What do we read to our children? Messages concerning ethnic diversity in popular children’s books in the Netherlands

Ymke de Bruijn, Rosanneke A. G. Emmen, Judi Mesman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Children’s books can create opportunities for children to see themselves as well as others in different settings and stories, but cultural details and specificity within these stories can play an important role in the messages that children take away. Therefore, the present study aims to provide insight in the messages concerning ethnic diversity and various cultures in a subset of popular books that Dutch young children are likely to be exposed to. Books aimed at young children that were sold or borrowed most often or were awarded between 2009 and 2018 in the Netherlands are examined through the combined lens of critical race theory and critical multicultural analysis. Specifically, books including a protagonist or secondary character of color were selected. The study provides insight in the degree of cultural specificity and cultural authenticity, as well as prevailing power relations between characters and ideologies that are portrayed within the books. Results indicate that while cultural stereotypes and ideologies including White supremacy and eurocentrism are found only in a few books, cultural details are generally lacking and colorblindness is common in books aimed at young children. The study therefore underlines the particular need for books that are culturally specific and include authentic cultural details, to improve the reflection of various cultures and experiences of characters of color.
Original languageEnglish
Article number206
Pages (from-to)1-21
JournalSN Social Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Children’s literature
  • Ethnic diversity
  • Critical race theory
  • Criticalmulticultural analysis


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