Racial Awareness and Children’s Literature

I’m a white writer who is on a personal journey to develop my own awareness of race and to understand the complex world of issues around race in the creation of children’s literature.

I write books about people in cultures not my own and my journey is also about telling stories across race and culture. My first step has been to explore blogs, essays, books on the subject of race and children’s literature and in this post I offer a bibliography of resources on issues of race in children’s and young adult books.

I also want to share a key idea that is addressed in many ways in the blogs and essays I’ve read. That is that children’s books cannot portray a race, a culture, an ethnic group, a category of people.  Our responsibility is to portray the individual. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a book in the form of a letter to his son, Between the World and Me. He helped me see this vast responsibility we have as we create for children with these lines about enslavement: “Slavery is a particular, specific enslaved woman whose mind is as active as your own, whose range of feelings as vast as your own, who prefers how the light falls in one particular spot in the woods, who enjoys fishing where the water eddies in a nearby stream, who loves her mother in her own complicated way, thinks her sister talks too loud, has a favorite cousin, a favorite season, excels at dressmaking and knows inside herself that she is as intelligent and capable as anyone.”

Looking at Issues of Race and Culture in Children’s and YA Books

Book Cover Project

The New School for Children librarian Allie Jane Bruce and students had a series of discussions about the covers of young adult books and representations of and race, stereotypes, and other issues.

Examining Multicultural Picture Books

Diversity in YA

Dear Ellen, You are not Me


Ellen Oh’s Blog

Dear White Writers

Educating Alice


The Open Book Lee & Low blog

Reading While White

Writing Diversity While White

From the Outside, post by Linda Sue Park

” I don’t know of a single good fiction writer who doesn’t write outside their own experience. Period. But here’s the thing: Not all ‘outsides’ are created equal.


Thanks for reading. That’s just the beginning. I’m continuing my exploration of responsibilities of this white writer of books for children. I’ll continue to post an racial awareness on my own blog.


5 comments for “Racial Awareness and Children’s Literature

  1. Denise Ortakales
    April 26, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    Hi Terry, Thanks for posting about your journey. I’m on the same path and look forward to your upcoming talk at the NESCBWI conference on the topic. It’s a struggle to be sure, one bound to have some missteps, and how we handle them is key. Looking forward to hearing more on the topic.

    • April 27, 2016 at 6:55 pm

      Thank you, Denise. I’ve been on a long journey with this topic and have interviewed writers and illustrators who also cross cultures. We have a large responsibility and I’m continuing to learn how large.

  2. April 27, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    Terry, thank you for your courage to address this topic directly. I also thank you for opening this discussion as an invitation to dialogue, converse, listen, and exchange ideas, information, and even fears. My own thoughts were wonderfully shaken and opened when Tim Tingle spoke at the Tucson Festival of Books about how we stand on our own place along the river but if we risk crossing the bridge and meet others midway, and then listen, we learn. Again, thank you, Nancy Bo Flood

  3. May 2, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    I’m sorry to miss your presentation, but I hope it went well! Please let us know how it went in any case. I’ve written as both an insider and an outsider, and both have their potential and their pitfalls. I think that as an outsider writing about a culture, one also has to be aware that insiders may also be writing and may be rendered invisible because of stereotypes, power differentials, and inequities in the industry. The outsider’s goal should therefore be to make it possible for insiders to tell their own stories and to do whatever one can to facilitate that.

    • May 2, 2016 at 7:42 pm

      I totally agree, Lyn. Much of my responsibility now to me is to advocate for, celebrate and become an ally of “insiders” as you say. Thank you for coming to the climax of what’s important.

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