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What does ‘cultural diversity’ mean when it comes to children’s books?

in: Children's books

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Here at Lantana our mission is to champion cultural diversity in children’s publishing.

So what exactly do we mean by ‘cultural diversity’? And what exactly is a ‘culturally diverse’ children’s book? Here are a few definitions:

 

Books that represent diverse cultural experiences

This is a broad category that includes any book concerned with anything other than the majority experience.

A majority culture is one whose population demographic is larger than other ethnic groups. An example would be the white population in Britain or the Chinese population in Singapore. Alternatively, a majority experience could be that of a culture whose population is not larger than other ethnic groups but whose historical, political or financial influence is – also known as a dominant culture. An example would be the white population in South Africa.

Books that are concerned with minority rather than majority experiences can be divided into two categories:

Books that represent diverse cultural experiences within a majority culture

Books such as these might focus on the experiences of one culture living within another, for instance, a Hindu family living in the UK. They might also explore the experiences of characters from many different ethnic backgrounds living together in the same area. You might term these books ‘multicultural’.

Books that represent diverse cultural experiences might focus on the experiences of immigrants or refugees, or first, second or third generation migrants living in diasporic communities – anyone whose cultural experiences are unlike those of the majority or dominant population.

Books that represent cultures and countries other than those of the books’ readers

Books such as these whisk you away to foreign places. To give you an example, a book about a Chinese community in London celebrating Chinese New Year would fit into the category above, but a book about a Chinese community celebrating Chinese New Year in China would fit into this category. This latter book represents the experiences of a majority culture, but not one we hear a lot about in mainstream British publishing.

Unless a further definition is given, books that represent diverse cultural experiences in either of the above categories do not necessarily have to be written or illustrated by an author or artist hailing from the cultures or countries portrayed.

Books that are written and illustrated by authors and artists of diverse cultural backgrounds

This narrows the field to focus solely on books produced by authors and illustrators whose ethnicity is not that of the majority population in the country in which they live or are published. This would include an author born in the UK to Pakistani parents or a Pakistani author whose books are sold in the UK, but it would not include a white British author writing about the experiences of a Pakistani character.

This category can also be subdivided into further additional categories:

Books that are produced by authors and illustrators of minority backgrounds about minority experiences

An example would be a Caribbean author writing about the experiences of a Caribbean child growing up in the UK, or the experiences of a Caribbean child living in the Caribbean itself, published by a British publisher.

Books that are produced by authors and illustrators of minority backgrounds about majority experiences

This category includes books that do not fit into either of the first two categories because of their focus on mainstream experiences. In the above example, if the Caribbean author has chosen to write about a white British child growing up in London, he or she will not be focusing on a minority culture. His or her book will only be culturally diverse insofar as it is written by an author from a minority background.

Confused? As you can see, there are many ways to unpack the term ‘cultural diversity’ and we hope you will check back over the next few months while we explore the term further.

Until then, happy reading!

Alice and Caroline

Image by Kenneth Lu shared under Creative Commons License via Flickr

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