Children’s books about death, mental illness using images of different children


The days of avoiding serious topics in children’s books—like complex emotions, racism, mental illness, and even death—seem to be over. Writers targeting younger readers are dealing with disturbing facts, producing more diverse and complex content to engage them.

Children’s book authors have been crafting complex narrative arcs for young readers since the 1960s, said Carl Lennertz, executive editor of the Children’s Book Council, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. These books are the exception, however, and children who didn’t grow up in nuclear families—nor white—continue to be ignored in children’s literature.

“There was a time when we wanted to keep kids safe from these issues; that time is over,” said Naren Aryal, CEO and publisher of Mascot Books, a children’s imprint, according to The Inquirer. “But we as a society are learning that it’s better to talk about these things that were not said in the past.”

The era of children’s books eschewing serious topics—complex emotions, racism, mental illness, even death—seems to be over. Today, more and more children’s books have diverse and complex content that can appeal to young readers. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Fast forward to 2022, and publishers have increased the variety of children’s books, especially history and nonfiction. For example, A Kids Company About (according to its website, a black-owned children’s media company that aims to inspire a new generation of children through diverse storytelling) has published more than 70 books for readers under the age of 9 . The books cover a variety of topics, including divorce, racism, voting, cancer, empathy, and non-binary.

While things seem to be moving in a positive direction in the book industry, there is still work to be done. In 2015, publisher Lee & Low conducted a survey of diversity in the publishing industry and found that only 2 percent of children’s books were written by black authors and featured black children; similarly, Latinos were rarely present. When the survey was conducted again five years later, the number of books featuring black protagonists increased only slightly.

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Lennertz told The Inquirer that it wasn’t until the protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May 2020 that the publishing industry began to take a more serious look at its output. Since then, the number of children’s nonfiction books dealing with black history has grown.

However, many school districts in the United States are banning books that humanize the experiences of LGBTQ+ children and discuss the ins and outs of Black lives, and some white parents feel that reading them makes their children feel bad.

“Kids can process the material. Their minds are open, they don’t prejudge,” Lennartz said, according to The Inquirer. “If the police [who killed George Floyd] Read a book that humanized black children 20 years ago? Imagine how different our country would be. “

The world’s children’s literature revival is fueled by books by many Philadelphia-connected authors, such as school teacher Hallee Adelman, who has a series of books on children and big feelings, and ABC News live anchor Linsey Davis, whose book Heaven Has how tall? “Helps young people cope with the death of a loved one, a topic that is especially relevant in the wake of COVID-19 and the never-ending gun violence.

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Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow has also written several books, including “Mama’s Khimar,” which is about a Muslim girl dressed in her mother’s hijab, and “Your Name Is a Song,” which tells the story of a young The story of the teacher’s classmates couldn’t pronounce her name until she taught them to sing. The latter book falls under the book ban imposed by the Central York School District.

“It’s disturbing that people want to ban people like me from a book,” Thompkins-Bigelow said, The Inquirer reports. “Would you be bothered if your kids saw me? There are no clear messages in my books; they’re just presentations of people who exist.”

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