Finding diversity in early readers, particularly when it comes to popular, commercially-successful series, can unfortunately be a real struggle for many teachers, librarians and caregivers. Books featuring trains, dinosaurs, aliens, superheroes and animals are a dime a dozen, but finding stories that reflect the diversity of our communities can be challenging.
I discovered a great list of diverse early readers over at the fantastic blog What We Do All Day, and one title that really stood out to me was Freckleface Strawberry : Backpacks by Julianne Moore (yes, the actress Julianne Moore!). On first glance, nothing about this story seems particularly diverse – two white, able-bodied, middle-class children engage in the typical elementary-school hijinks. Of course there’s a place for these kinds of stories, and I remember very clearly the teasing my cousins experienced as red-headed children! Still, I couldn’t immediately grasp why this title deserved a place on a diverse reading list.
The primary diverse element in Freckleface Strawberry is subtle and gentle, and it blends seamlessly into the rest of the story. One of the characters, the little boy who’s Freckleface Strawberry’s best friend, has two loving mothers. The two mums are briefly and simply mentioned, just as a mum and dad might be introduced in any other story. This warm, loving and accepting representation of a same-sex parents warms my heart.
Of course, as one might expect, not everyone approves of this “hidden agenda about homosexuality” as one reviewer put it, complaining that the first grade is far too early to be introducing children to the reality of same-sex parenting.
Now, there are children in the preschools and elementary schools I visit who have two mums or two dads. It seems so heartbreaking to me that some people firmly believe that children in these warm, loving families should be denied the opportunity to see their families reflected in stories. If small children can have two mummies or two daddies, then small children can be introduced to these families in loving, positive ways.
So, kudos to Julianne Moore for introducing casual, everyday family diversity into her stories with sensitivity and positivity. I can only hope that children everywhere will one day be able to see themselves and their families positively represented in the books they love.