We Need Diverse Books: My Heart Fills with Happiness

You may have heard about a movement in the book world called We Need Diverse Books. In 2014, #WeNeedDiverseBooks started as a hashtag on Twitter among authors, bloggers, and others from the youth literature industry in response to a lack of diversity in children's books. From there this conversation grew to a movement and ultimately an organization that champions the importance of diversifying children's literature, both in terms of who books are by and who they are about.

So why are diverse books in children's literature important? From the We Need Diverse Books website:

What benefits are there to reading diverse books?

  1. They reflect the world and people of the world
  2. They teach respect for all cultural groups
  3. They serve as a window and a mirror and as an example of how to interact in the world
  4. They show that despite differences, all people share common feelings and aspirations
  5. They can create a wider curiosity for the world
  6. They prepare children for the real world
  7. They enrich educational experiences

To that end, I'm excited to highlight some of the exceptional children's books here at ELPL that are by and about diverse populations.

My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith and Julie Flett is a wonderfully sweet board book made even more special because it prominently features Native characters and concepts. Simple first-person text and lovely, inviting illustrations list things that bring the characters happiness -- drumming, spinning, holding the hand of a loved one. The ideas featured in the text are both specific and universal, and are a sweet and joyful reminder for all of us to identify with gratitude the small wonders around us.

Although no singular Native nation or culture is identified in the text, Smith (Cree, Lakota, and Scottish-Canadian) and Flett (Cree-Métis) have infused this book with their heritage. We see it in the language used (in the repeated drumming, and the "bannock baking in the oven") as well as the illustrations, depicting modern Native children in their homes and with their families, and the book itself is dedicated to "former Indian Residential School Students."

I love this book for so many reasons. The sense of joy and happiness that permeates it is a wonderful thing to share with our youngest children, and that it is done through the lens of Native experiences and identities helps to fill a gap in children's literature, especially among board books: positive, joyful representation of Native children by Native voices.

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