by Sandhya Nankani
Despite the fact that 37 percent of the U.S. population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published over the past 18 years contain multicultural content. Today’s celebration of Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCCBD) is a direct response to this diversity gap that exists in the world of children’s books. Started by two blogger moms and reading and play experts, MCCBD — anchored by the hashtag #ReadYourWorld — is meant to “not only raise awareness for the kids’ books that celebrate diversity but also to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries.” (This blog post was originally posted on the Joan Ganz Cooney Center blog - Mind the (Diversity) Gap in Kids’ Digital Media - you can read the full post by clicking the link at the bottom of the page.)
Amidst the flurry of social media activity surrounding today’s celebrations, it would be short-sighted to leave book apps for kids out of the conversation. According to new research from Digital Book World and PlayScience, 93% of children ages 2–13 now read an enhanced or interactive e-book at least once a week.
We need diverse apps just as much as we need diverse books
Recently, my research assistant and I reviewed dozens of apps to create a curated list of 12 Multicultural Kids’ Books Apps Every Parent Should Know for Multicultural Children’s Book Day. Finding the apps in the first place was a bit of a scavenger hunt. There was no single go-to site; no “weneeddiverseapps” collective that is advocating for and consolidating resources around this topic. We ended up culling through hundreds of websites and review publications. We sifted through listings in the App Store and on Google Play. We read research papers on diversity.
- The diversity gap that exists in the world of children’s books exists just as much, if not perhaps a bit more, in the world of children’s apps. In their book, Diversity Programming for Digital Youth: Promoting Cultural Competence in the Children’s Library, Jamie Campbell Naidoo, and Sarah Park acknowledge this diversity gap in children’s apps. They write:
“Because issues of racism, stereotyping, whitewashing, and other social concerns are still hot topics in children’s and young adult literature, we must be similarly cautious about the presence of these issues in digital media. …We have no reason to believe that the digital media industry is any more socially conscious than the children’s book industry. We would like to believe otherwise, but a glance through the iTunes store reveals that most apps are created with a monocultural child in mind — the white, middle-class child. Essentially the “All-White World of Children’s Books” with the aid of digital enhancements how now morphed into the “All-White World of children’s Book Apps.”
- Multicultural apps that introduce kids to diverse cultures and stories are often created by Indie developers with limited marketing resources. Though they may get great reviews, they get lost easily as time goes on because things like App Store algorithms don’t feature titles based on what the marketplace needs; they are based on what the marketplace already wants, sees and purchases.If it is so challenging for us—eager beaver hunters for diversity and multicultural content—to find it, how much more difficult must it be for parents, teachers, and librarians to be inclusionary when they are building their collections?
- Publishers outside of the U.S. are doing a better job of creating multicultural content. Whether it’s the app Up or Down or the Collins Big Cat series of books, publishers in Europe are offering children bite-sized reading experiences that authentically reflect the world they live in without being didactic about it or without making the interaction into a social studies lesson.
Now let’s get to work, shall we?
Sandhya Nankani is the founder of Literary Safari, an Indie publisher and content developer which develops K-12 print and interactive content that aligns with 21st-century skills and standards and the Common Core. Literary Safari recently published Dentist Bird: A West African Folktale, the first in its series of global folktale-inspired game-rich book apps that are designed to introduce elementary aged children to the diversity of world literature.