Children’s literature is defined as any literature that has children as the main audience, which are individuals who are fifteen years old or younger (Temple, et al., 5). Multicultural literature are writings that are not of the mainstream local culture. They are about people groups who have been previously underrepresented and often marginalized by society. Having literature that represents various groups of people helps to validate them and their experiences (Gopalakrishnan, and Persiani-Becker, 6). By reading books, short stories, and poems written by people of various cultures, students learn more about other people. Their world becomes expanded and they will have a better understanding of people of different ethnic groups, countries, language groups, religious beliefs, and historical and cultural experiences.
Multicultural literature helps students to learn to take a critical approach to other cultures. “A critical approach teaches students to question, inquire into, and reveal the power relations that exist in the workings of a society or a group.” Through these readings, students learn to become agents of change in the world. They will become doers and not simply passive learners.
The book “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” by Eleanor Coerr is a good example of multicultural literature. Students will be intrigued by hearing about the atomic bomb that had exploded in Hiroshima in 1945. Sadako was a little girl who was born just two years before the explosion. Sadako may have survived the bomb, but unfortunately later came down with leukemia from the radiation. The students learn about Sadako’s struggle with leukemia and her eventual death. While in the hospital, Sadako had a friend who visited her, who believed that if they folded one thousand paper cranes together, her wish for good health would come true. Sadako passed away when only 644 cranes were folded. Sadako’s classmates finished folding the rest of the cranes, which were buried with her. A teacher can show the students how to fold paper cranes as an extension of the lesson. Students realize that there is always more than one side to every war, and each side has its sufferings.
Another story that is a good example of multicultural literature is a short story in a reader titled “A Time to Weave” by Patricia Habada. The story features a Native American girl who lives in the southwestern United States. The girl is at the age where she is learning to become an adult, thus the story is a sort of coming of age story. She is very close to her aged grandmother, who is nearing the end of her life. The grandmother is accepting the fact that her life is ending, and wishes to go to the desert to let herself die. Yet before she passes away, she wants to pass on the skill of weaving to her granddaughter. The two begin weaving a blanket together, and the grandmother passes on her skill. While they work together, the girl learns that her grandmother plans on leaving her for good once the project is finished. This of course upsets her, and in a fit, she pulls some of the threads from the blanket. She eventually comes to terms with the fact that she will lose her grandmother. The blanket is eventually finished and the girl has a tearful goodbye with her. In reading the story, students learn how different cultures have varied perspectives on death.
There is also “Robyn’s Book” by the late Robyn Miller. The book was written by a young Jewish woman from New York City with cystic fibrosis. Robyn Miller's story takes the reader into the subculture of people with disabilities and chronic illness. The story shares her experiences in and out of the hospitals. Robyn also wrote some poems in her book. The reader will have even more respect for people with disabilities from reading her experiences and hearing her voice.
Another good read is “The Woman Warrior” by Maxine Hong Kingston, which is about the author’s experience in being a Chinese-American immigrant and finding her voice in a new culture, and also within her own culture. She also incorporates the story of the ancient female Chinese poet Ts’ai Yen. The reader is taken into a California Chinatown, and reads about how the author finds it difficult to become a part of American culture, while her family still holds onto many aspects of Chinese culture. She is a part of both worlds, and that is her story.
Having multicultural literature is an important part of a student’s education. The more diverse a student’s reading is, the more the individual will learn about their world. Students should learn about other cultures and countries, so that they will have a better understanding of them. Each school’s curriculum should have a diverse collection of literature for students to study.
Gopalakrishnan, Ambika G. and Kimberly Persiani-Becker. "Multicultural Children's Literature: a Critical Issues Approach." Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing, 2010.
Temple, Charles. et al. "Children's Books in Children's Hands: an Introduction to Their Literature." London: Pearson; 6th Edition, 2018.