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Commentary: Why read multicultural literature?

By Mona Alvarado Frazier

Last month a survey found that nearly 80 percent of U.S. adults believe multicultural books are important for children, but one-third say they are hard to find.

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the love of reading and learning in all children, commissioned the study. Only 9 percent of 3,400 books published in 2010 for children and teens had significant minority content.

Reading quality literature about people from other cultures has proven to have positive developmental effects on children of all backgrounds. For the children of a specific ethnic minority, reading positive stories about their own ethnic group can increase self-esteem and make them feel part of a larger society.

They benefit from reading stories with characters similar to themselves and their family situation. For children of a “majority” group, reading stories about other cultures can increase their sensitivity to those who are different from themselves, improve their knowledge of the world, and help them realize that although people have many differences, they share many similarities.

For both groups they learn that cultural differences, language, or religions are not barriers to friendships.

Through reading quality stories of other cultures, we gain a sense of understanding for others place in history, their communities and the world, which often decreases negative stereotyping of unknown cultures.

The knowledge of others religions, food, music, and history helps to remove the barriers we sometimes erect when we are unfamiliar with others. We learn how others have coped with challenges and survived injustices with strength and dignity. We identify with the universal themes of love, motherhood, angst, war, peace, and hundreds of others.

By quality multicultural literature, I mean stories that include main characters and/or themes from various ethnicities, cultures, religions and regional groups. They are stories that portray a diversity of characters within a single culture: characters that are not all noble or do not share all the same facial features; everything isn’t black or white, good or bad.

The history and language must be factually correct, not just thrown into a story to give it “flavor or sabor”…

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