Early Childhood Education and Multicultural Literature

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 When you ask the question, “What was your favorite book as a child?”, you’ll get a lot of different answers. From childhood classics like “Goodnight Moon” or “The Velveteen Rabbit”, to more contemporary offerings, like “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and “The Monster at the End of This Book”. But, if you stop and think about the featured protagonists, how many of those beloved characters that usher us to bed or take us to extraordinary places are people of color or young women? The historical answer is, not many.

At United Inner City Services, we want our students to feel welcomed, valued, and represented in our classroom libraries and on the pages of their favorite books. Our objectives strive to ensure Kansas City’s littlest learners are ready for school, families are ready to support their children’s learning, and schools are ready for children. 

Through Trauma-Informed Care, Creative Curriculum, and art-infused experiences, focus lies on individualization for each child. We want students of all backgrounds to have their unique voices, experiences, and narratives woven throughout our UICS story.

According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), only 13% of children’s books written in the past 24 years contain multicultural content. With a student body comprised of 87% children of color, this presents a challenge to creating culturally-competent language and literacy lessons for our students.  

Research indicates that the most successful way to improve literacy scores for children is to provide greater exposure to books and resources. When children see themselves in literature, they are more likely to engage in classroom lessons and discussions, improve reading comprehension, and develop a lifelong love for literacy. 

Studies also reveal that children who are read to regularly, by the age of two, display greater language comprehension, larger vocabularies, and higher cognitive skills than their peers, making this work imperative to help our students at UICS achieve their highest potential.

In addition to this scholarly research, we did some research of our own at UICS… and asked our experts/friends in the pre-K Rainbow Room at UICS-St. Mark Center about their favorite books. Be prepared to add to your winter reading list with these stellar recommendations! 

Rainbow Room teachers Ms. Casie and Mr. Daniel had a hard time narrowing down their favorite children’s books, but settled on “Zella, Zack, and Zodiac” by Bill Peet and “Llama Llama Red Pajama” by Anna Dewdney.

Some of our other Rainbow Room friends shared a bit about their favorite books too:

Janiece said, “My favorite book is ‘The Color Monster’, because it’s about colors and feelings, and I like it!”

Another literary critic, Christian shared her interest in the cosmos: “I like books about outer space, because I think floating in space is cool.”

Max was adamant that his favorite book was the “Three Little Pigs”, “Because it’s funny!”

And Haven took a break from playing to show us her favorite book, “Chocolate Me” by Taye Diggs. “I like this book, because I got it from the library and read it with my mom.”

As you can see, our students have their favorites and demonstrate a variety of differences. To help us celebrate the diversity of our student body and our literary selection, the Junior League of Kansas City, MO (JLKCMO) provided UICS with funding to purchase literacy kits that reflect UICS’ ethnically, culturally, and gender-diverse student population at UICS-St. Mark Center and UICS-North Center in 2018 and 2020. In 2019, Royals Charities supported this same work for UICS-Metro Center. 

When JLKCMO supported UICS students in 2018 at UICS-St. Mark Center, teachers reported students sharing affirming statements such as, “Her hair is puffy like mine!”, “(Character name) and I look alike .”, and “I have an abuela (Spanish for grandmother), too!” 

We are incredibly grateful for community partners like JLKCMO and Royals Charities who support our mission of “Building Bridges. Inspiring Minds. Impacting Futures.” by providing Kansas City’s youngest generation with the tools needed to grow their literacy skills! These community partnerships help enable UICS to make education and resources accessible, which encourage a lifelong love of learning. This includes making sure each classroom has a diverse array of books for our students to enjoy and see themselves represented as the superhero, leader, explorer, and so much more!