January 25th is National Multicultural Children's Book Day! Founded by two mothers and advocates for youth reading, this annual celebration aims to raise awareness of children’s books that reflect the diversity of our world and get more of these books into libraries and classrooms. The National Multicultural Children’s Book Day includes books about ethnic minorities, disability, poverty, gender, world religions, and more topics that are crucial in helping children to understand the complex world they live in.

For co-founder and blogger Mia Wenjen, the cause has personal meaning. “Because my children are 1/4 Japanese-American, 1/4 Chinese-American, and 1/2 Korean American, I personally sought out books for my kids where they could see themselves; something that I didn’t have growing up despite being a bookworm,” Wenjen explains in her online bio. “Blogging on children’s books for the past seven years made me realize that there simply isn’t enough representation of kids of color in children’s literature. And, for the diversity books that do exist, they don’t get the exposure they need and deserve.”

Diversity in American children's books, 2015
Illustration by David Hyuck, in consultation with Sarah Park Dahlen and Molly Beth Griffin.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center found that, of the children’s picture books published in the United States in 2015, nearly three-quarters had a white protagonist. Stories about people of color made up less than 15 percent of the picture books published that year. But these are the American statistics - what about French children’s books?

The answer: we don’t really know. France prohibits the collection of any statistics based on race or ethnicity. But Laura Nsafou, children’s book author, blogger and industry expert, suggests that we look to the U.S. statistics for clues. Nsafou told Slate France in 2017 that the American market for children’s books is a good indicator of what is to come in France. She has observed that trends in the U.S. make their way to France a year or two later. This also means that if the current figures reveal a lack of diversity in American children’s books, the numbers are likely worse in France.

Interested in introducing more diversity (and the French language) to your little ones? Celebrate National Multicultural Children’s Book Day with us by checking something out! Our library regularly adds new and diverse stories to our collection. These are just some of our favorites. For a complete list, check out the diversity tag on our catalog!

Comme un million de papillons noirs Comme un million de papillons noirs by Laura Nsafou
Adé has amazing hair, like “a million black butterflies” asleep on her head. But one day, her classmates tease her because her hair is different from theirs, and Adé feels ashamed of her curls. With the help of her mother and aunts, Adé learns to love her hair in all its natural beauty!
Les trois grains de riz Les trois grains de riz by Agnès Bertron-Martin
Little Li must go to the market to sell the valuable rice her family harvests. On the way she encounters a duck, a panda, a monkey - and a terrible dragon who is determined to steal her treasure!
Princesse Kevin Princesse Kevin by Michaël Escoffier
Kevin wants to be a princess for Carnaval. Not a superhero, not a cowboy, not a knight - Kevin is a princess, and that's that! After all, why do girls get to have all the fun? With his sister's dress and Mom's makeup, Kevin is the belle of the ball!
Un petit frère pas comme les autres Un petit frère pas comme les autres by Marie-Hélène Delval
Lili-Lapin is worried about her little brother. Doudou-Lapin isn't a baby anymore, but because he has Down syndrome, he doesn't talk and he looks different from the other rabbits. Sometimes Lili-Lapin gets frustrated with him, but she gets really angry when other kids tease him. How can Lili-Lapin be a good big sister to her special little brother?
La fête des morts La fête des morts by Dany Laferrière
Dany Laferrière is a world-renowned novelist - but did you know he also writes children's books? His collaborations with illustrator Frédéric Normandin are full of the colors and vibrancy of the Haïti of his childhood. In this story, Frantz and Vieux Os celebrate la fête des morts !
Moi, Ming Moi, Ming by Clothilde Bernos
Ming could have been born a crocodile, a terrible sorcerer, or maybe queen of England. Instead, he sells beignets au gingembre and walks his granddaughter Nam to school every day - and he wouldn't trade places for the world.
Rien du tout ! Rien du tout ! by Marie-Hélène Jarry
It's summer! No more clockwork schedule, no more busy days. What Clara wants is to listen to the wind, count the clouds, smell the flowers in full bloom - and do nothing at all. An ode to lazy summer days, to rest and reflection.
L’enfant qui vivait dans le mur L’enfant qui vivait dans le mur by Agnès de Lestrade
In this poetic depiction of autism, a little boy is overwhelmed by the noise and sensations of the outside world. One day he hides inside a wall, a refuge where he has everything he needs and feels safe, but is all alone. Will his parents be able to reach him and bring him back?
Mon frère et moi Mon frère et moi by Yves Nadon
Every summer at the lake, the two brothers swim out to a special rock. The older brother climbs and jumps off while his younger brother watches in admiration. This summer, can he conquer his fear and take the leap?
Deux garçons et un secret Deux garçons et un secret by Andrée Poulin
Émile and Mathis are the best of friends. They share everything - games, snacks, and secrets. One morning, Émile finds something in the sandbox that gives him an idea - the best idea of his whole life. But some people think his idea is strange. Some people don't like it at all. What will Émile and Mathis do? A sweet and sincere story about love, friendship, and acceptance.

There is a “sense of self-love that comes from recognizing oneself in a text, from the understanding that your life and lives of people like you are worthy of being told, thought about, discussed and even celebrated,” writes American author-illustrator Christopher Myers in a New York Times op-ed. But Myers believes that children actually “see books less as mirrors and more as maps [...] They create, through the stories they’re given, an atlas of their world, of their relationships to others, of their possible destinations.” The future of multicultural and diverse children’s books in French is a bright one. With authors like Nsafou and Myers leading the global charge, young readers from around the world will find mirrors and maps in their coups de coeur.

Elizabeth Taft

Library Assistant

Elizabeth has a B.A. in French from Wellesley College and is studying Library and Information Science at Simmons University. During a year in Aix-en-Provence she hiked Mont Sainte-Victoire, volunteered at a short film festival, and attended France's largest book fair. Her work at the French Library combines her love of language and libraries.

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