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Children’s Literature Content Analysis

Children’s Literature Promotes Diversity

Angela Graziano

Northern Arizona University



This paper discusses how diversity and differences are portrayed through children’s literature,

specifically in picture books. In my opinion, diversity is defined as: what makes a person unique:

All the way from their appearance, preferred hobbies, learning differences, celebrated traditions,

and cultural background. The chosen fiction and non-fiction text selections and illustrations/

photographs allow children to hear, read, and see about unique individuals overcoming their

differences and varied societies from around the world. Our literature world is expanding and

needs to continue to by making more text selections available that are rich in diversity, similar to

how our country is growing. Through this literature, minority children feel recognized and

important for being themselves, and others appreciate their differences



Envision this. It is your first day at school. You walk into your new classroom and your

peers immediately start teasing you for having a “weird” name, dressing differently, speaking

another language, and being a different race. Short, Lynch, and Tomlinson (2017) remind that

literature, “addresses contemporary issues of race, religion, poverty, exceptionalities, and sexual

orientation from the perspectives of members of those groups” (p.174). As educators today, we

want our students to value their individuality and know that it is being valued as they walk into

the classroom. Literature pieces are a powerful way to teach our students about uniqueness and

diversity, so all of our students’ respect each other for who they truly are. Literature is an open

door for children to explore themselves and the uniqueness that surrounds them.

According to the Lee and Low Books Blog (2017), “The number of diverse books being

published each year stayed stagnant for more than two decades, but in 2014 it began increasing

substantially. This year (2017) the number jumped to 28% - the highest year on record since

1994” (n.p). This paper pursues to examine how important it is for specific pieces of children

literature to portray the messages of diversity and uniqueness. It is a moving experience for

children when they listen to or read books about other kids and the difficulties they face. These

stories make them more aware of how they can act and help out in similar situations, to continue

to appreciate and promote uniqueness throughout humanity.

Children’s Literature Pieces

This section includes various pieces among children’s literature during the timespan of

1988 to 2012. The texts I selected are a wide range of sections, from cultural traditions and

identities to family structures and learning differences. All of these pieces tie together with one

common goal: Each individual is unique and that is what makes them special.

A famous piece by Kevin Henkes is Chrysanthemum (1991). This story is about an

upbeat girl who loves school, until all of her classmates start making fun of her for her odd

(different) name. When Chrysanthemum builds up her self-esteem to like her unique name, her

classmates also think it is absolutely perfect. This contemporary realistic fiction book not only

teaches conflicts and resolutions, but also sends a strong message to the readers about valuing

themselves. Chrysanthemum had no control over what her parents named her, but learned that is

okay to be different; Others will learn to respect differences because that is what makes everyone

unique and special.

Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun (2008) by Maria Dismondy is another great piece of

literature for teaching differences. The main character, Lucy, is a one-of-a-kind girl and Ralph

loves to point that out and make fun of her for that. Lucy’s grandfather consonantly reminds her

that no one is right or wrong, and what a boring world we would live in if everyone was exactly

alike. This comedic and charming text reminds children to be proud of who they are and where

they come from.

Rania Al Abdullah’s, The Sandwich Swap (2010) tells a story about two best friends who

like doing all of the same things. Eventually when they come to disagree on the kind of lunch

they prefer, a fight breaks out between them. These two girls work together to put aside their

differences and appreciate each other for who they are. They bring the school together by

forming a multicultural picnic where all the students share and taste each others food. This

powerful text is clearly about overcoming biases and appreciating friendship with other cultural

backgrounds from your own.

Regarding varying family structures, All Kinds of Families (2009) by Mary Ann

Hoberman teaches readers about different shapes, sizes, and ages of families. After reading this

rhythmic collection, children will gain a sense of belonging to their family. Children can also

relate to this text with the traditions and celebrations that their family creates throughout the


In Calida Rawles’s Same Difference (2010), Lisa and Lida are best friend cousins who

are alike in every way. One day while the girls are playing, they realize that even though they are

the same, they have physical differences. Both of the girls’ point out their distinctions in skin

tone complexion and hair texture and length. The girls became very confused because they think

that one of them looks the “wrong way.” Their grandmother explains to them that they come

from people who look very diverse and that they are both beautiful in their own way. This story

teaches children that even though they may have a different appearance, hair style, or skin color,

they are special for being them and what they share with the world.

