ECU calls for diverse children’s books to be at the top of the Christmas list
New research from Edith Cowan University (ECU) shows that, in order for children to learn to love reading they need to have the opportunity to read for pleasure, and have access to books that reflect the diversity of our society.
Associate Professor Helen Adam recently conducted a Winston Churchill Fellowship in the United States and United Kingdom investigating the use of children’s literature to disrupt prejudice and discrimination.
The study revealed the three biggest barriers to children developing a love of reading were lack of access to books, underrepresentation of children from diverse backgrounds, and opportunity to read.
Associate Professor Adam said children needed not only high-quality reading instruction throughout their formal education but also regular opportunities to read for pleasure.
“However, for children to read for pleasure they need access to multiple books that reflect and connect with their own lives and backgrounds,” she said.
Gifting children books this Christmas can be more than giving them something to read.
“Books are portals to adventure, imagination and new experiences. Importantly, they can help children understand and appreciate themselves, and those around them,” added Associate Professor Adam.
The study showed that for children living in poverty inequitable access to books not only hindered their enjoyment of reading, but also their readiness for school.
Associate Professor Adam said a lack of school libraries and opportunities to read for pleasure compounded this problem, disproportionately affecting poorer and underrepresented communities where school libraries may be children’s only access to books.
“For many families, buying books is a luxury they can’t afford and the additional financial pressure around Christmas often compounds this,” she said.
“If you’re donating to a giving tree or other charity, consider some quality diverse books so the joy and benefits of books can be extended to those so often deprived of the opportunity to interact with books.”
The importance of diversity
Associate Professor Adam explained gifting children’s books that reflect our diverse society was important for two main reasons.
“Firstly, all children need to see people and characters similar or familiar to themselves, and situations and communities similar to their own experiences,” she said.
“This helps children make connections to their own lives and builds a love of reading, as well as having a positive impact on their sense of place and belonging in their society and the world.”
“Secondly, when children read books about characters and situations different to their own, they develop a deeper understanding of the diversity of our society and our world. “
“This can build empathy, understanding and acceptance with benefits for all children and society.”
Suggested authors and texts
Associate Professor Adam said that while it is tempting for gifters to purchase books they remember from their own childhoods, finding more contemporary texts which reflect modern society and perspectives is important, as is prioritising Australian authors.
As a starting point, the Associate Professor suggested Gabriel Wang, Jasmine Seymour, Scott Stuart, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Dub Leffler, Helen Milroy, Sally Morgan, Amebliin Kwaymullina, Ezekiel Kwaymullina, and Holden Sheppard.
Associate Professor Helen Adam’s report ‘To enhance expertise in children’s books as vehicles for disrupting prejudice and discrimination’ is published on the Winston Churchill Trust website.
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