I revisited an old friend for breakfast today. I can still remember pulling Russell Hoban's Frances books off the shelves of the library as a little girl in Wisconsin, and so I decided to use her to answer the C.O.R.A. Diversity Roll Call question. For nostalgia's sake, here's the first Frances book I remember, Bread and Jam for Frances:
I loved Frances because she was subtly snotty and got away with making comments that I never would have dared. I loved her parents because they clearly adored her and they gave the appearance of putting up with her guff, but in the end they got the best of her because she was just a little girl and they knew better. I must have identified with that. It never occurred to me to wonder what race she was. She was badger.
Which leads me to think of another Badger, and another favorite: The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. I first read this one as an adult, it made a great read-aloud and was one of Ben's very favorite books ever. He used to pretend to be Ratty and assign me the part of Mole and his dad the part of Badger. I think Evan was Otter's son. None of us wanted to be Toad.
Again, like in many children's books, the characters are talking animals. It never occurred to me that this literary device took race out of the picture, but I think it does. On the other hand, all the major characters of The Wind in the Willows are not only different species from each other, they also come from vastly different backgrounds. There is prejudice (those nasty weasels and stoats!) but also the illumination of experiencing another culture (as Mole discovers life with the animals of the river) and the disillusionment of returning home to one's beloved mole hole, changed forever by time away.
That's what I want for my own children--first, to use books to achieve a greater understanding of the world outside their own dear mole hole. And then, one day I want them to emerge squinting into the bright light as Mole does, come face to face with some of the many different people who make the world more than one neighborhood, and make friends (weasels, stoats, and all) to last a lifetime.