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Pet Sins July 2010

Children's books featuring interethnic relationships between people of color

The vast majority of U.S. children's books with multiethnic themes feature mixed race characters who are white+other, or families that have one or more white parents, or friendship between a white character and a character of color. While there is nothing wrong with books that celebrate families consisting of white parents with adoptive children of color, or families headed by white-other interracial couples, or friendships between white and non-white children, there is a dearth of children's books about interracial relationships between non-whites.

Non-white parents who adopt non-white children interracially are nearly invisible in children's fiction. Families headed by interracial couples of color are seen in books far less often than their actual frequency of occurence in real life. Interracial friendships between children of color, while common in real life, are almost never the central theme of books unlike white-other friendships. In some rare multiracial children's books that feature the offspring of two non-whites as a major character, white extended family members such as a grandparent or an aunt/uncle are invariably brought in to 'complete' the picture of familial bliss. In one story, the relationship between the two non-white parents of the mixed-race protagonist was negative, and familial stability for the child was only achieved after white extended family came to the rescue.

Though we might assume that none of these individual books were created with bad intentions, their cumulative effect is a negative message about interracial families formed by non-whites and friendships between non-whites. Such relationships between people of color are either implied to be unstable or treated as invisible. And even when they are given page space, they apparently cannot exist without the validation of white charcters.

Here are the beginnings of a list of multiracial or interracial-themed children's books that feature cross-cultural or interracial interactions between characters of color:

Two Mrs Gibsons

A Japanese/African American girl explores her dual heritage through her Japanese mother and African American grandmother.

Seminole Diary: Remembrances of a Slave

Libbie, a young escaped black slave, recounts how she, her sister Clarissa and their father fled plantation slavery to seek refuge with the Seminole nation. Life as a 'slave' of the Seminoles proves far more tolerable than the family's previous life as plantation slaves. Then a U.S> government relocation order threatens both the Seminole nation and Libbie's family. Just as the Seminoles were split between those who want to stay on to fight for their land and those who believe they have no choice but to relocate to a distant reservation, the sisters Clarissa and Libbie will each choose a different path....

Jingle Dancer

Jenna, a girl of Ojibwe and Muscogee heritage, tries to assemble her dance regalia with the help of her intertribal community of women. This book by Cynthia Leitich Smith was awarded "Notable Children's Trade Book" in the Field of Social Studies and a Selector's Choice for 2001.

Indian shoes

Ray Halfmoon, a boy of Seminole and Cherokee descent, lives in the ethnically diverse city of Chicago with his grandfather. This collection of 6 short stories explores the life of a young urban Indian who stays in touch with his dual heritage while forming friendships with non-Indian neighbors.

The Frog Scientist

This non-fiction book explores the life and work of Dr Tyrone Hayes, a biologist and herpetologist at UC Berkeley. Hayes credits his wife Kathy Kim with inspiring him on the path to success. When Tyrone was an undergraduate at Harvard, the South Carolina native had trouble adjusting and nearly dropped out, but two people, biologist Bruce Waldman and Tyrone's then-girlfriend Kathy Kim encouraged him to stay on. "Kathy had confidence in me," he said. Dr Hayes, Kathy Kim and their children appear in the book.

Readers, feel free to contact us with more book recommendations.