As I was reading Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin to my three-year old granddaughter her eyes lit up. She pointed at the picture of Mei-Mei and said, “She looks like me!” Her face beamed with pride as she studied the pictures. Slowly she pointed to different people, and said, “That’s Papa, that’s Mama, and that’s you!” The discovery that she was reflected in literature was thrilling and exciting.
I have shared many picture books with my granddaughter, including my own. During all this time, she has never identified with the protagonist. My picture book, My Dadima Wears a Sari, is about two Indian girls living in the United States. Even though my granddaughter is half Indian, she does look more like her dad who is from the Philippines, so she never identified with the young girls in my picture book. But as soon as she saw Mei-Mei, she felt a connection.
Every child needs to feel that connection. All children need some stories that have protagonists that look like them, have experiences that echo their lives, and share their concerns. This creates a bond that says, “Yes, someone understands me.”
As a multicultural writer I am well aware of all the discussion that has been going on in the children’s writing community about the need for multicultural literature. I posted something about it on my blog, too. Yet, when my granddaughter pointed out Mei-Mei, it made a deep impression. I will never forget the joy in her eyes.