When I was in middle school (which, scary to think, was twenty years ago now) I remember having to read a biography in sixth grade. My options seemed limitless at that time. Now, looking back, my options were very limited. First, I do not recall a single female being represented unless we were reading about Amelia Earhart or Helen Keller. What else was missing? Anyone of indigenous background, one representing an alternative sexual orientation or anyone with a disability. The biographies we read seemed to focus on Presidents, inventors, scientists and men who had found success. There were books about those from a different race but Dr. King is the only one that comes to mind. More of my friends and students are those of diverse background instead of white men. Even myself being female, cannot relate to 99 percent of those biographies we read. There was no connection, there is no connection. Why should we provide the future generation of kids who we tell to embrace their differences that the only people that MADE a difference were white men. Not only are we raising them in a delusion but it is diminishing their ideas of what success looks like (literally and figuratively).
There are so many incredible reasons to read diverse biographies; they can be summed up best in In Culture Parent magazine found digitally. The authors provided multiple valuable reasons but the one that stuck with me the most was that reading these multicultural books to our children (not having them read to but reading WITH them) provides them a sense of global awareness and empathy towards others from a different background. Many children encounter others who are different than they are. By providing those children with that context you set them up for seeing that person for who they are inside and out. Furthermore, I also implicitly agree with the author discussing that mainstream books often times stereotype. If we allow students to continue to see and understand culture, religion and ethnicity from the media as their main source they are never going to have an authentic understanding or appreciation of those cultures and backgrounds!!! I highly recommend reading the article from In Culture Parent, it truly lays out tremendous reasons for reading multicultural children’s books as a family.
I chose to read Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson (2013) as my work of multicultural biography. First, after Nelson Mandela died his life and legacy were celebrated across the world. It was incredible to see the impact he had made on so many, not just in South Africa. Since that time (2013), talk of Nelson Mandela in my community at least has dwindled. I brought him up in my Global Studies class and few students knew who he was or what he had done in the world. I truly believe that his story over triumph over very adverse situations is one that can resonate with anyone regardless of age or background. I also think that as a family you can discuss his contributions to his family, his community, his country and the world. It also transcends that. What characteristics did Nelson Mandela embody that made him so diligent and persistent? I think this story will help open up those conversations and can be such a character builder as a family. Furthermore, the artwork of this story is so beautiful. I think that not only will families appreciate the words and message but also see such beauty in the art that tells the story. I think it could also be a conversation piece as well.