As teachers, families, and members of society, we want to build an inclusive and social justice-oriented community. To do this, we need to think about not only how to react to injustice and racism, but also how to be proactive to prevent these things from occurring.

And how can we be proactive? By using the power of Multicultural Literature (MCL)! MCL builds both cross-cultural empathy and cultural empowerment in all students, which benefits the mental, physical, social, and emotional health of all students.

Definition of Terms (Literature Review)

Cross Cultural Empathy: the ability to be compassionate and responsive of others’ ethnic cultures and cultural experiences

  • High school students demonstrated cross cultural empathy when teacher had them read multicultural literature (Louie, 2005)
  • Multicultural literature acts as a “window” (Bishop, 1990)
  • When students only see themselves in literature, they will view the other students, who do not see themselves in literature, as less than they are and uneducated (Bishop, 1997; Larrick, 1965)

Cultural Empowerment: the ability to understand and be proud of their own cultural heritages and identities

  • Multicultural literature acts as a “mirror” (Bishop, 1990)
  • People of color are able to see their lives reflected back to them in multicultural literature. This leads to a sense of belonging (Nel & Paul, 2011)
  • When a student does not see this mirror, they recognize that society does not value them or their culture, which causes he/she to lack self-esteem (Bishop, 1997)

Findings from Our Own Research

Empathy and Empowerment in K-2 Read Aloud Sessions: An Analysis of the Inclusion of Multicultural Children’s Literature (Jenkins, 2016)

  • Teachers are using some multicultural literature during their read aloud sessions
  • Teachers need access to good literature and resources
  • Even just the representation in multicultural literature can build cross cultural empathy and cultural empowerment
  • The books need to be relatable to the students
  • Teachers use targeted discussions after books

The Spectrum of Multicultural Literature in the Classroom

Considering the literature review and my own findings in my research, I created The Spectrum for Multicultural Literature in the Classroom (The Spectrum). The Spectrum was made in order to help educators, librarians, families, and others critically analyze their book selections and aid them in increasing the diversity and representation in the books.

The Spectrum has three main sections, which build on one another. The three main sections are:

  • Conversation Books
  • Exploration Books
  • Representation Books

However, the Spectrum is just that: a spectrum. A book might not land in just one section, but between two, depending on the intensity of the content and its features. In addition, as I stated above, each section builds off one another, so one cannot have a conversation books without the book containing features of an exploration and representation book.

The Spectrum

Each section builds cultural empowerment and cross cultural empowerment in its own way.


Citation for This Information:

MLA: Brandon, Kaitlin Kamalei. The Spectrum for Multicultural Literature. Colorful Pages, Jan. 2019, Accessed [DATE].

APA: Brandon, K. K. (2019). The Spectrum for Multicultural Literature. Colorful Pages. Retrieved from

Works Sited For This Article:

  • Balingit, M. (2017). Teens behind racist graffiti sentenced to visit Holocaust Museum, read books by black and Jewish authors. The Washington Post.
  • Bishop, R. S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives, 6(3), ix-xi.
  • Bishop, R. S. (1997). Selecting literature for a multicultural curriculum. Using multiethnic literature in the K-8 classroom, 1-19.
  • Larrick, N. (1965). The all-white world of children’s books. Saturday Review,48(11), 63-65.
  • Louie, B. (2005). Development of empathetic responses with multicultural literature. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 48(7), 566-578.
  • Nel, P., & Paul, L. (2011). Keywords for Children’s Literature. NYU Press.