The poetic writer, Langston Hughes, wrote a powerful piece titled I, Too, Am American

(2012). The speaker claims that even though he is American, he knows he is not being treated

fairly because he is “the darker brother.” He proclaims that tomorrow, on a new day, he will do

what he wants and no one will tell him otherwise. This poem is written from the perspective of

an African American who may be a slave. The short verse reminds students that we are all

Americans and have the right to live life freely, with no one holding us back. The topic of

inequality can be taught throughout this piece with the history of why the African American

culture was not treated fair and the events in which changed that.

One of my all time favorite cultural texts is Patricia Polacco’s Thank You Mr. Falker

(1998). Trisha realizes that she is separated from her peers because when she is learning to read,

all of the letters and numbers are just jumbled up together. The very special teacher, Mr. Falker,

takes the time to point out Trisha’s strengths and work with her to overcome her reading

disability. This book teaches children that not everything comes easy because each of us has

different strengths and weaknesses. Students learn that if they seek help and work hard, they can

overcome their weaknesses.

All the Way to America (2011) by Dan Yaccarino is a story of a big Italian family and a

little shovel. This warm text is about Yaccarino’s great-grandfather landing at Ellis Island with a

tiny shovel and the advice to enjoy his new life and never forget his family. The shovel is a

symbolic piece that was passed down through generations of his family. Children will become

extremely engaged in this book with the urge to connect it to their life. A teaching and learning

point that can come from this cultural book is the discussion of why parents and grandparents

immigrated and what the journey to America was like. Through this, children can gain a deeper

knowledge of where their family came from and what their cultural background is.

An oldie, but goodie fictional text for teaching diversity is How to Make an Apple Pie

(1994) by Marjorie Priceman. The only thing the main character wants to do is make an apple

pie, but she runs into a problem: the market is closed. Because of this, the world became her

grocery store. She traveled around the globe to different countries to fetch the ingredients and

materials she needed. This fictional book also provides children with information regarding

modes of transportation and popular food in other nations cultures. Children will love “traveling

around the world” to collect the pieces of the apple pie recipe.

Peter Spier wrote a detailed, yet entertaining text, titled People (1979). This book

celebrates all human beings and how we are similar and dissimilar. The text states factual

statistics and geography information. The illustrations throughout portray people of varying races

and cultures. The children will quickly realize the author’s message of this text, to show kindness

and compassion toward people and where they live, their celebrations, the language they speak,

and the way they look, act, and dress.


Literature carries effects to both the teacher and students. As I analyze my finds, I am

going to make it a point to spend fifteen to twenty minutes a week engaging my students in a

diverse or cultural piece of literature. On the Critical Multicultural Pavilion Research Room

website, Pirofski (1995-2018) points out, “The growing need to educate children of different

races, abilities, and genders has forced educators to find literature and curriculum that best suits

the mix of students in classrooms across America” (n.p). My plan for practice is to continue

researching text selections that promote diversity, whether it be personal, physical, or cultural

differences. I will select a piece of literature each week for my first graders to examine. First, we

will read the text. Second, and the most important step, we will take some time to discuss what

was read and what “stuck in our brain.” Finally, we will respond to the text with either a journal

prompt or a speak out-share out.

In The Effects of Multicultural Literature in the Classroom, Boles (2006) states a

powerful fact, “Our society is becoming increasingly diverse and it is more important now than

ever before to learn all that we can to truly create a welcoming classroom atmosphere” (p.5). If I

close my eyes, I can just envision the effect this practice will have on my students and our

classroom as a whole. This will not only help our classroom community grow, but will also aid

students in empathizing and decrease bullying. Furthermore, students will be able to work better

in heterogeneous groups and appreciate what each member brings to the group.

