Cultural and linguistic diversity in children's literature. Why is this important?

"The diversity of characters in children's literature is crucial, because it plays a key role in a child's development. A child must think his world, understand who he is ...”(Said Ibrahim, child psychiatrist and researcher in ethnopsychiatry)

Since the dawn of time, world civilizations have felt the need to explore the world in the discovery of distant lands and populations with diverse customs. Explorers nourished the imaginations of men and women. Thus, creating the beginnings of fascination for unknown cultures but also it marked the premises of fear and actual stereotypes.


While until now, the discovery of other cultures has combined with a need to travel to distant places, nowadays, there is no need to travel that far. A fascinating cultural and linguistic diversity enrich our daily lives.


By interacting, whether in our living spaces, our places of work, study, leisure, or in many areas such as music and cooking, diversity is at the heart of our society. In our literature, and more particularly in our readings addressed to children, what image of living together and diversity is given to see? And why is it important to transpose the question of diversity into children’s literature?


In the context of the tale, more particularly, a nourishing work that has survived the times, a narration between orality and literature, should allow us to go in search of our own multicultural context, as well as broader cultures because ultimately the human being wherever he is on the planet, isn’t he ONE facing the world, asking himself the same questions about his origin, his end, the meaning of his life, the link that binds him to nature, the fascination for its diversity?


In the general publishing landscape, and when referring to diversity in terms of cultural identities, characters, subjects, and models of identifications, two concerns emerge. The first being to perpetuate the perspective of a culture *of the others*, told for an imaginary need; a fantasized world, frozen in the past and without the said *others* being able to participate in the stories of their own culture. The result is a biased, stereotyped and reductive image, limiting the learning of the reality and the richness of the said culture. As for the second, it is limited to considering diversity only outside the national space, consequently omitting the diversity present in our societies, the links and connections they maintain and which precisely create the whole. The problem? At best, by treating each culture separately, we are faced with compartmentalized spaces, limiting exchanges; at worst, this leads to a total invisibility of the so-called racialized children who, in children's literature, do not find characters who could help them build and establish their identities.


Fortunately, a new era addressing issues of cultural and linguistic diversity, accompanied by a deconstruction of clichés, is blooming in children's literature, with new references such as Like a million black butterflies by Laura Nsafou (editions Cambourakis). However, the rarity of these examples, and particularly in French-speaking literature, does not allow us to speak of a real trend. The search for children's books, bearers of multicultural values is a labor-intensive task, requiring to go out of the classics to find authors from publishing houses offering a more diverse and unique readings.


As per the article of UNESCO's Universal Declaration on cultural diversity: “In our increasingly diverse societies, it is essential to ensure harmonious interaction and a willingness to live together among people and groups with cultural identities. at the same time plural, varied and dynamic.”


If the child is the first to marvel at multicolored butterflies, or single-colored, small and large flowers, why not also nurture in him this capacity for wonder at its cultural, pluricultural, diverse surroundings? What would a garden with exactly the same flowers be without the slightest difference? Isn't the wonder of the garden born from the diversity of the flowers it shelters? Precious biodiversity; precious human totality without exclusion, without fragmentation of living things. Yes, building the society of tomorrow on a secure basis begins with children, hence the importance of introducing them to diversity and reading from an early age.


But diversity in reading is not only a question of cultural representation, it is also a way of dealing with important subjects to learn to face the world as much through pleasant, joyful themes, as through more sensitive subjects. The book is thus inscribed as a means of initiating dialogue between the child, the parent or the teacher and to put words on life situations with which the child is also confronted.


In short, cultural identity is not a stable, immutable and fixed in time datum but rather an identity which moves and is enriched with time and thanks to the interaction of the individual with his society, other societies, its more or less distant environment.


Post co-authored by Les contes de Selma and Estelle Murray.


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