‘I Read to See Me’ illustrates the significance of multicultural representation in children’s books


Alyssah Hall

‘I Read to See Me’ volunteers Grace Titus and Charnesha Williams help set up books before the book fair.

Alyssah Hall, Multimedia Reporter

A giant colorful balloon arch, long tables covered in children’s books and young adult novels, live speaker readings, and a chance to get to know the authors were all offered in the King Hall courtyard last week. 

A book fair event called “I Read to See Me” was presented by the African American Children’s Book Project and the College of Ethnic Studies on Sept. 24. Cal State LA faculty, students, parents, and children came out to celebrate multicultural children’s books and the authors behind them.

“The importance of having these types of events is to celebrate authors of all ethnic groups. The more we know about each other, the better we coexist in this world,” Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati said, founder of The African American Children’s Book Project (AACBP).

The AACBP is a non-profit that started in 1992 to encourage the importance of children’s literacy. It was designed to “promote and preserve children’s literature written by or about African Americans,” according to their website. One of the many initiatives they offer is the “I Read to See Me” program.

The authors featured included Benson Shum, who is also an illustrator and Disney animator. 

“I think it’s so important for people of color to see themselves represented in books because we are all visual people,” Shum said.

More than 83% of books for kids are about animals, objects, or white characters. “Between 2018-2019, 44 percent of children’s books were about white characters alone and 80.4 percent of books were by white authors and/or illustrators,” according to roomtoread.org.

Room to Read is a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating gender inequality and illiteracy in low-income areas.

Shum said that the moral of his book “Anzu the Great Kaiju” is that it’s ok if you don’t fit into a certain box and to stay true to yourself. 

Some Cal State LA students came out to support the event, like “I Read to See Me” book fair volunteer and pre-nursing major Charnesha Williams. 

“It’s a great opportunity to bring out these books for the kids, especially to show them some representation of themselves,” said Williams.

Authors of color are essential because they produce books that represent children of color. However, “Children’s books written by authors of color increased from 2019 to 2020 by just 3 percent, to a total of 26.8 percent,” according to roomtoread.org.

The event showcased not only multicultural books for children but for young adults, too.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux, the dean of the College of Ethnic Studies, said she was very excited to be able to pull off this event and have over 150 people attend to celebrate multicultural literacy.

“We want to grab future Cal State LA students early, and that’s why I have a multicultural children’s book fair,” Malveaux said. “We expect to see Black young people, Latinx young people, Native American people and Asian American people. Our authors all reflect that.”

Brandy Myers, creator of Khemara Kids, has a Black and Cambodian background and said that she didn’t grow up seeing herself in children’s books. She sells Cambodian children’s books because they are very hard to come across, according to Myers. “The language of Cambodia is Khmer, so the books that I sell are in Khmer and English,” she said.

Joy Miramontes, an urban learning major at Cal State LA, also attended the event. Miramontes has aspirations of being an elementary teacher, she said that the urban learning major focuses on multicultural pedagogies in the classroom.

“When I heard about this event, I ran over here,” Miramontes said. “I know that the way that I imagine my future classroom is with a lot of different multicultural books. So I really want to pick them up today and maybe some for the future.”

Another author that showcased their book was Cindy Montenegro. Montenegro is the author of “My Mind is a Mountain,” a children’s book on mental health that is both in English and Spanish. 

“I wrote it so that it was a bilingual book because I felt that it was important for it to be a topic that’s accessible to both English- and Spanish-speaking families,” Montenegro said.

Montenegro believes that the power of literacy is an essential part of childhood development and felt excited to be at the event to represent that.