Loved, valued, unique? Yes. Center of the universe? No.

Guest post by Austin author Chris Barton

I want my sons to feel loved.

I want them to feel that they, individually, are valued and unique.

But I don’t want them — or anyone else in their demographic — to get the idea that they’re at the center of the universe just because they happened to get born as non-poor, white, American males. Growing up with such an idea fosters a sense of entitlement that I think we’re all better off without.

How can parents discourage that sort of privileged thinking in their offspring, especially in a culture that sends so many messages to the contrary? I believe that one good way is to immerse kids early on in great picture books offering a broad view of a population that’s full of loved, valued, unique people.

This raises (at least) three questions:

1) What qualifies as “a broad view”?

A representative mix of skin tones and genders — not necessarily in every book, but on a family’s bookshelves as a whole — is a good place to start.

But there are differences among us that cut across those categories — ethnicities, abilities, orientations, faiths, etc. — and the earlier that children become casually and positively familiar with such variations, the sooner they’ll relate to others in our society regardless of the ways in which they differ.

2) Why picture books?

Because the visuals are important. Because, especially for the youngest readers, the pictures will make impressions that words alone can’t.

3) Finally, why great picture books — such as those in my list for Modern First Library — rather than just any that happen to meet the criteria of having an inclusive cast of characters?

So that reading them together will be a joy.

So that kids and their parents will be equally likely to grab those particular books off the shelf.

So that when a parent finds himself reading a book aloud over and over and over and over and over and over and over — and, believe me, he will — he will do so not through unconsciously gritted teeth but with a smile in his voice.

Because that will make an impression, too.


Chris Barton is the author of the picture books SHARK VS. TRAIN (a New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller) and THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS (winner, American Library Association Sibert Honor), as well as the young adult nonfiction thriller CAN I SEE YOUR I.D.? TRUE STORIES OF FALSE IDENTITIES. Next up, in 2014: picture book ATTACK! BOSS! CHEAT CODE! A GAMER’S ALPHABET and his YA fiction debut as a contributor to the collection ONE DEATH, NINE STORIES. He and his wife, novelist Jennifer Ziegler (REVENGE OF THE FLOWER GIRLS), live in Austin with their family.

For more information about Chris, his books, and his presentations to students, writers, educators, and librarians, please visit him at

For more about BookPeople’s Modern First Library initiative, and for more recommendations of wonderful new and classic picture books to read, visit

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