Updated: Nov 1
Representation in children’s literature has always mattered, yet it was only this past weekend at the Sydney Writers Festival that I realised just how accessible and diverse children's literature characters have become.
When a child reads through the pages of a book and suddenly comes across a character who shares visual traits, life experiences and comes from a similar background to them - this simple act of recognition can be transformative, empowering and crucial for a child's development. In this article, we delve into the value of children reading books in which they can see themselves and identify with the characters in the story.
It is so important to find representation in books today because readers take power from that identification. The good news for young readers is that diversely representative stories have become far more common. Kate Foster creates characters who all display autistic traits, Shirley Le writes about a second generation Vietnamese girl growing up in Western Sydney and Will Kostakis has written 6 novels about a young queer Greek Australia guy and his family.
Each author wrote their books because they could not find themselves represented in literature when they were younger. It would not be an exaggeration to say that some authors began to write books because they wanted so badly to find themselves in stories and experience the feelings of validation and belonging, empathy and understanding that these stories can offer their readers.
As a teacher, it is important to be aware of all of the rewards that come to readers who recognise themselves in the books they read.
Validation and Belonging
When children encounter characters who share their identities, they experience a powerful sense of validation. Seeing themselves reflected positively in books affirms their identities, normalises their experiences and fosters a sense of belonging. This validation boosts self-esteem, confidence and provides a strong foundation for their personal growth.
Empathy and Understanding
Books featuring diverse characters enable children to develop empathy and understanding for experiences different from their own. As society encourages representation in childrens literature, so too do they foster an ability for children to journey alongside characters from various backgrounds, allowing them to gain insights into different cultures, traditions and perspectives. This helps break down stereotypes, promotes inclusivity and nurtures open-mindedness.
Emotional Connection and Engagement
Children are more likely to become engaged readers when they can personally connect with the characters in a story. When they see themselves in the narrative, it ignites their imagination and sparks a genuine emotional connection. If the culture of a character is relatable, children are more likely to invest in the story, enhancing their reading experience and fostering a love for literature.