Hair And I Love It". Both books are geared toward teaching girls of color to love their natural hair and to become self-confident young women.

for Teachers, Students, and Parents!

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