Centering Children of Color in Early Literature

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Author, Sonia Panigrahy, visited the preschool classrooms at Nia House to read her book, Nina the Neighborhood Ninja. ”Nina is smart and strong and speedy.” In children’s literature, Nina is a rarity.

People of color are underrespesented in children’s literature and girl characters show up only half of the time. According to the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, in 2016, people of color accounted for 22% of characters in children’s books. (Donnela, Leah. “People Of Color Accounted For 22 Percent Of Children's Books Characters In 2016.” Code Switch, NPR. 2017, February 17. LINK) A 2011 study found that male characters were twice as likely to appear in children’s literature than female characters. (Woods, Christine. “Children’s books, give me a female squirrel, a female duck, a female anything.” The Washington Post. 2018, June 1. LINK) This makes Nina the Neighborhood Ninja and important contribution to the realm of children’s literature.

Sonia shared that she wanted write a children’s story where the girl character had the chance to be the superhero. Nina is just that. Nina acts quickly to save her animal friends using her smarts, strength, and speed. Sonia shared that not only do girls need the chance to see an empowered girl character, boys need to see it too. In addition to Nina being a girl, Nina is an empowered girl of color, tasked not with fighting racism or injustice, as is commonly the narrative for children’s literature on race, but she is a regular kid living in a neighborhood where animals need her help. She is relatable to all readers. Blogger, Ashia Ray, writes “All kids need oodles of stories where girls of color don’t have to justify their existence – where every message isn’t about racism, sexism, and a tourist view of foreign lands. Even white boys – especially white boys – need to see girls of color who are valuable, powerful, and unique.” (Ray, Ashia. “Books About Girls Are Not Just For Girls – Representation Matters.” 2018. Raising Luminaries, Books for Littles.)

We all deserve and need to see characters like Nina and we have Sonia Panigrahy to thank for bringing Nina to the children of Nia House.

Nia House

A Montessori Toddler & Preschool Program serving Berkeley since 1974