Updated: Oct 11, 2020
The Importance of Fostering a Positive Self-Image in
Young African American Males Through Literature and Imagery
by Petrea Hicks
Children’s literature offers a place of fantasy and wonder. The images are of people, places and adventures that stir curiosity and endless possibilities. Chil- dren imagine being the hero, displaying autonomy that builds a positive self-image, one of the foundations of school readiness. However, imagine being a child in a world of books where the main character does not consistently look like you. What does this mean for young children? When children do not receive a healthy dose of literature that represents them, the lesson may be one of insignificance and unimportance in their community or in society.
According to the 2015 publishing statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, about 14 percent of children’s books depicted characters from diverse backgrounds. However, for African Americans the percentage is 7.6 percent, significantly lower than for books depicting animals, trucks, etc. at 12.5 percent, while 73.3 percent represent white children. Imagine not being consistently seen in the children’s books that are part of your entire childhood experience.
As an early education professional and parent of an African American son and daughter, I found these statistics both surprising and alarming. Never did I realize that the numbers of books for children of color were totally unimpressive. How did I miss this? I pride myself on being abreast of the most recent research in early education. Education is my passion. Despite having been in this field for over 20 years, I did not realize the low representation of books for children of color.
After learning of the lack of diversity in children’s books, I felt compelled to research how this impacts children of color. Stephen M. Quintana’s research, “Racial and Ethnic Identity,” published in 2007’s Journal of Publishing Psychology, provided some insight. Quintana’s research discussed how young children’s racial identity occurs. Similarly to Erik Erikson’s developmental levels, Quin- tana’s developmental levels are also aligned by age. After noticing a correlation, I serendipitously discovered an alignment.
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