Children’s books as presents

At this time of year we are often inundated with thoughts of buying presents for the children in our lives. This year, I encourage you to buy children’s books, but not just any children’s books — books that teach the sacred worth of God’s children.

All Fall Down

For the last few Christmases, I have worked at a major book retailer. In the children’s department, I was often asked for opinions and suggestions for books to buy as gifts. The shelves were filled with books to suggest, but sadly we lacked books with girls and children of color as protagonists. 

I realized how important it is for every kid to see themselves in the books they read, to identify with the characters. I worked hard to keep books with diverse characters in stock and available.

Favorite books

If we aren’t buying gifts for the kids in our lives, we often volunteer to buy things for an Angel Tree or are asked to provide books for holiday baskets or book drives. At the bookstore, we had a sponsored book drive. Many people didn’t care what book they bought for the drive and allowed us to pick within a price range. As the booksellers, we knew the audience for whom the books were being purchased, so we would pick accordingly.

Children's Storybook Bible

Many people, however, wanted to buy their favorite book for the drive. This is great in spirit, but in reality may not be as helpful as intended.

Many people are unaware of the bias currently shown in children’s books.  Most books with human characters feature an Anglo boy as the protagonist.  How does that help children who are girls and/or children of color see their sacred worth?

As people of faith, it is our responsibility to help every child realize through positive images and stories that they are a beloved child of God.

Keep in mind

Please keep some of these things in mind when buying books for children you know and children you don’t know this Christmas:

  • Know your audience. If you want the child for whom you are buying books to believe that all people are of sacred worth, buy books that challenge stereotypes by having girls and people of color in positive, leading roles. Keep in mind that finding a book that reflects this may be harder and more time consuming.
  • If you don’t know your audience. If you don’t know the child for whom you are buying the book, buy a book that shows several children of multiple genders and multiple races or ethnicities.
  • Look for the message. Read the book before you buy it.  If the lesson learned isn’t positive or if the book engenders stereotyping, look for a different book.

A short list to consider

We have created a short list of books that you might want to look out for when shopping this Christmas:

Board Books

All Fall Down by Mary Brigid Barrett
Pat-a-cake by Mary Brigid Barrett
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Whose Knees are These? by Jabari Asim.

Ages 2-4

Sleepy ABC by Margaret Wise Brown
God's Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Because of You by B. G. Hennessy
Can You Say Peace? by Karen Katz

Ages 5-7

Children of God Storybook Bible by Archbishop Desmond Tutu
The Land of Words by Eloise Greenfield
All Families are Special by Norma Simon
Quinito's Neighborhood = El Vecindario de Quinto by Ina Cumpiano

Ages 8-10

If the World Were a Village by David J. Smith
Every Day a Blessing by Thomas Nelson
Extraordinary Girls by Maya Ajmera
Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat by Nikki Giovanni

Tweens

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

For more information on choosing diversity-sensitive books, go to Anti-Bias Children’s Books.

Editor's note: Tura Foster Gillespie is a Social Justice Intern from Wesley Theological Seminary working in Women’s & Children’s Advocacy at the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society.

Letter to the Editor