Surprises and Disappointments


A surprising fact I came across was how important diversity throughout literature is for

children as early as infancy. We all know that research on premature brain development shows

huge gains in the number of connections produced during persons first three years. What was

relatively new to me was how powerful it is for a newborn, toddler, or child to be exposed to

diverse topics of print in order to form more associations about the world. In return, they will

gain an abundance of knowledge being exposed to books about different languages, traditions,

cultures, races, etc. (Rose and Stewart, 2014).

It was disappointing to hear that if a child’s diversity is not heard or seen in a book from

their home, school, or library, they come to the conclusion that “there culture is not important

and is not worthy to be in print.” (Rose and Stewart, 2014). It was devastating to hear this

statement because many parents and educations do not realize if they are lacking diverse books.

It is so crucial that a child can pick up a book and relate to it in some way; Either by looking like

the characters, celebrating or participating in the same celebrations, remembering a time when

they were in an alike situation of bullying or bias, etc. According to Rose and Stewart (2014)

next steps to make a change are being considered and “Many authors see the need to diversify

literature and started a social media campaign, #WeNeedDiverseBooks” (n.p.).


Now envision this. How awful would it be if we all looked, acted, and thought the same? What a

boring world we would live in. In Representation of Culture in Children's Picture Books, Creany,

Couch, and Caropreso (1993) remind us:

Classrooms mirror the diversity of American society. School children need the
opportunity to explore the heritage and values of the various cultures and peoples who
placed their stamp on this country and who continue to contribute to its rich ethnic
diversity. (p.188)

Literature that represents physical, academic, and cultural features, is similar to imprinting a

passport as one travels around the world. Teachers and children learn a wealth of information

about other people’s similarities and differences. In doing this, we tend to appreciate ourselves

and what makes us unique, along with the curiosity and realizing of others.

The positive interactions and conversations that come from literature will foster a strong

relationship between the teacher and students, and the students with their peers. Boles (2006)

declares that, “It is vital for teachers to be able to understand their students’ perspectives” (p.4).

The 1988 statistic in People stated that there are now more than six billion human beings

on our earth and in the next hour there will be over four thousand more. (Spier, 1998). In such a

large number, it is outstanding to think that no two individuals are completely alike. With that

statistic, it proves that we have so much to learn about who in which we share this world with.

The list of differences could unfold for miles and that is why diverse literature pieces provide an

open door to a world of appreciation and opportunities for all.



Abdullah, R. A. (2010). The Sandwich Swap /Illustrated By Tricia Tusa. Cairo: Shorouk.

Boles, M. (2006). The Effects of Multicultural Literature in the Classroom.

Retrieved January 22, 2018, from http://commons.emich.edu

Creany, A. D., Couch, R. A., & Caropreso, E. J. (1993). Representation of Culture in Children's
Picture Books. Clarion, PA.

Dismondy, M. (2008). Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun. Cardinal Rule Press.

Diversity Gap in Children's Book Publishing [Web log post]. (2017, March 30). Retrieved
January 19, 2018, from http://blog.leeandlow.com

Henkes, K. (2009). Chrysanthemum. Paw Prints.

Hoberman, M. A. (2009). All Kinds of Families. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Hughes, L. (2012). I, Too, Am American. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Pirofski, K. I. (1995-2018). Critical Multicultural Pavilion Research Room.

Retrieved January 20, 2018, from http://www.edchange.org

Polacco, P. (1998). Thank you, Mr. Falker. New York: Philomel Books.

Priceman, M. (2014). How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World. Dragonfly Books.

Rawles, C. (2010). Same Difference . Artist Calida.

Rose, K., & Stewart, M. (2014, August 30). Why More Diversity in Children's Literature
[Web log post]. Retrieved January 19, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com

Short, K. G., Lynch-Brown, C., & Tomlinson, C. M. (2017). Essentials of Childrens

Literature(9th ed.). NY, NY: Pearson.

Spier, P. (1988). People. Doubleday Books for Young Readers.

Yaccarino, D. (2011). All the Way to America. Knopf Books for Young Readers.