Seeing the Dick and Jane reference in Larry Neal’s The Black Arts Movement sparked an interest in me to further research the history behind the famed children’s books.
For those who are unfamiliar with Dick and Jane they are a pair of siblings who live with their mother, father, baby sister, Sally and dog, Spot in the suburbs. They are a white family. I was mostly curious to see when/if a minority family was ever included in the books and found that an African-American family was not included until after the Civil Rights Act in 1964. As Dr. McCoy said Dick and Jane was the children’s book series that many young children learned to read from during the 1930s through the 60s. During this time Dick, Jane and their family became the idealized nuclear family for the over 85 million children who read it, but as we know having a “perfect” family such as theirs is not always the case for children.
A couple of semesters ago I read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison for a class and Dick and Jane is interwoven into the novel as the romanticized family for a young African-American girl, Pecola Breedlove. Pecola’s family is nothing like the one of Dick and Jane’s. Her mother has her refer to her as Mrs. Breedlove and her father is abusive in multiple ways. The novel also reflects on how Pecola desires to look like Jane, with light skin, blonde hair and blue eyes, as those are the traits in which she believes qualify someone as being pretty. While reading this novel I felt a tremendous amount of sympathy for Pecola because at the time in which her story is told,(approximately the 1940s) there weren’t many stories that reflected herself, her family and their situation.
This is similar to myself. Growing up as a Chinese-American child, I was an avid reader but I never had any books that reflected me. I had never encountered a Chinese-American child in my reading. Instead I was reading about animals or white children and their families.
Since it has been quite a few years since I last read any children’s literature, I tried finding some data relating to diversity in children’s literature and found this article. It says that “just 9% of children’s books published in the US in 2017 featured African American characters”. That was a shocking statistic for me to read and the article even says that it is an improvement from 2014 when it was only 5%.
These numbers must change and other people’s stories must be told. It is important that teachers, parents and anyone else who has an influence on children are able to expose them to people and stories that not only they can relate to but that are also different from them in order for their child to see how wonderful a world made up of many different people is.