CRITERIA FOR EVALUATING MULTICULTURAL LITERATURE
Denise E. Agosto, Ph.D.
(From: Ada, A. F., & Silva, S. (1997). Gathering the sun: An alphabet in Spanish and English. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.)
High quality multicultural literature shares five major characteristics: accuracy, expertise, respect, purpose, and quality. These five characteristics serve as excellent evaluation criteria. Each is discussed below, and sample questions for assessing these characteristics are offered.
1. Accuracy. Accuracy of cultural representation is a crucial aspect of high quality multicultural literature. Inaccurate portrayals can mislead readers and perpetuate stereotypes. To assess accuracy, consider questions such as:
· Are cultural aspects (food, dress, flora, fauna, etc.) portrayed accurately?
· Does diversity exist among the members of each cultural group portrayed? (Remember that no culture is monolithic. For example, each member of an ethnic group has slightly different facial features. Groups of people should not appear to have identical faces in illustrations; they should look like individuals.)
· Are non-English words spelled and used correctly?
· Is historical information correct?
2. Expertise: Creators of multicultural literature must have sufficient background knowledge to create accurate portrayals of a cultural group. To assess expertise, consider questions such as:
· According to any author/illustrator notes or biographical information, are the author and/or illustrator qualified to write or illustrate material relating to the culture(s) portrayed? How?
· Have the author and/or illustrator conducted related research? If not, have they lived among (either as a member of or as a visitor to) the groups of people represented in the work?
3. Respect. Creators of multicultural literature should exhibit respect for the cultures they portray. To assess respect, consider questions such as:
· Do the author and/or illustrator avoid the representation of stereotypes in the characters' speech, appearance, and behaviors?
· Do the author and/or illustrator avoid using a condescending or negative tone in relation to cultural characteristics of the characters and setting?
· Are minority characters portrayed as equal in societal worth to majority characters, or are they represented in subordinate social positions? If so, is there a legitimate reason for this representation, or is it due to cultural biases of the author/illustrator?
4. Purpose: Although good literature contains universal themes, there should be a purpose for using a particular setting or for representing characters of a particular cultural background. To assess purpose, consider questions such as:
· Does the cultural setting add to the work, or does it seem superfluous?
· Could the work succeed equally well if it used a different cultural setting (or characters from a different culture)?
5. Quality: Multicultural literature must meet the general quality standards applied to all other literature, such as well-developed plots, settings, and characters for texts, and the distinctive use of composition, color, and perspective for illustrations. To assess quality, consider questions such as:
· Does the work ring true to you?
· Does the dialogue sound natural, not forced?
· Is the item high quality overall, independent of its multicultural characteristics?