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  Closing the Gaps

Evaluating Children's Literature

How can you tell if the books your children are reading are culturally sensitive and relevant?

When children read multicultural literature, they may learn about unfamiliar cultures and develop an understanding and appreciation for cultures different from their own. Children are more engaged when they see themselves reflected in their reading and curriculum. A lot can be said about the rich view of the world that students gain from diverse reading selections.

However, in our desire to provide our children with multicultural reading materials, we must be cautious. Some books in our public and school libraries perpetuate prejudices by presenting people in negative or stereotypical ways. Many of us do not recognize the subtle nuances or blatant disrespect that make a book culturally insensitive. We may have grown up looking at similar illustrations and reading similar messages. Culturally insensitive reading materials may alienate students whose culture is portrayed negatively.

The following information are some questions that will help you gauge the cultural sensitivity of your reading selections (Download PDF)

Emotional Impact:

  • Does this book connect you to your own humanity and that of others?
  • Did this piece of literature make an impact on you?
  • Is there some kind of emotion or magic in the book?
  • Do you care about the characters and what happens to them?
  • Does the story make you laugh or make you feel happy or sad?
  • Does the story linger with you, making you want to rethink or re-experience parts of it?

Imaginative Impact:

  • Does this book spark imagination, show possibilities, stretch thinking, pique curiosity, or make you think in different ways?
  • What is original about this book?
  • Does this story make you think about the characters in other situations?
  • Do you think about what will happen to the characters next, when the story is over?
  • Does the story spark your imagination, sending your mind off in many directions?
  • Do you imagine what it would be like if you were in the main character’s situation?

Author’s Vision or World View:

  • How does the author view the world and the people in it?
  • How are people shown?
  • Are they good or evil?
  • Are they inherently competitive or cooperative?
  • Are some people viewed as less worthy because they are not beautiful or rich, or are all characters portrayed as equals?
  • Who has the power and how is the power distributed among the characters?
  • Whose knowledge is considered best?
  • Do you share the author’s view of the world as it is presented through the characters?

Authenticity, Topic Information, & Author’s Involvement:

  • Did the author explain the kind of research he or she has done?
  • Does the author cite resources or provide background information?
  • Does the author explain what inspired him or her to write about the subject?

Style-Qualities of Writing:

  • How has this book been written to engage the reader?
  • Does the author’s voice come through loud and strong?
  • Does the writing make an impact through careful choice of word, description, dialogue, and figurative language?
  • Is the language fresh or used in unusual and satisfying ways?
  • Does the figurative language provide clear ways to view the topic?

Illustrations:

  • Does the art delight and involve you?
  • Does the artist pick moments that are highly visual?
  • Does the artwork enhance the author’s words?
  • Is there variety in the work in terms of perspective and composition?
  • Do the illustrations give you the feel of the culture?
  • Are stereotypes avoided?
  • Do any pictures appear to ridicule or make fun of the culture?
  • Look for tokenism. If there are racial minority characters in the illustrations, do they look just like whites except for being tinted or colored in?
  • Do the pictures depict minorities in subservient/passive roles or in leadership and action roles?
  • Are males the “does” and the females the inactive observers?
  • Did the illustrator explain the kind of research he or she has done?

Sociopolitical Considerations:

  • Which groups are represented in the books? Which are left out?
  • What information does the author assume the reader knows?
  • What attitudes are shown toward people, animals, and even the land?
  • What is shown as being important or good?
  • Is the vocabulary demeaning?
  • Is a range of characters represented? What kinds of roles do they have?
  • Is a range of socioeconomic levels represented? How is each group represented?
  • Who is shown to have power? What is the power based on?
  • Are characters multidimensional in regards to race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, physical abilities, emotional abilities, mental abilities, and intellectual abilities?
  • Do the descriptions of characters, cultural artifacts, or cultural and social practices ring true in terms of physical appearance, behaviors, attitudes, values, language, way of life and culture?

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