In late 1960, my parents began adoption proceedings in the hope of adding to their family. It took much longer than normal, owing to my dad changing jobs a few times and a steady stream of social workers, but I joined the family shortly after my birth in August of 1965. I have always known that I was adopted, and never really gave it much thought until I entered elementary school. However, I learned quickly that I was different. If there were other students who were adopted, they either didn't know it, or didn't share it. I was never uncomfortable or uneasy about being adopted, but often wondered if there were others like me. While my classmates came from "traditional" families, I just couldn't find any other kids in my situation. Add to this the fact that there were few adopted children in the books I read (sure there were lots of orphans, but none that I can recall as adopted), and I slowly began to feel out of place.
Times have changed and today, there are many terrific books about adoption. So why do I relate this story? My goal is simply this, to continue to push librarians and teachers to diversify their collections so that every child can see himself or herself reflected in the books they read. I finished reading The Year of the Dog this weekend, a book in which the author, Grace Lin, admits to writing it (and many of her picture books) so that children of Chinese-American (or Taiwanese-American) descent can "see" themselves in what they read. Here is a quote from her press release for The Year of the Dog.
“I’m cleaning up the house,” my mother said during one of her phone calls, “Can I get rid of your old Cheerleaders book?”
My Cheerleaders books. I had loved those books, treasured them. They were dog-eared and had been reread hundreds of times.
But they were also really terrible books. Poor cousins of Sweet Valley High, they were full of insipid romances, ridiculous dramas and irritating plots. Even as a young reader I had loathed the superficial stories, embarrassed if anyone caught me reading them. But these books had one redeeming quality that outweighed all other flaws. One of the Cheerleaders was Chinese.
I was never a cheerleader and I never had any longing or desire to be one, either. However, I did have an insatiable yearning to read a book with a person like me in it.
Can you blame her? Much like my desire to read about a child, any child, who was adopted, Grace wanted to read books where Chinese-Americans were not secondary characters.
The same can be said for children from all walks of life. I wrote a post a while ago about why multicultural books matter, but now I find the term multicultural too limiting. I think we should all aim for collections that show the range of diversity that exists in this wonderful country, and that extends well beyond race and ethnicity to include age, gender, religion, abilities (or disabilities) and sexual orientation. Ah, there's the rub.
In early February, Darren at Right on the Left Coast: Views From a Conservative Teacher posted an entry entitled Addressing Homosexuality with Elementary Students. Here is an excerpt.
I'm all about tolerance. Tolerance doesn't mean acceptance; to me, tolerance is a live and let live philosophy. Homosexuality is still a touchy enough topic in our culture that I don't think it presents an undue burden on schools to postpone talking about it until students are older and better able to understand the difficulties involved. I don't know where the age line should be, but I'm convinced that kindergarteners and 2nd graders are well on the wrong side of that age line. I recall having some rudimentary "sex ed" in 6th grade; would that be a more appropriate age to talk about (searching around for an inoffensive term here) non-standard families?
What concerns me about these arguments is the lack of consideration for children who come from families that are different. Why should merely including a book on families with same sex parents in a library collection be viewed as tantamount to "teaching" homosexuality? I just don't buy it. Acknowledging that children today come from a variety of home structures is important in helping children to understand and value their differences and each other. We now have books about adoption, divorce, single-parent families and the like, so why not books about same-sex families?
For a range of responses to this topic, read the comments section of the post linked above. I too welcome your thoughts on this matter. I know we won't all agree, so all I ask is that we keep the comments polite. Passion and conviction, however, are encouraged.