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Day promotes reading and diversity in children's books

When two moms - both reading advocates - struggled to find books reflecting their own children they decided to do something to make a difference.

Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen co-founded the nonprofit Multicultural Children's Book Day. The second annual event, to celebrate diversity in children's books, is Tuesday.

The event's project manager is Becky Flansburg of Baxter, freelance writer, blogger and social media virtual assistant. Flansburg met Budayr at a conference in Minneapolis. Budayr became a friend and one of her first and largest clients.

"She's a huge advocate for children's learning and playing," Flansburg said.

Flansburg said there are amazing authors writing childrens' books with diversity in culture, race, religion and traditions but they aren't getting mainstream attention.

"Kids need to see themselves in books," Flansburg said.

So the first online event was in 2014. On their website, multiculturalchildrensbookday.com, they point to census data showing 37 percent of the U.S. population consists of people of color, yet 10 percent of children's books published have diversity content.

Budayr and Wenjen reported they want to raise awareness for the children's books that do celebrate diversity and try to get more of those books in classrooms and libraries. Through the event they hope to raise awareness of authors and provide resources.

The website features an authors' page to spotlight books. A resource page is aimed at parents and teachers.

This year, about 150 bloggers will review the children's books, provided by authors and publishing houses. Flansburg said participants have come up with creative activities to go with reviews for the online event. Bloggers will then link their reviews to the Multicultural Children's Book Day website.

"It creates this gigantic resource," Flansburg said.

How it started

Budayr is a children's book author and publisher. The daughter of Swedish immigrants, Budayr has Lebanese-American children.

"Literacy has played a huge role in my family," Budayr wrote. "We are a family of avid book readers, however it has been very difficult to find books that have characters who are like my children, global citizens with a diverse and varied background."

Wenjen, based in Boston, is a mother of three and a blogger at PragmaticMom. Her children can trace their heritage back to Japan, China and Korea.

"I personally sought out books for my kids where they could see themselves; something I didn't have growing up, despite being a bookworm who read every single biography and fiction chapter in my southern California elementary school library," Wenjen said.

"I made it my mission two years ago to dedicate my blogging efforts to promote children's authors of color, and, in proclaiming my personal goal, found many other people who agree. Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book was one of those people. She proposed creating a day to celebrate multicultural books for kids one day over Skype and thus Multicultural Children's Book Day was born."

Another goal is to create a compilation of books and favorite reads to provide a new winter reading list, "but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries."

"Multicultural Children's Book Day (MCCBD) will include book reviews from noted bloggers all over the world, giveaways and book-related activities for young readers of all ages," they report. "The MCCBD team will also be partnering with First Book to create a Virtual Book Drive for the event, and with The Children's Book Council to offer readers quality resources along with fun and informative author visits."

The hope, the MCCBD organizers say, it to highlight the importance of diversity in children's literature.

"Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book," they noted on the website. "We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, multicultural children's book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media."

"This year it's been like exploding," Flansburg said of the event. "I'm real excited to see where it goes. I think it will continue to grow."

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz.

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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