[Featured Image Description: Illustration by Lisa Koehler featuring a young child with medium-length hair smiling and holding a gastronomy tube syringe. He is shirtless and the tube connects to a gastric port in his chest.’]
Books normalizing diversity give us a chance to catch prejudice before it begins.
All kids form generalizations – we need to lump things into abstract groups so our brains don’t go dizzy with detail. The trouble is that we group humans according to what they look like. So, when we fail to explicitly discuss diversity with our children, they create their own stereotypes.
Unless we expose children to stories featuring people of different races, abilities, sizes, and genders, we will miss the messed-up theories they come up with on their own.
Fight Unconscious Stereotypes
When my son voices these theories, I have a chance to discuss where his ideas came from – and help him reconsider if they’re true.
By reading books featuring diverse protagonists, I’ve been able to discuss generalizations they’ve picked up from school and the media (and even from us).
Actually – brown skin is not ‘dirty.’
Actually – people with dark skin did NOT do something bad to deserve slavery.
Actually – men can be teachers.
Actually – mommies are not ‘better’ at parenting.
Actually – straight hair is not ‘fancier’ or prettier than curly hair.
Of the thousands of books we read each year, few feature anything other than white, non-disabled boys and their moms (dads are rarely featured unless they’re coming home from work). Books celebrating diversity are becoming more common – but they’re still rare.
That’s why, when a member of the Books for Littles Facebook group told us about a new book she had published, I was so excited to talk to her.
[Accompanying Image Description: Illustration by Lisa Koehler featuring a a smiling woman from the chest-up, with dark wavy hair wearing a bindi on her forehead and what appears to be a colorful sari’]
Let curiosity be greater than your fear.
Maker Spotlight – An interview with Lisa Koehler
Author & illustrator of ‘The People You May See’
I have a friend who wears a hijab and I was thinking about how it must feel to be her; how most of the looks she gets come from a place of curiosity.This book is a tool for guardians and teachers to explain why people look different before children make mistakes in public. I included tips to explain to children how best to approach a person in a respectful way, or how it can be rude to stare, or what not to do (like pet a service dog).
[Accompanying Image Description: The cover of ‘The People You May See’ by Lisa Koehler featuring a collection of hand-illustrated portraits.’]
How To Face The World
I want more than anything to make a difference in the world. We can work together to spread kindness and love. The first step to doing that is by gently and lovingly teaching the next generation how to face the world.So my friend who wears a hijab became the first page and then it snowballed from there. I used Facebook to search for volunteers who typically get curious looks when they go out in public. They loved getting a chance to explain their differences to children as well as the general population.
A Children’s Book For Adults
This book is technically a children’s book but so many adults have learned from this experience – including myself. Going into this project I knew what a cochlear implant was, but I never knew how it worked or how it is implanted. So I learned something!I have had many people come up to me to thank me for giving a voice to the voiceless. They say that they have been waiting for a book like this, that shows life the way it is, without sugar-coating it with flashy cartoons or talking down to children.After flipping through the book, lots of people have their own story to add. I’ve heard lots of comments:
‘I identify with this page because I used to wear an eye patch as a kid!’
‘Thank you for including this page – I have kids ask me about my piercings all the time and I just want to show them that I am not scary but rather sweet.’
‘The students at my son’s school are usually curious about why he has two mommies – I’m so glad there is a page for this!’
Spread compassion & inclusion in your community
[Accompanying Image Description: An illustration by Lisa Koehler featuring a family of three. Two smiling fathers (one bald, one with short hair) stand in profile and embrace, touching foreheads and noses affectionately, while they hold their sleeping infant child between them.]
Video visuals: Lisa Koehler wears a light green knit cap and holds the book for us to see. She silently flips through each page to show us illustrations. Most spreads feature a single image with a paragraph of text on the opposite page. Images are mostly grayscale drawings with occasional coloring for effect. Text is illegible because of video quality. At the end, Lisa smiles and blows a kiss to the viewer.
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Edited to add an anonymous (by request) BFL reader comment:
“Just got The People You May See this weekend, and have enjoyed reading it with my kids.
One thing I noted, and thought I should share, is that I don’t think the reference to ‘drag’ (as in ‘drag queen’) coming from Shakespeare’s English (DRessed as A Girl) is correct. . .
I just said something like, ‘Oh, some people say this, but really. . .’
And I think it comes from the image/sound of a long dress dragging behind a male actor. But I need to do some more research to be sure!
I love the book anyway, and am happy to be in your group!“