We need Multicultural Books to celebrate the Foreign and the Familiar

This post was written as a Guest Blog for the Mulitcultural Children’s Book Day website, posted on Jan 26th, 2017

We are drawn to books that feel familiar

Research says that we feel most safe and comfortable around the things and people we know well, that feel familiar to us. We find them in our personal ‘bubble’. They are like us in terms of gender, nationality, language, race, religion, culture, education, socio-economic situation, location etc.

On the other hand, our natural basic instincts often tell us to be wary of something new and different. Unfamiliar things make us uncomfortable and sometimes even anxious. While this might have been a useful instinct in the past, in our diverse globalized world this instinct is not doing us any favors.

What you consider familiar and foreign is defined at a young age

Children begin learning about themselves and the world around them in a formative way between two to five years old. Attitudes are shaped, and they start to notice identity and differences between themselves and others. This is also the age where imagination and imagery are key components of how kids learn.

Over 70 years of research in ‘intergroup-contact theory’ shows that if you have a positive experience with someone from outside your daily bubble, you are more likely to choose a similar experience again in the future. Contact with the unfamiliar can happen face-to-face (direct contact) or indirectly, such as through a book, a TV show or even your own imagination. By intentionally reading multicultural books to children during the formative years of early childhood, we can begin to fundamentally transform what feels foreign and what feels familiar.

Beyond multicultural books

But there is more. Technology now offers something new in the field of intergroup contact: simulated intergroup contact. And it is great for younger kids. Where books spark imagination and bridge worlds, interactive books can enhance those effects.

Even before kids can go out and explore the world themselves, technology like peer-to-peer narration, simulation, language learning and games can make friendship outside a bubble an experience kids are excited about (making it one more like to happen). At Globe Smart Kids, we are studying and learning more every day about this exciting field in partnership with researchers at the University of Kent in the UK.

Enrich your bubble with diverse friends

Let’s work together to make sure there are books that reflect the familiar and unfamiliar bubbles of all readers. And let’s step it up and celebrate diversity beyond printed pages by helping our children to feel excited and confident to make friends outside their daily bubble. This will set them up for happiness and success in our diverse globalized world.

Happy #MCBD!, Sanny Zuiderveld

PS: Find a personal story of making the foreign feel familiar in this TEDx talk: “How a child’s imagination can fight prejudice

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