Children were encouraged to be proud of their ethnicity and gender in our home. My parents raised us to be unapologetically Black before it was on-trend. Representation mattered to them, and they wanted to make sure it mattered to us too. When my little brother was tasked with wearing clothes from his native land for a school project, Mommy dressed him as a Buffalo Soldier, complete with a small script to educate those fool enough to think him ONLY a cowboy. We always had Black Santa Claus ornaments and decorations not because they were as easy to find in the early-mid 80s as they are now, but because my mother made a point of painting all the Santas in our home brown so that we wouldn’t look for a white savior to bless us with gifts.
My parents loaded our shelves with as many books that they could find that centered Black and Brown children as the protagonists. Over the dinner table, my brothers and I had our own book club about The Arabus Family Saga series. We listened to Eloise Greenfield’s Honey, I Love on vinyl in the family room and sometimes read along. I remember having discussions with my mother about why I didn’t like the dialect that The People Could Fly was written in because I felt that it would encourage stereotypes and made people look down on us. Since we were in a dual-language program in our school, we had a small trove of bilingual children’s books, as well. So that we would see a world on the pages that looked like the world we lived in, we also read storybooks from other cultures like The Story of Ping.
This was the template my husband and I seek to emulate in raising our daughter Lola. Our goal is to arm her with enough knowledge of self and pride in her ancestors that she will never allow anyone in her life to dull her shine. Her name is an acronym that stands for Live Out Loud Always. When we were pregnant, we set about making our home into what we would want an ideal learning environment for our daughter to be. The cornerstone of this was books that featured underrepresented populations as the protagonists. My husband teased me because when we went to work on creating our baby registry, I had more books than baby supplies on it. I was so astonished by how many diverse books there were available for children now. Where were these books about fearless little Brown and Black girls when I was little? I wanted them all!
My husband came home one day with the first book for her shelf. He happened by Barnes & Noble saw the Bunmi Laditan book, The Big Bed, brought it home, and read it to Babygirl in utero. When she was born, determined not to give her ANY accidental screen time, we read to her ALL the time. Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History was her soundtrack as she nursed. In the carrier, while we cooked, she would hear recipes read aloud from family cookbooks. One of my favorite photos of my husband and daughter is from when she was less than one month old. She is lying in the crook of his arm like a little log of bread in the glider in her room as he reads her Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats. She now has the Keats Neighborhood collection and loves walking over to her bookshelf to pull out the “Peter Book” to read about Peter and Archie’s adventures. We kept board books from the Little Feminist Series to Please Baby, Please in her play yard along with toys for her to play with independently. As her library grew, we would change the theme of the books in her play space to correspond with the holidays and/or celebratory History and Heritage months so that her books were on theme. Our membership to Stories of a Colorful World greatly helped with those supplies. Because my husband has locs, Hair Love is a family favorite. When we read it to her, Lola doesn’t see Zuri and Daddy, she sees herself and her daddy. She even corrects us to change Zuri’s name to her name in the story. Her proof is that her copy is signed by Ms. Harris and addressed to her this making the book ABOUT her. 🤣
I can’t tell you how many times we would panic at the quiet from her room only to discover she was lying on the floor flipping through a stack of her books. At naptime and bedtime, she chooses 3 different stories for us to read to her every day. After we tuck her in, she can be heard “reading to my friends,” the stuffed animals she sleeps with. More often than not, she will fall asleep with books draped over and under her as if she can absorb their stories by osmosis. She pulls books out when she sits on the potty when she gets her hair combed, she even has books in the car and kitchen she likes to read while eating or going for a ride. We waited until she spoke and understood English well before introducing texts written in Spanish or dual-lingual books like those from the Lil Libros series. As she gets more comfortable with Spanish words and phrases, she teases us by sprinkling them in her conversation, creating her own (mostly English) Spanglish.
“Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.”
Providing her with books in which the characters look like her and her family has laid the foundation of pride in our toddler. She is a fearless little human who goes on adventures with the flip of a page. When asked about people she knows, she rattles characters off as if they are confidants and demands that her father and I embody said characters in conversations with her. Having a diverse bookshelf has created an avid reader at age 2. Though she is yet to be able to decipher all of the words on the page, she dedicates herself to trying as hard as she can to do it.