Curating Diverse Characters and Voices
Children’s books that are written and/or illustrated by and convey stories and images of diverse populations are too rare, representing less than a quarter of children’s books, and are often prohibitively expensive. As a result, children are not exposed to books that reflect their own experiences and expose them to new perspectives. This limits children’s engagement with reading and stymies our collective ability to raise the next generation with a deeper understanding of how to live, learn, and grow in an increasingly diverse society.
The Stories for All Project™ curates new, relevant, high-quality books representing diverse characters, voices, and life circumstances and makes them available and affordable to educators supporting kids in need.
In 2013, First Book reached out to the publishing industry with the offer to purchase $500,000 worth of books featuring voices that are rarely represented in children’s literature: minorities, characters of color, and others whose experiences resonate with the children we serve. The response was overwhelming. In fact, we received so many great proposals that we decided to double our commitment, purchasing $500,000 worth of new titles from both HarperCollins and Lee & Low Books — $1 million worth of books altogether. Through that initial investment, First Book’s Stories for All Project™ was born and today is a combination of Special Edition print runs and carefully curated titles that represent diverse races, cultures, and lifestyles. In 2020, 86% of all purchases by First Book members included at least one diverse book, with hundreds of thousands of culturally relevant books reaching the kids we serve each year.
First Book continues to harness market forces to create social change; by aggregating the untapped demand for books and resources in thousands of low-income communities, we’re helping to create a new market for the publishing industry. When that happens, they respond by publishing more titles with more relevant content. Everyone wins, making real, systemic change both possible and sustainable.
In a survey of the educators First Book serves, 90 percent of respondents agreed that children would be more enthusiastic readers if they had access to books that reflect their lives. Through the Stories for All Project™, First Book is:
- Connecting with educators serving underrepresented populations to understand and meet their needs;
- Making the best books representing diverse characters, voices, and life circumstances available and affordable to the children who need these resources the most;
- Demonstrating to the publishing industry that there is a viable market for diverse books; and
- Promoting empathy through stories can help children celebrate their similarities and differences.
First Book’s commitment to increasing access to culturally relevant and affordable children’s literature is bolstered by support for the ‘Stories for All’ Special Edition Initiative from field-leading organizations. Together, with publishers and funders, we can collectively accelerate access to books that will encourage a love of reading for all children and create environments that catalyze courageous conversations that foster positive identity development, help all children understand and appreciate diversity, build respect for others and foster empathy across our communities.
In partnership with our corporate partners, First Book continues to publish special edition books as part of the Stories for All Project™.
In 2014, First Book and HarperCollins Publishers announced a first: the first-ever bilingual edition of the beloved children’s picture book, Goodnight Moon. While separate editions of Goodnight Moon have been available in English and Spanish, the bilingual edition, Goodnight Moon/Buenas Noches, Luna, came into being in response to requests from First Book educators.
In under-resourced homes and schools, purchasing even one book can be difficult, much less two. First Book served as the catalyst for the bilingual edition, commissioning a special print, buying in bulk, and making it available on the First Book Marketplace, enabling educators to support English-language learners.
“Having a treasured book like Goodnight Moon available as a bilingual edition means so much more than just making a classic bedtime story more accessible,” said Rhian Evans Allvin, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. “This creates opportunities for very young English language learners to enjoy a cozy story time in their native and learned languages and to create a culture of reading in classrooms and homes.”
First Book also worked with publishers to create the first-ever bilingual edition of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The bilingual editions of both books are now available at retail for consumers.