Characters of Colour as Depicted in Canadian Children’s Picture Books

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Chen, Yingyi
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Mount Saint Vincent University
Picture Books designed for children can be a way for children to learn about themselves and others. While a growing number of Canadian children’s picture books are labelled racially/ethnically diverse or multicultural and characters of colour (CoC) in these books might have increased over time, it remains unclear if or how they are advocating for the promotion of social justice and diversity portray Persons of Colour (PoC). To illuminate if/how racism and oppression operate in contemporary Canadian children’s picture books, this thesis research examines how CoC are depicted in both text and images of the six selected books included in the Social Justice and Diversity Book Bank of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre by applying Critical Race Theory and Critical Content Analysis. The six books (Pre-K to Grade 2) published since 2016 containing one or more CoC with central themes of racial/ethnic diversity and/or multiculturalism. While the representations are mostly without overt racism towards CoC, each of the books can be identified as problematic in various ways, including lack of explicit statements of the race/ethnicity of CoC in text, lack of culturally authentic details in text and images, persistence of racial/ethnic stereotypes or cultural deficit discourses in text and images, and absence of overtly addressing racism in text and counter-storytelling of CoC. Examining the depictions of CoC in these books has enabled us to develop a clearer understanding how contemporary Canadian children’s picture books reflect authentic/stereotypical representations of PoC, or reproduce dominant ideologies that reinforce their marginalization.