Wendy Rancier, MLS, Collection Development Librarian
Long before the pandemic and the devastating outcomes resulting from it, a common concern for librarians was the dearth of children’s literature, specifically picture books, dealing with the subject of income disparity. 2020’s coming Labor Day observance seems a perfect opportunity to acknowledge and discuss this immediate issue.
Pairing programming with snacks or meals has become a very effective way to entice patron participation. For a disproportionate number of participants, sadly, this can be one of very few ways to gain nourishment. How many of us sponsor summer food programs at our libraries? How many of us see teens at the library all day with nothing but some junk food to eat? As public service professions, we have become increasingly aware of, and devote more time and resources to address, our patron’s basic physical needs.
When we speak about diversity, we include the needs of children in economically struggling families.
But, do we have picture books featuring children whose parents work multiple jobs or who are unemployed? Are there current titles depicting children who are homeless?
Socioeconomic diversity is, of course, a complex and systemic issue which cannot be easily resolved, but it’s a reality that needs a lot more representation in publishing, as an integral part of the discussion of diversity.
There have been and are some very good titles, though, which I have compiled into an ipage® list here:
Addressing Income Inequality: 37 Children's Books
One of my favorite titles recently is Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee, who bases this book on her own experiences. In the book, Daniel must go to work with his parents, who are employed as night custodians, when circumstances make it impossible for him to stay home. While most children are getting ready for bed, Daniel goes with his parents to work. His parents tell stories and weave a world of imagination for Daniel while they work, but Daniel also sees how hard his parents work to provide for him. There are great messages about important workers our society often overlooks. This is a perfectly told story about a loving family doing the best they can, and about a little boy able to find joy during a tough time.
Socioeconomic diversity titles are important for all children, because kids can feel a lot of stress in homes experiencing job loss. They need to know that they are not alone. The addition of socioeconomic diverse titles will begin discussions that could lead to great social and emotional learning experiences for kids. Children’s literature can help increase awareness of, and sensitivity to, poverty even if we cannot fix the social problem.
At a time when so many people are experiencing income and job loss, let us have diverse books available that feature hope, generosity, understanding, and focus on what is really important.
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