There are three dominant views of the term and use of “multicultural literature”. The first view, multiple + cultures = multicultural, suggests that no one culture should dominate literature for fear of reverse racism. The second view clearly objects to the use of racial and ethnic issues in literature as representative of multiculturalism. The final view asserts that all humans are multicultural, therefore all literature is multicultural (Cai, 2002).
In his introduction to Multicultural literature for children and young adults: Reflections on critical issues, Cai (2002) describes the difficulties in defining multicultural literature. To be honest, I am no closer to understanding what “multicultural literature” means but there are certainly many ways to incorporate different perspectives in the school library.
Elizabeth Bluemle’s (2010) blog post, “The elephant in the room” calls for the publishing community to “stop the white-wash” of literature published throughout the world. So the question becomes: Is the over-representation of white, middle-classed, Christian families due to the volume of these types of works being published or is it due to the selection of the Librarians calling for these items?
There is no doubt that there is a large volume of ‘dominant’ culture works in our Libraries. However, there is a growing number of literature that support the third view of multicultural literacy – the stories within them are simply about humans, who are naturally multicultural.
Personally, I prefer the term, “diverse”. I believe that we are seeing more diverse characters in Australian literature and it is our role as Librarians to ensure that students have access to these different stories. We must treat each story on its merits, assessing the quality of the story, its usefulness in engaging students, its ability to be developed further for pedagogical purposes and teaching and learning experiences.
We must also remember that some literature considered high quality years ago, can contain prejudices and blatant racism, excluding many of our students. Rather than weeding these, they can serve as examples for critical literacy, or sociopolitical discussion, as Cai (2002) alluded to when discussing the difficult of defining the “multi” part of multicultural. Using these texts to compare and contrast historical perspectives engages our students in discussions about ethics and politics – about what is right, fair and just. Facilitating these discussions, providing the tools for students to form their own opinions, as well as opportunities for them to articulate them with evidence – surely one of the main aims of 21st Century education.
- Making Multicultural Australia is a website containing resources for learning and teaching about multiculturalism in Australia.
- The Board of Studies, New South Wales’ “Suggested Texts for the English K-10 Syllabus” aims to provide a range of texts representing the diversity of the school population in New South Wales.
- Cai, M. (2002). Defining multicultural literature. In Multicultural literature for children and young adults: Reflections on critical issues. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
- Bluemle, E. (2010). The Elephant in the room. In Publishers Weekly: Shelftalker [Blog]. Retrieved fromhttp://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/shelftalker/?p=700