You won’t believe how many kids can’t see themselves in stories: Only 5 children's books out of 1,000 include a child with a disability or sickness!

Last week’s blog post explored the purpose of stories. For some of us, stories are like candy, we can’t get enough! For others, stories are like vegetables, we understand that they’re healthy and we aspire to consume more of them. It’s our goal, at Keepsake Tales, to help more children view reading stories as candy, as opposed to vegetables.

We saw, thanks to the metaphor borrowed from Rudine Sims Bishop, that stories can be windows, from which we can view other worlds, sliding glass doors, from which we can step into those other worlds, or mirrors, from which we can see our own lives reflected. It’s our goal, at Keepsake Tales, to enable every child to access stories both as a means to visit the other worlds within those stories and to see themselves reflected within their pages.

For many people, like me, this metaphor perfectly describes the relationship that we have with the stories in our lives. But many others, including racial minorities, people with disabilities and people with sicknesses, aren’t so lucky. Especially in children’s literature, many are excluded, who don’t have the advantage of seeing themselves reflected in the stories that they read.

Interested in some data? 

The University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center publishes an annual analysis of racial diversity and inclusion in Children’s Literature. This infographic is a really helpful summary. If you want the full data set, click here.

To summarize, the underrepresentation of racial minorities within children’s literature is very real. Sure, the trend-line is moving in the right direction, but racial representation in children’s literature still isn’t where it needs to be. Perhaps most strikingly, only 5% of children’s books feature Latino/a children. Whereas 25% of the US childhood population is categorized as Hispanic or Latino. Wow.

In the summer of 2019, we began researching and exploring the idea of Keepsake Tales in earnest. This tragic theme of underrepresentation in children’s literature, for the first time in my life, raised its ugly head. I became consciously aware, for the first time, that not every child can see themselves in the stories that they read. In fact, some of the most powerful interactions our team has had since working on Keepsake Tales have been when talking with children who have disabilities, or their families.

Just as we’ve seen from our research with racial minorities, we’ve learned that children with disabilities, children with sicknesses, struggle immensely to find stories which include protagonists who they can relate to. We’ve heard time and again a theme that (for instance): “We can’t find books that have characters like Gio, because she only has one arm, and they don’t make books for kids like her”.

Imagine hearing that for the first time, being hit with the truth of that sentiment. Time and again. And again. That’s been my experience learning about the state of inclusion in children’s literature. To say the least, it’s been an eye-opening experience.

But now, imagine being a child with a disability, or a sickness. Imagine not being able to see yourself reflected in any of the content that you consume. From a young age, never being able to see yourself mirrored in the stories that you read. That is simply tragic. It’s a failure of oversight and neglect.

And, sadly, the conversation about the underrepresentation of children with disabilities and sicknesses in children’s literature hasn’t really started. It’s a necessary and encouraging start to see our world beginning to take diversity in children’s literature seriously and starting with racial minorities.

And, it is high time to create children’s stories that reflect children with disabilities and sicknesses. These children, these kids who have intrinsic worth and value, have been ignored for too long.

This is precisely the problem that we’ve set out to solve at Keepsake Tales. See, in all of our research on children’s literature, from reading from experts in the field to conducting our own interviews, we’ve learned that there’s an underrepresentation problem. That children, too many children, will likely never come to experience see stories as windows, as sliding glass doors and as mirrors, because they can’t see themselves in the stories that they read.

And, so, we thought of a different way to frame the problem and created an innovative solution.

Our innovation started with a few key questions. What if we could create an illustration model that enables every child, regardless of what they look like, to see themselves as the champion of the story? What if we could start the illustration process with a picture of the child, so that we can show every child – in their own unique way – that they matter, by integrating them into the story?

This has been our challenge. We’ve been fueled by the recognition that our pursuit of this dream will change the lives of untold millions. And, I’m thrilled to announce, we know how to do it. We’ve identified a way to actualize our vision – to help every child understand that they are one of a kind and have intrinsic value.

Won’t you join us as we work to show every child that they do matter? You can do so by signing up for our mailing list at: https://mykeepsaketales.com/

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