How xenophobic the US really is

Children's and youth literature
Different than the others

Children's books shape the worldview with which we grow up. In recent years, publishers have therefore increasingly requested that the social and cultural diversity be represented in the children's book sector. However, this only succeeds in isolated cases.

From Sonja Matheson

The keywords migration, integration, identity and diversity are currently fueling the socio-political debates. Children's literature has increasingly come into the public eye: when it comes to cultural diversity, children's books are a mirror, but also a projection surface for society. In 2013, for example, a public debate sparked in Germany about whether words with a racist or sexist connotation should be rewritten in new editions of classic children's books. In the new edition ofPipi Longstocking in Taka-Tuka-Land For example, the N **** king became King of the South Seas. “Racism!” Said some. “Censorship!” Said others.

The discussion is not entirely new: As early as the 1970s, the question was asked about the perspective from which people from different cultures should be portrayed; how much and what space the other or the other gets. For those who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, “the foreign” showed itself in fat n **** kings who were defeated, in white adventurers who met mentally less well-off people in Africa, or in black orphans who were sent to Europe by post.

Over the years this changed: social conflicts and xenophobia were now discussed as well as the living conditions of minorities. But what did not change: With a few exceptions, it was still white European or American writers who wrote about Indian orphans, the history of Africa or life on American Indian reservations.

Diversity and sensitivity

30 years later, the topics of identity and diversity are more topical than ever. In 2015, hundreds of thousands of migrants reached Europe. Children's literature quickly produced the first books with escape stories in the tone of dismay. Some works testify to a high level of children's literature and a deep examination of the subject. With many others, however, it became clear how difficult it is to write about the "other" without getting along with stereotypes, attributions and simplifications.

“Diversity” has been the buzzword of the hour on the children's book market ever since. The pressure on publishers is increasing to reflect this - not further defined - diversity in the program. They are increasingly hiring so-called sensitivity readers to check texts for racist, colonialist, discriminatory or marginalizing language and connotations. However, it remains questionable whether that alone is sufficient.
A study published by the British Arts Council in 2018, for example, shows that social diversity is barely reflected in the Anglo-Saxon children's book market. There are no comparable figures for the German-speaking area, but here, too, there is obviously a deficit. The picture book market is still having a hard time with protagonists of dark skin color. Even today, authentic voices and images from other cultural areas can only be found sporadically with larger publishers.

Voices from other cultural areas

The high proportion of translations on the German book market is to be rated positively, which in 2017 accounted for around 20 percent of all new publications in the children's book category. A translation does not guarantee diversity per se, but literature from another linguistic or cultural area carries the “other “Intrinsic with.

In addition, some small publishers have been cultivating the cultural diversity in children's literature for many years, such as Baobab Books, Edition Orient or Edition Bracklo. Baobab Books from Switzerland publishes books for children and young people from all over the world in German translation. Edition Orient brings modern oriental literature to the German book market, while Edition Bracklo specializes in multicultural children's books. In the graphic novel sector, the publishers Reprodukt and Avant are important players.

In order for children and young people to find a world that is as diverse as it is worth living in in books, it is not enough, however, to make demands on publishers for diversity. It takes authors, translators, booksellers, educators, reviewers and readers who are willing to break new ground. Initiatives that aim to attract more attention to those children's books that depict diversity and “different” perspectives are therefore particularly encouraging. For example, the children's book seal KIMI, which will be awarded from 2019 to new publications that do not use clichés or discriminatory language. Or the project “Welcome to my library - Diversity and multilingualism in Bibo and Kita”, which builds partnerships with migrant organizations in order to open up libraries and day-care centers in Saxony-Anhalt on an intercultural level.

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