C&I Professor Violet Harris: books fail to accurately represent our increasingly diverse world

by Matthew DeFour  /   Aug 14, 2012

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Violet Harris, professor in Curriculum and Instruction, speaks in the following story about her expertise on children's books and the low proportion of published children’s books by minority authors.

Aug. 13, 2012; Wisconsin State Journal - Matthew DeFour: Eight-year-old Jack Reiser and his older sister, Lily, recently were watching a superhero movie when Jack noticed something that stumped them both.

“Why do I not see brown superheroes?” asked Jack, who was adopted from Ethiopia in 2006.

According to his mother Katie Reiser, it was the first time Jack lodged a complaint about an issue that has long been debated in children’s books, literature and other media...

The proportion of published children’s books by black authors has remained constant at about 5 percent for a few decades “and that’s sad,” said Violet Harris, an education professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Harris said one contributing factor is the paucity of children’s bookstores in black and Hispanic neighborhoods where disposable income is less likely to be spent on books.

“There’s a market for the literature, but publishers have yet to find a way to find way to get books into hands of purchasers,” she said.

That puts the onus on schools and libraries to stock multicultural literature, but there can be reluctance to buy such books because leaders don’t think they will appeal to white children, Harris said.

“You have to bridge that thinking,” she said. “The institutions engaged in this are slow to recognize that white children need this too.”

Read the entire Wisconsin State Journal article …