There has been a big push recently for diversity and inclusion in books and television. The argument is that it’s important for kids to see characters that look like them. This was certainly part of the mission of The Girl Who Would Be Free, which tells the story of Epictetus through the lens of a female character. The goal was to make the fable slightly more accessible to young girls and women, whose Stoicism is often ignored.
Obviously, any system that exclude voices is an unjust one. But we should also realize—as parents and consumers—that we can learn from all sorts of people. We don’t need everything to look like us or be tailored to us. As George Packer wrote in a recent piece in The Atlantic, the best way to raise a reader is to give them a chance to read great books:
“We sell them insultingly short in thinking that they won’t read unless the subject is themselves. Mirrors are ultimately isolating; young readers also need windows, even if the view is unfamiliar, even if it’s disturbing. The ability to enter a world that’s far away in time or place; to grapple with characters whose stories might initially seem to have nothing to do with your life; to gradually sense that their emotions, troubles, revelations are also yours—this connection through language to universal human experience and thought is the reward of great literature, a source of empathy and wisdom.”
Whatever your children’s gender, they should be able to learn something about themselves in the story of Marcus Aurelius (which we tell in The Boy Who Would Be King) or Epictetus (either in The Girl Who Would Be Free or a more traditional telling), just as they can see something of themselves in the story of a bird that doesn’t like kisses (Rissy No Kissy) or a mouse that loves art (which we talked about in regards to Frederic recently). And when they get older, this pattern should continue. Whether it’s the coming of age story of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye or Malcolm X, a book should be seen as a door (as we’ve talked about). It’s not supposed to exist solely as a mirror. It’s a portal.
We have to instill this reading strategy in our kids. We have to open their eyes and minds to what is unfamiliar. We have to, as we’ve said, not baby them when it comes to books. We have to give them great books. We have to give them windows.