As the year came to a close I, a dutiful new mother, wrote in my daughter’s baby book the novels my husband and I read to her. We have developed a pretty solid reading ritual, reading a chapter of a children’s or young adult novel to her each night, and so have read her about a novel a month since she was conceived (almost twenty novels). All of the books we read her were young adult novels that were easy to read aloud, enjoyable, and, we hoped, books that she will herself read and enjoy as she grows older.
However, as I wrote down the titles and the authors in my daughter’s baby book, a striking similarity struck me. All of the novels, all of them, were written by white men.
Now, the problem isn’t that we read her a small library of books by white men. The problem is these were the only novels we read to her.
Some people say that it doesn’t matter. That she’s too young to notice. She doesn’t know or care what you read to her.
I would challenge those people to dress their newborn child exclusively in clothing intended for the opposite sex for the first twelve months. This, surely won’t matter, as the child is too young to know or care what they are wearing. Does this make you uncomfortable? Well, that says a lot about your ideas of gender norms, which is another rant for another day, but it also shows that the socialization and indoctrination of children, basically how we teach them what is normal, begins at birth, or even sooner.
So, yes. It matters what I read my infant daughter. She is learning about the world she lives in, and right now the literary world that I have presented to her is white and male. This wasn’t intentional. There were excellent reasons behind why we chose these books, and they remain some of our favorite books. But the fact remains that I did not provide her with a variety of authors during her first year.
And I’m upset with myself because I know better.
I’m upset that I read what was on hand, what was easy, and never thought about who I was reading to her, or what I was teaching her about the kinds of books her father and I enjoy.
When we realized how homogeneous my daughter’s reading list had been, of course, my husband and I immediately decided to create a more multicultural list that included women and people of color, and from a variety of backgrounds.
I feel compelled to explain that creating a diverse reading list is, a sound parenting goal, and an excellent literary strategy. It’s my goal to provide my daughter with variety of literary experiences that includes examples of people she can emulate, admire, and respect, who are not all white men, which are two things she will never be.
It is a great thought that you should just read a book for its story, and not care who wrote it. However, we must acknowledge that the publishing industry (and the film industry, and the sciences, etc.) is biased towards white men.
This means that a white man’s manuscript is more likely to be accepted by a publishing house, making it available to read. People of color, women, and LGBT authors may find it very hard to become published.
Furthermore, according to a recent study of Young Adult fiction, less than 6% of the novel length books featured people of color. This paints an image of America that is unrealistically white. So, yes, we must actively select multicultural books, because what’s being force fed to American parents is an image of whitewashed America. We should all strive to expose our children to new cultures, new ideas, new heroes, and new voices. And I will work much more actively to make sure that my daughter hears these voices as she grows up.
Right now we are reading the first Harry Potter book to Maddie. We read a chapter book to Maddie every night. We have done so since her conception. While she may be too young to understand the book right now, she will feel that being read novels is normal and a pleasant experience.We love to read to Maddie. We do dramatic readings including voices and characterisations. Since her conception we’ve read Maddie over 20 novels. It is our goal to help her become an avid reader.
The Harry Potter series is an ideal read aloud book. Not only are the characters well developed, but the language is also fun and inventive. The story structure of Harry Potter is not unlike a fairy tale. Harry is in many ways the typical persecuted protagonist. He struggles against his lot in life overcomes hardship through his strength of character and innate moral compass. Would have my favorite things about the Harry Potter series is the character Hermoine. She is a strong, capable woman. Her greatest ability is to reason and to research. I’m glad that we have this series to explore together.
I love teaching the Harry Potter series in my young adult literature class. The students are fairly familiar with the book, and find the process of analyzing fascinating. They often liken it to deconstructing their childhoods.
I know that some critics (I’m looking at you, Harold) find no literary merit in the Harry Potter series. But the truth is, the value isn’t in these books as works of literature. The story and characters are compelling, and they help develop interest and motivation in reading in young readers, particularly reluctant readers. So, I personally feel great reading this book to my daughter.