It's especially important in our current cultural climate that children not only see themselves in the books they read, but also that they read about children different from them. Below are some examples of books in NPL's collection in which biracial and multiracial children take center stage.
A few years ago, after finishing a family literacy workshop, a parent approached me with a question. She wanted to know if I had any particular recommendations for books about biracial children. Her daughter is biracial, she said, and was regrettably experiencing bullying at church. “It’s even getting to where my daughter doesn’t want to go to church,” the concerned parent said, because of what the other children say to her.
At that moment, I could not recall any specific book titles. I was sad on behalf of the mom and her daughter, and felt somewhat powerless as well. I did not have a ready answer that I felt could really speak to and address the mom's visible hurt and frustration. Churches and other houses of worship are traditionally meant to be sanctuaries. Unfortunately, we know that this kind of bullying also happens in schools and other ostensibly "safe" spaces.
The above exchange, however, inspired me to seek out children’s books featuring biracial children and families. It’s important that children not only see themselves in the books they read, but also that they read about children different from them. This is especially important, I think, in our current cultural climate, in which children, teachers, and parents are reporting higher incidences of racialized bullying among students at all levels. Below are some examples of books in NPL's collection in which biracial and multiracial children take center stage.
First published in 1973, black is brown is tan features a white father, a black mother, and their two children, with extended family also making an appearance. The book is written in free verse poetry, in short rhythmic stanzas, perfect for reading aloud. Mom (“…mommy mama mamu meeny muh and mom again”) and Dad (“…daddy dingbat da and kiss me pa”) sing, read, cook, and puff and yell their children into bed. The love they have for each other and their family is evident in the gentle text and warm illustrations. This story poem is accessible for even the youngest readers.
Many a soon-to-be big brother or sister wonders about what their soon-to-be-born sibling will look like. In I’m Your Peanut Butter Big Brother, a young boy blended from “semisweet dark Daddy chocolate bar and strawberry cream Mama’s milk” asks his “baby brother or sister” what shade of skin he or she will be, if they will maybe resemble one of his friends, or if their hair will be like his, like “soft, crunchy billows of cotton candy.” No matter what, he promises, “together they will dream, draw, wrestle and play, do projects, sing, snack, chill, read and sleep.” This is a lovely book to read with any child preparing for the birth of a new sibling. The imagery used throughout the book will appeal to the imaginative spark in every child, and the rich vocabulary will add to their verbal development.
In Two Mrs. Gibsons, a woman reflects on the two women who helped raise her. One was tall, skin the color of chocolate, and born in Tennessee, while the other was small, with skin the color of vanilla, and hailing from the Japanese city of Gifu. While each Mrs. Gibson was different from the other and taught her different things-how to write in Japanese, sing in church, catch fireflies, or make origami cranes-each woman, one her mother and the other her grandmother, actually had a lot in common. They both loved her and her father. I like this book because it demonstrates how each member of a biracial or multiracial family can teach a child different things about their shared heritage. This can help a child build self-esteem and pride in who they are and where they-and their family-come from.
For parents who may be looking for handbooks geared to their particular questions about children, race, and identity, check out 40 Ways to Raise a Nonracist Child and Does Anybody Look Like Me? A Parent’s Guide to Raising Multiracial Children, both available at the Public Library. While not a picture book, Mixed: Portraits of Multiracial Children features photographs and stories from multiracial parents and children.