Why should we care about diverse children’s books in Romania?

Maria Kovacs

Children’s literature is a source of knowledge and entertainment for children, and for adults, especially those ones who surround children with their love, and whose first and foremost role is to nurture them. From beautifully illustrated and crafted children’s books, primarily those experienced in the company of caring adults, young children gain their first understanding of the world and how it works, of human relations and how they work, of what is valued, of what they should cherish. They will wonder and get wiser; they will feel and develop sensitivity. They will step in the shoes of their favorite characters in the story; they will empathize with them; they will be exposed to models of how to handle challenges and how to rejoice at successes. As they read or are read to, children will learn lessons for a lifetime from these books. Especially from the ones that ‘love children’, as my friend Brandi Bates of Citim Impreuna Romania calls them. Children’s books are the first textbook in thinking and emotions.

Diversity is part of our world: both nature and the human race are blessed with diversity. It is a fact that the Romanian society is diverse and this diversity is endorsed by the Constitution. It is a fact that our Constitution guarantees human dignity, the citizens' rights and freedoms, the free development of human personality, as well as equality of rights, including the right to education. If some of our children cannot find themselves and people like them reflected in children’s books, they will implicitly perceive the message that they are undervalued in society, which will affect their dignity, as R.S. Bishop cautions us.  It is also a fact that the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), which Romania is a signatory of, declares in Article 13 the child’s right to ‘freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice’.

Therefore, because children’s literature is a source of children’s knowledge about the world, and because the world in which our children are growing up is wonderfully diverse, and because we have equal rights to dignity and learning, we need children’s literature to reflect this diversity and honor these rights. We need to facilitate our children’s early learning about otherness. We need them to be able to read the world as well as the word, as Paolo Freire would put it. If we fail them, they will be ill-equipped for a happy, harmonious and productive life in our growing global village.