While all cultures are ripe with stories, tales, and literature geared towards their children, the international melting-pot existence of the modern world necessitates the systematic inclusion of more than one culture with which a child might identify. America stands as a most direct example of this, where people most generally describe their ethnicities with the hyphenated form, - American. While identifying multicultural children's literature is a time-consuming task occupying both educators and parents across the United States, the invocation of children's literature exists in a history dually worth noting. Beginning with the age of immigration and culminating in the 1990s boom, accepting the many-cultured conversion of the United States, the history of multicultural children's literature is inextricably tied to the social history of America.
The growth of children's literature in the United States is concurrant with the movement for compulsory education, which social activists, politics, parents, and elites all supported from different perspectives; for some, it was the driving force to eliminate the supposedly-uncultured youths of recent immigration in the streets, for others it was a means of providing needy children with an education that might further their futures and careers, and for still others, mandatory schooling was an academic agent by which recent immigrant children might be socialized into the "American" way. At this point, the "American" way was still entrenched in the ideologies of Old Europe, particularly England and France. As such, the earliest children's literature began with the adoption of European literature for American youth, as evidenced still in the popularity of the Walt Disney version of Rudyard Kipling's epic The Jungle Book.
A good example, then, of the development of children's multicultural literature in the United States is the adaptation of European literature to be tailored to American children. While the American popularity of the French Babar books show the acceptance of high European standards when suited to Americans, the Tin books are emblematic of this shift away from European principles. Tin, a French series about a young boy who works as a reporter, frequently filled its pages with derogatory interpretations of non-white cultures, which the United States began to deem as too culturally oblique and prejudiced by the early 1900s, despite segregation and racial tension at home. Many of these books, particularly the anthropologically fallacious and exceedingly callous Tin in Africa series, including The Black Island, Cigars of the Pharoah, and Tin in the Congo, were censored if not banned in America because of their undeniable support of social mores coming to a point of rejection in American popular culture.
At the same time, not only of the Tin books were banned from America bookstores and library shelves; Tin in the Land of the Soviets, published in 1930, became a popular child's book during the Cold War for not only lambasting the Soviet ideology, but representing the hardship with which the Russian children were forced to deal on every aspect of the quotidian, including getting patronized, maligned, and beaten by their leaders. Page ten shows a little boy, about ten -- the age of the targeted reader, standing in a line run by the police, waiting for food. "You're a communist? ... Yes? ... Bread for you!," cites the caption of the police warden.
Tin Tin stands silently, watching, commentating to the reader, "Yet another Evil of the Real Russia. Troops of abandoned children roaming the towns and countryside, living a life of begging and thieving."
While Tin Tin's partner in crime, his dog, says, "poor thing," the next page reveals what might happen to a child if he says no, that he is not a communist. Although graphic and brutal, characteristic of Tin books, the point remained that the literature was accepted by Americans as acceptable for children because it supported the socializing cause of creating patriotic flag-bearers who recognized Russia as a tyranny, so evil it denies children bread.
The Tin series is emblematic of the objective reality of multiculturalism at play in children's literature to which American educators found themselves forcibly observant in the middle of the century. As America's ethnic spectrum moved away from the homogeneity that existed before the immigration era, education and the literature geared towards children for both academic and commercial purposes slowly followed suit.
Because gaining support in literary and academic fields went hand in hand with national and civic recognition, the pluralist movements of the -- American subgroups were first galvanized category was that of African-American children's literature.
African-American children's literature began with the civil rights movement of the 1950s that brought down not only the Jim Crow laws but also the segregation of America's classrooms; the rise of the African-American literature was fueled in part by the verbal histories of the narrated South but was galvanized by a newly-named group of "African-Americans" in the North, seeking to bring the same cultural education and extension to black children in America as whites received in school. An important coexistent factor of this movement was the demographic struggle of the feminist movement, born of the Seneca Falls convention and perpetuated by Ms. Magazine to bring women-oriented history to America's girls; both movements were unpopular to the legislating leaders, largely male and white, who thought that curriculum was fine, but as books became available, teachers began to adopt them.
As teachers integrated multicultural learning into the classes, school districts, teachers' colleges, and non-profits sought to do the same. During the 70s, New Haven created its own African-American oriented teaching tools that highlighted the lives of great African-Americans in history, like Martin Luther King, and incorporated a new knowledgebase into the common approach to teaching American history, but also teaching at length about the Civil War. Children were encouraged to read books that tied together their knowledge of history with their understanding of races, begetting a new generation of children, both black and white, familiar with the names Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Mohammad Ali.
The 70s also brought with it a pop culture fascination with America's great cities, like Chicago and New York. New Haven worked particularly hard to incorporate these urban environments into their African-American literature units, invoking the urban fascination with art, poetry, and architecture. Among these books were Honey, I Love You and Other Love Poems, poems about family with drawings of African-American children to accompany them; Sister, the chronicle of one African-American girl's struggle with death, and Night on Neighborhood Street, an exploration of stories, sounds, and colors that celebrate the black urban neighborhood.
Throughout the next two decades, many other books appeared, directly dealing with African-American narrators, stories, and main characters; like Bein' This Way With You and Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky.
The history of Hispanic-Americans, though not as brutal as that of the African-Americans, is equally grueling in its disregard for native culture. Enslaved in South and Latin America, this demographic faced the same cultural history that the African-Americans did, but without the same causal cry for acknowledgement and involvement into the common knowledge base as witnessed by African-Americans. Many of these groups also have roots in the Native Americans (First Nations' Peoples) of the United States, and as such, have received a historically inaccurate and unflattering history though children's literature in America as the demographic with whom the brave American settler's battled and, later, the heartless killers who ravaged the west of the idolized American Cowboy.
The 1970s began to see the advent of some Hispanic-American literature, as the academic and intellectual elite from the Caribbean, Latin, and South America sought political refuge on American oil. At the same time, Los Angeles witnessed the rise of the Chicano movement, which encouraged a culture-centric ideology among Hispanic-Americans. Beginning with The Chicano (1975 ) and moving to A History of the Mexican-American People (1977), Hispanic-American began to take form, encapsulating not only the histories and characteristics of the people, but an embracement of their own tongue, song, and mystical approach to thought, ideation, and writing. A new era of Hispanic-American literature came into being in the 1990s, as children who had emigrated to the United States with their parents came of age and were capable of recounting, recording, and preserving their histories shared by so many Hispanic-Americans, most represented in Esmerelda Santiago's fountainhead, Quando Era Puertoriquena, When I was Puerto Rican. The book, published immediately in both Spanish and English, shows not only the histories of the Hispanic-American people in their own lands as well as on American turf, but also the important part of the stories that happened in between.
Native-American children's literature led a much less prosperous success as it made its way into American children's literature in the early 1990s. In Multicultural Review in 1992, Caldwell-Wood and Mitten revealed the damning lack of Native-American integration and actual understanding in children's literature.
As such the growing non-profit industry settling after the civil rights movement sought to grant credence to this under acknowledged demographic, and the popular Indian in the Cupboard series of the 1980s…