Want to know why teaching multicultural literature in your English language arts classroom is so important?

There are plenty of reasons, not least among which is that the number of cultures, ethnicities, languages, religions, and other customs that shape our overarching society is pretty large!

Not only that, but the presence of the internet and increased global commerce means that students need to learn about people from other cultures—their experiences, the hardships they face, their political, economic, and social challenges—in order to better communicate with and understand them.

Building Empathy

If reading literary fiction can improve empathy, it stands to reason that reading multicultural literature can help us—students and teachers alike—better understand people from other cultures or marginalized populations within our own. It can help us confront and dismantle harmful or inaccurate stereotypes.

It can also encourage us to understand how the same events can be interpreted by different people. This is certainly true of post-colonial literary texts, like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, that show us the consequences of colonization from the perspective of the colonized people. We can then start to unravel the sorts of historical narratives that would present the colonizers as heroes of progress and the colonized as savages in need of Western influence.

A work of multicultural literature helps us add some much-needed nuance to history, revealing the world to be more complex than it appeared before we started reading.

Increasing Engagement

It’s true: Some students might not enjoy the books you assign. That's basically a universal constant across all literature classrooms—after all, you can't please everyone.

But what if some of your students don't enjoy reading the books you assign because they just don't identify with the characters? What if they're tuning out because these books don't contain anyone who thinks like them, who finds joy in the same things they do, whose struggles are like their own? That's where multicultural literature comes in.

Now, there's a certain amount of solidarity to the human experience. Most of us struggle at some point with our own mortality, with relationships, with moral quandaries. Any good piece of literature will deal with universal problems like these.

But can we expect every student to care at all about the decadently rich and reckless characters of The Great Gatsby? Why should they invest in Tom and Daisy Buchanan, who have never had to deal with casual racism, or poverty, or being outcasts due to embedded social structures, or, well, anything outside the hermetically sealed, pristine Fabergé egg of a society that they were born into?

That's not a knock on Gatsby; F. Scott Fitzgerald did a fine job making his characters (especially Tom) unsympathetic to most people. But students need to read about characters they can identify with. We all need role models, even if they're fictional. And reading about someone who looks, acts, and talks like us, someone who struggles and succeeds despite the odds against them, can give us hope that we can do the same.

Multicultural Books For Your Classroom

If you’re looking for books that go beyond the traditional literary canon, our collection of paperbacks has you covered. And remember, when you shop with us, you’ll always save at least 25% off every paperback you purchase, even if you buy only one.

Need more inspiration for your students’ reading choices? Check out some of our favorite paperback compilations: