Johns Hopkins University Press

1. Introduction and Methodology

Across the globe, racist nationalism threatens multicultural democracies. As many educators do, we wonder how multicultural children's literature might better counter these hatreds, nurturing curiosity about and respect for difference. Since racism is a global problem, we explore this question by considering what various visions of multiculturalism can learn from one another.

We focus on the medium of literature read by the youngest children—the picture book—because antiracism, the foundation of successful multicultural education, must begin in early childhood. Contrary to the oft-repeated claim that children "Do not see color" or "Do not see race," children as young as six months already know what skin color they have (Katz and Kofkin 55), and children as young as two and three already know what advantages being White in a multicultural society confers (Wekker 166; Van Ausdale and Feagin 1–2; Hirschfeld). Because they reach especially impressionable readers, books for the youngest can be powerful refutations or endorsements of racist ideas.

Though "multiculturalism" can include a wide range of identities, we use the term to indicate national, racial, and cultural identities—and any intersections thereof. We limit ourselves in this way because (though its use has expanded) this particular usage has the longest history, dating back to multiculturalism's origins in Everett V. Stonequist's "The Problem of the Marginal Man," which—as Debra Dudek notes—identifies "key issues that continue to inform debates about multiculturalism, in particular the [End Page 1] marginalization and prejudice that can occur when different cultural groups live in proximity to one another" (126). Limiting the term in this way allows us to define more clearly our data set of post-1989 multicultural German picture books.

Because race, culture, nationality, and all the vectors of identity are embodied experiences, and because our embodied selves shape what we understand and misunderstand, we want to make explicit our potential strengths and deficits. So, here is a brief introduction to this essay's co-authors.


As a White, cisgendered, heterosexual, American male, I arrive in this conversation with many deficits, but let me focus on two. First, I lack the lived experience of any minoritized group; the unearned privileges that I quite literally embody curtail my awareness of others' oppression. Or, to put that another way, the oppressive structures that enable me to flourish are also largely invisible to me. Second, though I have German-speaking family members and ancestry, I am not German. I only began studying the language in 2018. I am and will always be an outsider to German culture.


I am a White mother of a young daughter, who is a Person of Color and German. As a White person I have always had various privileges in society, including seeing my culture, and to a large extent, a version of 'me' represented in German picture books or other literature available in Germany. That is not the case for my daughter. I wonder whether she will have that privilege in the future, and I want her to see herself represented in literature available to her during her childhood—not only at home but in bookstores, libraries, and schools. Therefore, I am more aware of the work that needs to be done by artists, writers, publishers, and educators in Germany. Yet, as a White mother and scholar, I recognize how my experience limits my perspective and my understanding.

We focus on German picture books because, in 2016, the election of Trump along with Great Britain's exit from the European Union prompted many to proclaim Chancellor Merkel as "the leader of the free world" (Noack; Rubin; Moore). Germany's widely recognized efforts to come to terms with the Holocaust, and Merkel's welcoming of refugees (2014–16) inspired people to look to Germany as a model multicultural democracy, as the U.S. White-supremacist president implemented a series of racist policies. However, the stories of U.S. and German multiculturalism are far more complicated than that narrative suggests.

To better understand these complexities, our essay places each country's version of multiculturalism in dialogue and strives not to privilege one "multiculturalism" over another. One lexicon of diversity cannot simply be imported to another country without attention to differences in culture and history. Instead, and as Nadia Mansour and Michelle Martin note in their [End Page 2] comparative study of Danish multicultural children's literature and African American children's literature, we too want to learn from each other, and believe that "more scholarly cross-cultural conversations" may "solve thorny and persistent challenges" (Mansour and Martin n.p.). Mapping where our multiculturalisms diverge and converge enriches our understanding of both human difference and our focus for this essay—specifically, multicultural German picture books published since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In the year the wall fell (1989), the term multiculturalism came into common use in Germany. The following year, a newly reunified Germany grew more diverse, as more people from varied national and cultural backgrounds moved there. The year 1989 marked not only a turning point in German history, but in world history: in that year, that the term globalization also came into common use. As Elizabeth Bullen and Kerry Mallan remind us, "the fall of the Wall … marked a pivotal moment in the globalization process, since it signified not only the end of the Cold War but also the conditions enabling economic globalization" (57–58). Although advocates of globalization often assert a causal link between the expansion of free markets and of human freedom, economic growth does not beget growth in social progress, social justice, or cultural pluralism. Successful multicultural societies must teach children to respect difference, rather than to deny it, and to understand how our divergent histories shape us and the world we inhabit. When we address historical inequalities and celebrate cultural diversity, we can better find commonality among shared values and together create a society that promotes those values.

That is, we realize, a tall order for these post-1989 picture books. So, drawing on Critical Race Theory and theories of multiculturalism, our aim here is to better understand when and why they succeed or fail. Considering what types of difference these contemporary picture books include, our essay explores why German multiculturalism tends not to acknowledge plurality within national identity. As we historicize the urgency of confronting racism and discrimination, we consider why post-reunification German picture books represent more continuity with rather than departure from the messy history that they hope to transform.

2. Multiculturalism in Germany and the United States: History, Identity, Terminology

To map the competing concepts of multiculturalism within these books, we first map the intersections and divergences between German and U.S. multiculturalism. Since race is key to our multicultural analysis, we must examine the tensions in the term race when it emerges in transnational conversations. [End Page 3] We might argue that American scholars' apparently more robust dialogue of multiculturalism and diversity derives from a basic agreement that race exists, though not as something "objective, inherent, or fixed" (Delgado and Stefancic 9). As American legal scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic note, races "correspond to no biological or genetic reality; rather, races are categories that society invents, manipulates, or retires when convenient" (9). Race is "an element of social structure rather than … an irregularity within it," to borrow the phrasing of American sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant (55). And yet, while race is "an epistemological category of white supremacy" (Rana 204) and "the principal unit and core concept of racism" (Fields and Fields 17), the term also allows us to diagnose racism and oppose White supremacy. As American literary scholar Kate Capshaw writes, race can also be part of "efforts at communal self-articulation," especially "within liberationist social movements" (166, 164). Race is part of an oppressive social structure, but it can also be mobilized to revise and reclaim that structure.

If German scholars are more reluctant to use the term race (Rasse in German), the word does function in Germany in both a biological and a sociological sense. A post-World War II response to Nazism removed race from most critical discourse because it invokes the idea of race as biological or genetic "fact," and risks affirming human variation as grounds for prejudice, segregation, or even genocide. The word's strong association with Nazi terminology motivates the current debate on whether Rasse should be deleted from the German constitution. Though many Germans have been uncomfortable with the term for decades, there is also some understanding that it can help prevent racism: the word Rasse is still used in the Grundgesetz (Basic Law), with precisely that purpose in mind. As Afro-German intellectual Natasha A. Kelly notes, "Given Germany's national-socialist past, questions of race undoubtedly cause discomfort," and yet "a state whose national identity still relies on biological race categorizations [can] move forward and learn from Black people that race is both a social construct and an analytical tool to dismantle racism" (n. pag.).

This tension between difference as innate and difference as cultural finds its echo in how Germans' and Americans' diversity discourses both affirm a distinct understanding of national identity. American conversations about children's literature focus on multiculturalism as part of a national identity understood as racially and ethnically diverse. German conversations about children's literature focus on multiculturalism in relation to a national identity understood as racially and ethnically homogenous. As Kelly observes, "the common perception that Germans are white" persists. Consequently, that "is the reason why, even today, Black and German are considered incompatible categories" (n. pag.). [End Page 4]

The analytical terms used in each country reflect these understandings of nation. In the United States, Rudine Sims Bishop's widely used "mirrors, windows, and doors" metaphor focuses more on interpersonal understanding, while critical race theory aims more directly at racist structures of oppression. But both imagine a nation as racially heterogenous. However, in Germany as in much of Europe, the prevailing antiracist discourse of imagology tends to consider racial or cultural distinctions between nations (rather than within them). That said, in its own way, imagology does challenge stereotypes. It developed in European Comparative Literature departments after the Second World War, in an explicit rejection of Nazi thinking, as—to quote Dutch cultural historian Joep Leerssen—"an anti-essentialist, constructivist approach to national representation and national identity" (21). Imagology holds that literature and culture formulates, perpetuates, and disseminates national stereotypes (26), and that these must be studied comparatively, transnationally, contextually (29).

While European imagology does challenge national stereotypes, its core idea of nation remains more homogeneous than heterogeneous. In contrast, North American multiculturalism thinks of nation as essentially heterogeneous. In this sense, imagology speaks to Europeans' need to see the humanity in their neighboring countries; multiculturalism speaks to North Americans' need to see the humanity in their neighbors within the country. And yet each critical imaginary collides with reality. Each European country has a heterogeneous population. Despite their sense of themselves as nations of immigrants, both the United States and Canada privilege Whiteness in their laws and culture, and erase indigeneity in their histories. Although the two visions of multiculturalism have the shared goal of dismantling stereotypes, both harbor some of the biases they hope to challenge.

3. The Postwar Antiracist Turn, and Its Limits

In calling attention to the subtle racism in the very language of multiculturalism, we—in order to disrupt our habits of thought—want to highlight that such biases infect discourse on both sides of the Atlantic. Since prejudice inheres in speech and culture, we must be unafraid to examine multiculturalism critically, to plumb its complexities, to applaud its successes as we hold it responsible for its failures.

If the modern antiracist turn in children's literature begins after the Second World War, those early picture books embrace postwar internationalist efforts toward teaching children to respect difference, but also rely upon a visual language that works against this goal. In the United States, Ruth Benedict and Gene Weltfish's In Henry's Backyard uses science to show the folly of [End Page 5] racism, but the artwork—adapted from the accompanying animated cartoon created by the progressive studio UPA—inadvertently caricatures people from different regions of the world. The representative Asian is yellow and wears a conical hat. The representative Black has an inky black complexion, as if a photographic negative image of the White protagonist. In Germany after the Second World War, books that intended to oppose stereotypes nonetheless reinforced a colonizer's perspective of the colonized. For example, Erich Kästner's Die Konferenz der Tiere [The Animals' Conference] imagines the world's animals and children holding a conference and securing the peace that human adults have failed to do. Yet Walter Trier's illustrations of the children traffic in stereotypes. The depiction of the Black child is indebted to blackface minstrelsy, and the "Chinese boy" is "yellow-skinned" with narrow slits for eyes. In the decades following the war, German children's books often mixed benevolent intent with grotesque stereotypes; colonial-imperialistic messages continued well into the 1960s (Hodaie, 324).

The mixed message in these books finds reinforcement in Germans' postwar encounter with American troops, a German national identity understood as White, and in European discourses of diversity. As Rita Chin points out, after World War II, West Germans witnessed a segregated U.S. Army, and so learned that "some types of race thinking—namely, discrimination against blacks—were not incompatible with 'democratic forms and values'" (161). As a result, in West Germany, "race" (Rasse) was both a "tarnished category that could no longer be openly invoked" and a category that could be invoked in reference to "Afro-German children of African American GIs and German women" (161).1

Postwar Germany's strongest advocate for inclusive children's literature, Jella Lepman, offered a sympathetic response to these Afro-German children, which illuminates the contradictions that still haunt contemporary multiculturalism. As could be said of many of the post-1989 books we examine, Lepman is at once keenly sensitive to the injustices these children suffer and unaware of her own biases toward these same children. She writes, they "were the children of members of the occupying forces. There were also other Negro children in postwar Germany who, illegitimate, were not protected by American law" (119). She then quotes observations from German radio of the time:

How can these little children help their color? Sometimes today, when you see little blackamoors in the playgrounds of German cities and towns, you feel as though you're watching a scene from Struwwelpeter. Not so long ago even Negro dolls were banned in Germany. But it would be completely wrong to say that the man in the street looks down his nose at these children, who are, after all, half German. Children are much too appealing to bring out such an attitude, and today people are ready to be tolerant. [End Page 6]

Of the 13,000 children whose fathers belong to the American occupation forces in Germany, about 3,000 are colored. Naturally, most Negro children are found where the Negro troops are stationed—in Munich and Frankfurt, for example. Their way of life is no different from that of any German child. It's strange indeed to hear such a child talking to his playmates in perfect Bavarian or Hessian dialect.


As in Heinrich Hoffman's story of the "Black-a-moor" (which the account explicitly invokes), the report figures Blackness as a punishment: "How can these little children help their color?" The line echoes the character of Agrippa who blackens the White children as a punishment for teasing the nameless Black child. Even as the report asserts that "today people are ready to be tolerant," it expresses surprise at hearing Black children speak German fluently: "It's strange to hear such a child talking to his playmates in perfect Bavarian or Hessian dialect." These children should be tolerated, it suggests, but will never be truly German—they "are, after all, half German."

Lepman's response and inclusion of this report (without additional commentary) in her memoir is noteworthy because, in addition to giving Kästner the idea for The Animals' Conference, Lepman remains the country's most prominent advocate of multicultural children's literature. She founded the International Youth Library in Munich in 1948, and the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) in 1953. Lepman believed children's books were "the first messengers of peace" (36), and she thought picture books the ideal ambassadors because images "vaulted over the language barrier and struck the child's memory easily and directly" (108). Though actively trying to promote tolerance, Lepman was also not fully aware of how images reproduce stereotypes, and recommended some books that reify rather than respect difference. Describing picture books as "silent educators, secret ambassadors from the nations of their origin," she says Jean de Brunhoff's Babar the Elephant (presumably The Story of Babar, 1934) "showed the children more about the Frenchman's way of thinking than a stack of confusing history books would later" (109). A single book cannot represent an entire country's "way of thinking," and this book's uncritical view of colonialism makes it a dubious choice for "ambassador." Yet, the contradiction between Lepman's idealistic vision and her own unexamined cultural assumptions neither negate her noble intentions nor excuse her tendency to treat national and racial difference as innate.

Rather, they articulate a German understanding of race, rooted in a nationalism that denies its imperial history. As Rita Chin points out, the myth of pre-war European homogeneity requires a lot of forgetting. After the war, racial assumptions shaped national policies toward the non-White émigrés (some of whom were living in a colony or ex-colony of the country they were "emigrating" from) who came to rebuild Europe. German schoolchildren learn [End Page 7] about the Holocaust, but not the violence of Germany's colonial past—what Ana Deumert calls "colonial amnesia." We might also here invoke "White innocence," Gloria Wekker's term for the phenomenon of Whites denying their own and their country's complicity with racism. Versions of colonial amnesia and White innocence persist in the United States, in Germany, and in allegedly multicultural children's picture books.

4. A Critical Taxonomy of 'multikulturelle Bilderbücher' Since 1989

Our critical taxonomy of multicultural German picture books maps manifestations of that amnesia, building on the work of Norbert Mecklenburg, Michael Hofmann and Werner Wintersteiner, and, in children's literature, of Heidi Rösch, Emer O'Sullivan, and Gina Weinkauff. They are among a new intercultural vanguard in German Studies who reject traditional German scholarship's framing of "das Eigene" (the own/familiar [culture]) vs. "das Fremde" (the foreign [culture]) in favor of a more multifaceted range of identification. In its focus on the interaction between "traditional German" culture and traditions imported from other national cultures, the "Eigene/Fremde" model reifies difference, further othering the groups it purports to include. Instead, and as the work of Rösch, O'Sullivan, and Weinkauff does, we pursue a more intercultural perspective that acknowledges hybrid identities and transculturalism within German culture and its expressions in literature for the young (Welsch). In this respect, we follow German-Iranian scholar Nazli Hodaie, who recognizes children's literature's potential for fostering intercultural understanding via its capacity to reveal the absurdity of stereotypes, reach beyond simplistic constructs of cultural identity, and challenge rigid images of power relations (Hodaie 324). Yet, despite these efforts, there is little work on visual/verbal expressions of multicultural identity in German picture books. In our taxonomy, we fill this gap by mapping the varieties of multiculturalism—and their absence—in German picture books, exploring ways of addressing diversity implicitly and explicitly for German-speaking readers.

We located forty-three multicultural picture books via the following methods. During a Fall 2018 fellowship (and two-day return visit in July 2019) to the Internationale Jugendbibliothek in Munich, Phil consulted its very helpful staff, and searched its catalog for picture books matching key terms like "multikulturell" [multicultural], "interkulturell" [intercultural], "Interkulturalität" [interculturality], "Toleranz" [Tolerance], "Verschiedenheit" [Diversity], "Ethnische Identität" [ethnic identity], and "Ethnische Gruppe" [ethnic group]. Ada used similar keywords to search library catalogues (such as that of the Berlin State Library). She also consulted the archive of the German Youth [End Page 8] Literature Prize, sources on German picture books and interculturalism, and Christoph Rieger, the Director of the Children and Young Adult Literature Program at the International Literature Festival Berlin. Eight of these books are in translation. Though we initially thought of using only books that originate in Germany (and in the German language), noting what publishers decide to translate offers a more complete portrait of the German multicultural picture book market. We expect this catalog of post-1989 multicultural picture books in German is incomplete, and we welcome all suggestions and corrections.

Six patterns of representation emerge, and we will address representatives from each.

A. Allegorizing Difference

By far, the largest group of multicultural books presents difference allegorically—often via animal characters. The tendency to allegorize human diversity creates a powerful graphic shorthand, but it also reduces difference to the visible, ignoring that race is not skin color, and that, for human beings, culture and history matter. Heike Ellerman's Der Dritte Bär [The Third Bear] (2003)—a book the Internationale Jugendbibliothek classifies under "Verschiedenheit" [Diversity] and "Toleranz" [Tolerance]—exemplifies the limitations of multicultural allegory. When a panda teddy bear joins a white teddy bear and a brown teddy bear in their attic home, the white and brown bears bully the new arrival—explicitly referencing his color. Says one, "Und warum hast du schwarze Füße? Mensch, wasch die mal!" [Why do you have black fur? Man, give it a wash!]. When a storm knocks a roof window open, the three bears form a ladder: the panda bear reaches the top and closes the window, keeping the rain outside. The endpapers show all three bears now getting along. In this tale, the panda bear—the "Verschiedenheit" character—is the exceptional minority. Only after demonstrating his worthiness will the other bears include him in the community.

Judith Hurra and Richard Klippfeld's Anders, und nicht so—recommended in the Internationale Jugendbibliothek's White Ravens catalog for that year, and classified in its catalog under "Verschiedenheit"—features two stories, each about an animal character who is "Anders, und nicht so" [different, and not like that]. Each offers a parable of diversity that uses a rhetoric of inclusion but also reifies difference. In one tale, a baby rabbit sneaks out of the burrow to stargaze and spots a fox planning a rabbit dinner: this young bunny's rule-breaking allows him to warn his family, and so might be read as another "exceptional minority" narrative. In the other tale, a chameleon at first is embarrassed by his inability to match his surroundings, but then decides he enjoys standing out. While the tale does not require him to be [End Page 9] exceptional, difference here is explicitly visual—an inadequate metaphor for human diversity. That said, Anders, und nicht so is a visually appealing example of picture book didacticism, and it does encourage a majority group to respect those who stand out. If the two stories' emphasis on respecting individual difference offers a useful allegory against personal discrimination (for any reason), it has the unintended effect of locating a structural problem in a strictly personal realm.

There are so many allegorical diversity books that we even have subcategories within this group: refugee stories and antiwar stories. Martin Baltscheit's Grüne Bande [Green Gang] (2016, see Figure 1), uses birds as a metaphor for migration—but not in the subtle way of Francesca Sanna's The Journey, translated into German as Die Flucht. Until the final page of Sanna's book, birds are a leitmotif, subtly underscoring the journey of the human protagonists, whose emotional experience Sanna conveys vividly. In contrast, Baltscheit's boy narrator in Grüne Bande aligns escaped birds with human refugees, but without any insight into a refugee's experience. Noting that these birds "entkamen am Flughafen" [escaped at the airport] and came from another country, he then observes: "Jetzt fliegen geflohene Gefangene durch Alleen, die früher den Tauben gehörten" [Now escaped captives fly through alleyways that once belonged to pigeons]. After considering other animals who may have arrived in cages, the boy identifies with the birds. Accompanying images of the boy in the same cage that contained the birds, the boy tells us: "Manchmal stelle ich mir auch vor, sie steckten mich in einen Käfig / und schickten mich fort" [Sometimes I also imagine they put me in a cage / and sent me away]. He tells us that, like the birds, he would flee and find a place in the trees. In these final pages, Baltscheit's accompanying art shows the boy as a bird-human hybrid with feathered arms.

Although Baltscheit's Grüne Bande expresses sympathy for the exiled birds, it only obliquely addresses the experience of those who flee persecution. Indeed, in imagining only animals who arrive caged, the book risks further othering human refugees. If Baltscheit's imagery aims for a rebuke of governments and citizens that treat refugees as animals, it needs to go beyond the boy's imaginary identification with the birds.

An early book on migration, Heidrun Müller's Kim ist meine Freundin [Kim Is My Friend] (1999), also operates on an allegorical level: neither Robert Albrecht's abstract art nor Müller's text identifies the main character's country of origin, political context, or historical epoch. That said, the White German author and artist also treat their subject with sensitivity: they do not attempt to inhabit another's cultural experience, and they avoid the risks of using animals as stand-ins for people. Focalizing the story through Jules, a little boy who experiences terror and violence in his native land, Kim ist meine [End Page 10]

Freundin gives voice to the fear and pain endured by children who survive war and involuntary exile. Jules has to flee with his mother, having lost all other members of his family. Albrecht's abstract watercolors use form, color and composition to depict Jules' emotional landscape. In this case, avoiding visual specificity helps a wider range of children understand the trauma of war, and the radical uncertainty of statelessness.

We saw many other examples of "allegorical diversity" picture books, of which there are also ample examples in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere. (This phenomenon is not unique to Germany.) Famously, Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who! and Leo Lionni's Little Blue and Little Yellow—neither of which have human characters—have been read as allegories of supporting, respectively, minorities' rights and integration. Picture books from many countries use visual difference as a well-intended if flawed metaphor for cultural, racial, or national difference. However, we call your attention to these few examples because there are relatively few German picture books that strive for cultural specificity. And the ones that do represent human diversity via human beings deliver mixed results.

B. White Germans Represent non-White Germans

One of the relatively rare books that depict non-White German children, Petra Mönter and Sabine Wiemers' Vimala gehört zu uns [Vimala Belongs to Us] represents a racially minoritized child, Vimala, with sympathy, but primarily to serve as an object lesson for White German children (see Figure 2). When [End Page 11]

Figure 2. . Image courtesy of Internationale Jugendbibliothek.
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[End Page 12] invited to her home, the White German children learn to appreciate foods of another culture through her mother's excellent Indian cooking. Unfortunately, the book is narrated from a White perspective—that of Ida, who helps protect Vimala against racist attacks from classmates. As Hodaie notes, despite good intentions, attempts to challenge Eurocentric perspectives often result in patronizing attitudes informed by the "helper's syndrome" (325).

Although the story's intent is noble, the narrator and her friends unreflectively reinforce a hierarchy that places White people (narrator and friends) above People of Color (Vimala). This perspective begins with the title that emphasizes a White person speaking ("Vimala belongs to us"), and continues with White children taking the lead, whether they uphold or fight racism, attack or help Vimala, or even receive the gratitude of the "weak" minoritized victim—a typical "White savior" narrative. To protect Vimala from a group of racist children, Ida and her friend Henri offer to accompany her to school each morning. Vimala responds enthusiastically: "Ihr seid meine besten Freunde" ["You are my best friends"]. This scene may model an interracial friendship, but it does so on unequal terms: Vimala pledges her affection for the protectors to whom she "belongs." Vimala's thoughts are surely more complex than this, but the book offers only the White children's perspective.

Abetting its marginalization of Vimala, Mönter's text strips her of any agency. The written narrative at first presents Vimala as self-aware and agential, as evidenced by her sharp response to the children's assumption that she wouldn't understand German, and their silly and exaggerated way of speaking to her. Confidently, she replies: "Mit mir kannst du normal sprechen, ich bin doch nicht blöd" ["You can very well speak normally to me, I am not stupid"]. Although Vimala corrects their misunderstanding by pointing out that she is German by birth and her parents come from India, she quickly loses her sense of self and her inner strength, becoming a victim in a White social environment. The White children serve as her protectors, and she is denied solidarity with other German persons of color—thanks to the complete the absence of other children with multicultural identities. In fact, a school environment in which Vimala is the only Person of Color is quite unrealistic for German society, as is the absence of teachers or other adults who could potentially moderate racist conflicts between children.

However, the images of illustrator Sabine Wiemers productively complicate the text by showing Vimala's awareness of her transcultural identity, including her cultural and legal belonging to Germany. Wiemers, who studied with artist Wolf Erlbruch, creates collages of crayon drawings and authentic materials such as geographic maps, traditional German canvas paintings of the Alps, and images of traditional Indian Gods. Through playful combinations of well-known (if somewhat stereotypical) images of cultural identity and [End Page 13] national belonging, Wiemers creates a more multifaceted understanding of nationhood and cultural identification, evoking new cultural connections that arise in multicultural societies. For example, showing Vimala on the interior title page in traditional Indian clothes dancing in front of a German canvas of the Alps, the illustrator highlights Vimala's more complex cultural identity.2

As a person growing up with different cultural ties and influences, Vimala embodies Wolfgang Welsch's concept of transcultural identity. Welsch reminds us that the idea of culture has traditionally been "folk-bound" (61), functioning as a separatory concept. In contrast, Welsch notes that "[m]odern societies are multicultural in themselves, encompassing a multitude of varying ways of life and lifestyles" (62). Consequently, Welsch understands cultural homogeneity as "factually inadequate" and obsolete (62) because "[l]ifestyles no longer end at the borders of national cultures, but go beyond these" (68) and "new forms of entanglement are a consequence of migratory processes" (68). To understand the varied and specific points of cultural identification within all people, Welsch suggests "transculturalism" because it highlights identities informed by not only various cultures but also differences in national origin, language, tradition, religious habits, gender identity, and subcultural influences on an "individual's microlevel" (71). Applying Welsch's concept of transculturalism to the picture book Vimala Belongs to Us helps differentiate between national belonging and cultural identity. However, this book only touches on Vimala's transcultural identity, not marking it positively as a new cultural norm but instead seeing it as something to be integrated into and therefore still regulated by a dominant-White German society.

Kirsten Boie and Jan Birck's Bestimmt wird alles gut (2016) envisions a Germany that welcomes refugees, and its bilingual narration—German with a side-by-side Arabic translation by Mahmoud Hassanein—is welcoming to Arabic-speaking immigrants. As Daniel Feldman notes, "The bilingual voice of the text acknowledges linguistic differences among young readers bifurcated by native and immigrant origins, but the diglossia of the text attests to the author's faith in the possibility of amalgamating differences of identity through an egalitarian appeal to compassionate narrative" (129). The book also presents to German-speaking children a vision of the inclusive Germany to which they ought aspire—a multicultural country that helps refugees build a new life. It offers Arabic-speaking children a book that represents a version of their journey, and some of their challenges: While on their way from Syria, Papa is robbed; when he arrives in Germany, he cannot work in his profession (as a medical doctor). As Daniel Feldman writes, "Papa's subsequent listlessness as a refugee dependent" is not "his natural proclivity," but an indictment of the "morass of international laws of asylum" that prevent his employment (135). [End Page 14]

That said, the book leans into an optimism that emphasizes triumph over travails. It evades the hatred the family would face from nativist, antiimmigrant Germans; it also minimizes Germany's insufficient preparation for its new population. The cover's juxtaposition of Syrian refugees wading ashore against the title "Surely, everything will be okay" suggests that we might view these words skeptically, but Boie and Birck's book mostly veers away from any ironic relationship between image and text. The narrative assures us that being in Germany ensures the family's safety. Upon learning that their ticketless state is a result of being robbed while fleeing Syria, the German train conductor does not press them for their tickets but instead wishes them luck. At school, the kids are finding their way and—two years in—Rahaf can speak German almost as well as Arabic. Although Germany does deserve enormous credit for having a far more generous policy toward refugees than the United States or Australia, the book's insistence that everything will be fine also assures German readers that they need not worry about their country's treatment of refugees: people are kind, the refugees are thriving, and surely, all will be okay.

A better example of the relatively rare bilingual German picture book, Stefanie Scharnberg's Fatma fährt mit: Eine deutsche-türkische Geschichte [Fatma Is with Us: A German-Turkish Story] (2009) includes Turkish text (translated by Karin Kaçi) in a mostly successful effort to bridge differences in language, tone, and perception. Fatma fährt mit tells of Fatma, a young Turkish immigrant growing into her new neighborhood in Germany. During a short trip with her kindergarten class, she develops more language skills and becomes part of the group. If the story is ultimately one of assimilation, its side-by-side German-and-Turkish text respects linguistic difference as its protagonist integrates herself into the German-speaking community. While its artistic style reads as more German than Turkish, the book does welcome both Turkish-speakers and German-speakers, offering each an opportunity to learn the other's language.

C. Promoting Diversity, Recycling Stereotypes

Our third group encourages readers to envision society as multicultural, normalizing the idea of people of different skin hues working and playing together. Four of these seven books originated outside of Germany (two from Sweden, one from France, one from Canada), and all of the books unintentionally undermine their inclusive messages by recycling stereotypes—many reflecting the German-speaking world's fascination with and racist simplification of Native Americans. [End Page 15]

In picture books that ostensibly promote multicultural understanding, "playing Indian" is a common trope to illustrate children's play. Anja Tuckermann and Tina Schulz's Alle da!: Unser Kunterbuntes Leben (2014)—which might translate to All Here!: Our Multicolored Lives—is part of Klett Kinderbuch's "Bücher für junge Weltbürger" [Books for young citizens of the world], a series designed to teach children to respect differences. Yet on a two-page spread illustrating human activities common in many cultures, the book depicts "Spielen" [playing] via a small girl wearing a feather in her hair: she has tied her father to the clothesline's stake. It is but one of many ostensibly multicultural children's books that portray "playing Indian" as an innocent game of childhood. In Saskia Hula and Ina Hattenhauer's Die beste Bande der Welt [The Best Gang in the World] (2012), three children and one dog—all wearing feathered headbands and carrying bow and arrows—run merrily along, as they try to decide which "Bande" to join.

For the German books, a major source for these "Indian" stereotypes are Karl May's Winnetou stories (1875–1910). Though unknown in the United States, they are such a part of the German cultural imagination that Winnetou can, for example, appear in a tabloid without additional explanation. An October 2018 issue of Bild München proclaims "Gagen-Verträge und Fotos entdeckt: Winnetous letzte Geheimnisse" ["Honorary treaties and photos discover Winnetou's last mysteries"], treating him as a "real" person, or at least one whose myth will resonate with those who read the tabloids. So, it is unsurprising if problematic that Winnetou himself appears in another of Klett Kinderbuch's "Books for Young Citizens of the World" series. Alexandra Maxeiner and Anke Kuhl's Alles Familie!: Vom Kind der neuen Freundin vom Bruder von Papas früherer Frau und anderen Verwandten [We Are All Family!: About the Child of the New Girlfriend of the Brother of Papa's First Wife and about Other Relatives] includes Winnetou and Old Shatterhand as an example of "Blutsbrüder" [blood brothers]. While the laudable intent is to expand children's understanding of possible familial relationships, the unknowing replication of a racist stereotype impedes their aim of inclusivity.

Books translated into German also reproduce the "Indian" stereotype, among others. Translated from the French, Barroux's Ahmed has a White boy narrator looking sympathetically at a homeless man named Ahmed who (the boy thinks) might have been a king in his own country. Though the boy opposes his father's prejudice, one two-page spread also invokes a Cowboys-and-Indians scenario without any awareness of why that might be a problem. Translated from the Swedish twenty years earlier, Anna Höglund's Feuerland ist viel zu heiß! [Tierra del Fuego Is Way Too Hot!] is a far more egregious offender. Though it purports to offer a world tour via child protagonist Stina Stenstump's atlas and imagination, it does nothing to counter the book's racist caricature of American Indians, Africans, and Arabs. [End Page 16]

Valerie Wyatt's Die Bademattenrepublik: Anleitung zum Aufbau einer eigenen Demokratie [The Bathmat Republic: How to Build Your Own Democracy], a translation of an English-language Canadian book, is good in centering immigrants as key to national identity and avoids the stereotypes of many other books. However, German artist Volker Fredrich's new illustrations center Whiteness. The original English version's use of a green child abstracts the book away from any racial particulars—which makes it more like the allegorical books. However, Fredrich's racially White child in the German version places emphasis on a White perspective.

Though Jörg Müller's wordless Der standhafte Zinnsoldat also centers Whiteness, it does at least invite readers to consider Whiteness critically. Loosely adapting the plot of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" for a contemporary global setting, Müller depicts the little tin soldier as one of many toys inhabiting the room of a White, Western child. As the child ages, old toys are thrown out, among which are the tin soldier and a Barbie, with whom he gets physically entangled—the tip of the soldier's bayonet catching on her dress. The two drift away on an odyssey of garbage, arriving in an unnamed African township. There, both Barbie and the tin soldier become toys for a young Black boy. A White Western male tourist observes the boy's creative play: he has seated the tin soldier and Barbie in a car made (by the boy's father) of a motor oil canister (for the body) and empty circular tins (for the wheels). The White man gives the boy an American dollar bill for the toy, and the toy ultimately arrives—as a cultural artefact—in the "Africa" display cases of a museum. Depicting the man exchanging a mere dollar for what becomes a museum piece, this scene suggests a critique of Western exploitation of the global south. For a pittance, he purchases a source of delight only to display it as an anthropological piece—without, as far as we can tell, any attribution of the artist (the boy's father). Although the Black characters are not its central focus, Müller's picture book does at least invite a critical look at how globalized economies facilitate the transfer of wealth to White Westerners, leaving only miniscule material benefits to others. Although the book does not depict a multiracial, multicultural democracy, it does invite a critique of the oft-repeated claim that free markets also spread freedom.

D. Incidental Diversity

A fourth category features what Corinne Duyvis calls "incidental" diversity: the characters' racial or ethnic identity does not play a key role in the story. The most famous example in the United States is Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day, a picture book whose protagonist is, to use Michelle Martin's term, "unextraordinarily black" (Brown Gold xviii). [End Page 17]

If they lack much in the way of cultural specificity, two such books—Constanze von Kitzing's Ich bin jetzt … [I Am Now …] and Linda Wolfsgruber's Wir sind da [We Are Here]—do establish a multicultural society as normal. Each concept book focuses on the varieties of personal adjective (rather than on any story), offering four pages per characteristic and unnamed children of a variety of hues. The structure and artwork make the children's varied skin tones simply one among many differences, along with gender, setting, emotion, facial expression (see Figure 3). Resisting stereotypical assumptions about race and aptitude, Ich bin jetzt … features a dark-complexioned girl accompanied by the words "Ich bin schlau" ["I Am Clever"]. The following wordless two-page spread depicts the same child in a library, returning a book to the top shelf. Another brown girl announces, "Ich bin verträumt," and the following two-page spread shows us just what she has dreamed up—herself flying atop a dragon. Evoking Maurice Sendak's Max, a White boy dressed in a tiger suit says "Ich bin wild," and the next page shows six dancing children in profile—much as the Wild Things dance in Sendak's classic. Two children read as non-White; the others seem to be White.

Figure 3. Cover for Constanze . Copyright-Vermerk © Carlsen Verlag GmbH, Hamburg.
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Figure 3.

Cover for Constanze von Kitzing's Ich bin jetzt (Carlsen, 2017). Copyright-Vermerk © Carlsen Verlag GmbH, Hamburg.

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Linda Wolfsgruber's Wir sind da [We Are Here] strives to do comparable work in pairing of a single adjective (on the left) and a single person (on the right) in each two-page spread. In so doing, it places a group of visually distinct people on the same narrative level, suggesting that they are of equal importance: "einfallsreich" [imaginative] is an Asian man in a chef's hat, "langsam" [slow] is a White man in a black hat, "klug" [wise] is a woman in a headscarf, and so on.

That said, this "incidental diversity" approach can falter when it associates stereotypical characteristics with a particular group or denies the real differences in lived experiences. For instance, Wir sind da presents a stereotypical Native American, wearing a feather and described as "traurig" [sad]. For an American reader, this image evokes an iconic "Keep America Beautiful" commercial from the 1970s, in which a crying "Indian" (portrayed by an Italian-American actor) laments a natural landscape spoiled by human pollution. It also pairs the adjective "sinnlich" [sensual] with a light-brown man wearing a kufi, a hat worn in north Africa (and, incidentally, by pianist/composer Thelonious Monk). Associating an African man with sensuality invokes stereotypes of Black men as hyper-sexualized.

Like these other two books, Constanze von Kitzing's Ich bin anders als du [I Am Different from You], seeks to reject stereotypical assumptions of difference, particularly concerning skin color and disability—thus countering myth of a homogenous German society, and offering identification points for a variety of children (see Figure 4). The book offers readers two different ways to talk about who they are—by either naming differences from or pointing to similarities with others. To address the two perspectives, the thick boardbook is a two-in-one book that can be turned around. Each side offers the beginning of one of two stories. One part is titled "Ich bin anders als du" [I am different from you], while the other reads "Ich bin wie du" [I am like you]. Literally bound together, the two books of difference and sameness place two sides of a multicultural society in conversation about who they are, disputing the myth of homogeneity.

Using its layout to flatten hierarchies of power, each part's series of double-page spreads is structurally identical. The first double-page spread shows two children that either differ (often physically) from each other or resemble one another via a shared feature. The text on the first double page reads "I am different from you, because …" or "I am like you, because …" And while readers may assume that the next page will verbally repeat the visible differences or similarities, the subsequent page mostly ignores those in favor of shared (or different) values, abilities, or tastes. For example, one page shows a boy and a girl with different body sizes, but the following page points to a difference in musical aptitude: "I am different from you because [End Page 19]

I am a drummer and you play the guitar." Repeating the identical linguistic phrases "I am different from you" and "I am like you" on every page frees young readers from navigating new sentence constructions, allowing them to focus instead on each character's particularity. Ultimately, this series of differences and similarities creates a succinct image of multiculturalism, in which a repeated grammatical structure creates an egalitarian presentation of children of distinct appearances and interests. This book is one of a few that makes a positive contribution to depictions of multicultural children in Germany.

E. Own Voices, Sort Of

There are a few picture books that we are calling "Own Voices, Sort Of." In each case, one member of the creative team is from a minority group, but the other is (or others are) not. In the United States, there is a rich debate on whether a multicultural book needs to be created by a member of the community it represents, or whether research can bridge the gap between the creator's lived experience and the experiences of those represented in the book. Rudine Sims Bishop argues that African American children's literature describes any children's book by African American creators (Bishop, Free Within Ourselves, xi–xii). However, Michelle Martin is willing to embrace as African American children's literature important books featuring Black characters, even if their creators are not Black—like Keats' The Snowy Day (Brown Gold, xviii). While we do not expect to resolve the authenticity debate, [End Page 20] we do want to highlight the problems and strengths of these books created by one cultural insider and one or more cultural outsiders.

Wie ich Papa die Angst vor Fremden nahm [How I Taught Papa Not to Be Afraid of Strangers]—by Syrian-German writer Rafik Schami with pictures by German-Swedish artist Ole Könnecke—is a didactic tale in which a White girl cures her father of his prejudice by introducing him to her Tanzanian friend Banja and her family. To borrow the subtitle of Élodie Malanda's book on representations of Africa in novels for young people in France and Germany, the book is an example of "the pitfalls of good intentions." Though Schami's experience of prejudice may give him insight into the bigoted "Papa" character, neither Schami nor Könnecke is Tanzanian. Könnecke depicts Banja's family with evident sympathy: they are smiling, friendly, and welcoming. However, his pictures veer toward stereotypes of generic "Africans": rather than dress Banja's family in modern attire, he gives many of them ersatz "traditional" clothes. As our narrator and Papa enter their apartment for the first time, Banja's family greet them while waving spears, beating drums, and dancing—an encounter that only accentuates their foreignness.

However, and as Roxana Loza argued in a 2021 Modern Language Association paper, it is possible to create fruitful, respectful collaborations across cultural identities. Meine liebsten Dinge müssen mit, a collaboration between the Berlin-based Iranian author Sepideh Sarihi and Austrian artist Julie Völk, depicts with sensitivity all of the "liebsten Dingen" [favorite things] the narrator must leave behind as she emigrates. Though it names neither her country of origin nor the country to which she and her family move, this book—"My favorite things must come with me" in English, though translated as My Favorite Memories—renders an immigrant child's experience with care and respect.

F. Own Voices

Our last group is also a small one: the "Own Voices" books, Corinne Duyvis' term for children's literature "about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group." We only found a few such books, all either from small publishing houses or self-published—a sign of larger publishers' reluctance to invest in multicultural picture books. Perhaps the most multicultural German picture book in its concept of nation and most unusual in including voices of real children, Willkommen in Deutschland [Welcome to Germany] (2016), developed from workshops that Patricia Thoma did in "Willkommens-klassen" ["Welcome Classes"] with young children who had recently moved to Germany. Many of these children could not yet speak German, but they could draw. Thoma encouraged them to speak via their pictures (see Figure 5). [End Page 21] Although Thoma served as editor and drew the non-White child on the book's cover, Welcome to Germany uses children's art and words (both in their native languages and translated into German) to tell their stories. Over twelve two-page spreads, twelve children—each from a different country—tell about their daily lives and the country from which they emigrated. In addition to teaching German-born children about young people from Syria, Egypt, Eritrea, Rumania, China, Brazil, Albania, Bulgaria, Poland, Greece, Libya and Congo, the book explicitly defines Germany as a place for people who were not born there. While the lived experience of immigrants does not always match that ideal, the book decouples nation from native land, positing an inherently multicultural German identity.

[End Page 22]

That said, the picture book that makes the strongest statement in favor of multicultural German Gesellschaft is also one of the rarest. According to WorldCat, Wilkommen in Deutschland is only in about fifteen libraries around the world, and it is not in the Internationale Jugendbibliothek. Dagmar Gausmann-Läpple and Mariam Holzapfel's Land in Sicht! [Land in Sight!], produced in connection with an exhibit at the Altonaer Museum, is even more scarce—as far as we can tell, it is found only in the Internationale Jugendbibliothek. Like Willkommen in Deutschland, it uses the words and artwork of children. They all live in Hamburg, but live "zwischen verschiedenen Kulturen" [between different cultures]. Each two-page spread shows a different child negotiating between a connection to Hamburg and the country from which the family (and possibly the child) comes.

More typically, "Own voices" books refers to adults who write from a perspective informed by their lived experience of being in a minoritized group. Afro-German author Nancy J. Della—one of a very few such writers creating German picture books—grew up in Germany and now lives in the United States. Her Das Wort, das Bauchschmerzen macht [The word that gives you stomachaches] (2014) dramatizes how racist language in children's literature harms children of color. While his twin brother is home sick, the story's Afro-German protagonist is the sole Black child in class when, during storytime, his teacher reads the n-word in the German translation of Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking. Lukas feels sad, alone and hurt:

… und da war es: das Wort. Das Wort, das wir zu Hause niemals benutzen, weil es einen wütend und traurigzugleich macht. Das Wort, das Schwarze Menschen klein und dumm macht. Das Wort, das an den schlimmen Taten der Menschen festhält, die meinen Vorfahren Leid angetan haben

[… and there it was: that word. The word that we never would use at home, because it makes you angry and sad at the same time. The word that belittles Black people and makes them look dumb. The word that adheres to the horrible things people did to my ancestors.]

Hearing the word in the story inspires a classmate to use the n-word when referring to Lukas' father. Though a strong character from a family of activists, Lukas is traumatized by these two incidents. During the remainder of the book, his parents and a librarian help him process this experience and press the school to avoid language that dehumanizes minority children.

As Élodie Malanda points out in her paper "Afropean Youth Authors Against Systemic Racism," an activist book such as this one is very rare in Germany. It's also very necessary. As German reporter Mohamed Amjahid and poet-essayist Max Czollek recently noted, Germany—for all the good work it has done in addressing the Holocaust—often overlooks its failings [End Page 23] as a multicultural society. Indeed, they note, German media often describe institutional racism as if it were a purely American phenomenon, and not applicable to Germany. However, as many of the books discussed in this essay indicate, racism is structural in Germany, too. A particularly compelling example of structural racism is German publishing houses' reluctance to publish children's books that address racism directly. The activist approach of Das Wort, das Bauchschmerzen macht emerged from a more supportive publishing environment. Della's book was published by edition assemblage, an independent publisher founded by a collective dedicated to creating a space for politically engaged literature, critical discussion, and diverse voices. As Malanda points out, most big publishing houses for children's literature in Germany shy away from politically engaged writing for youth, and almost never include books featuring Black or other children of color as protagonists.

In her paper, Malanda identifies only a handful of books that discuss Blackness in Germany written by Black authors, such as the graphic novel Tayos Weg [Tayo's Way] (2021), which is available online. These books, all self-published, usually lack a broad audience. In a few rare cases, they have gained more attention: Agatha Ngonyani and Antje Flad's Mwangaza und die Geschichte mit dem Zahn [Mwangaza and the Story about the Tooth] was later published by Carlsen—the home of the German editions of Harry Potter.

Dayan Kodua's Odo (illustrated by Robby Krüger), a story about a Black girl and her Black doll, has received so much positive media attention that a sequel is forthcoming (see Figure 6). In Odo, Kodua—a successful Afro-German actress, model and author—tells of Black Ghanian girlhood, interweaving facts of Kodua's own early life with fictional elements and empowering thoughts of appreciation, love, and gratitude for the things we create ourselves. While telling the story of Odo and her longing for a Black doll, the book presents a girl and her mother who believe in their own abilities, their love for each other, and the idea that dreams can come true. Although Kodua's story is cowritten by a White author (Jando) and illustrated by a White artist (Krüger), it brings Kodua's authentic Afro-German voice into children's literature. We hope that the success of Mwangaza and Odo shows German publishers that there is a market for Afropean-authored picture books about Black children.

5. Conclusions: Reflection, Dialogue, Action

We have sketched this map of post-1989 multicultural German picture books to inspire reflection, to encourage dialogue, and to provoke action. We are not trying to impose one way of thinking about multiculturalism, but rather draw a complex portrait of the landscape of diversity in German children's books. We invite challenges to our map, and criticisms of the proposals we make. We think we are raising the right questions, but acknowledge that we do not have all the answers. [End Page 24]

A. Reflection

Our embodied selves influence what we see and what we understand; they also can prevent us from seeing and understanding. At the beginning of this essay, we mentioned how our own subject positions shape our awareness (and lack of awareness) because such reflection is a necessary first step that all of us can take. Not just: "what do we know?" But "how has our experience limited our understanding of others, and how can we better educate ourselves?"

B. Dialogue

An important part of any conversation is listening to others—in this case, others whose experiences are different from our own. We should listen to the students who know more than we do. Encourage them. Mentor them. We need diverse scholars, teachers, students, and librarians. Our own research reflects the underrepresentation of minoritized voices in academia, and the necessity of more scholars like the German-Iranian Nazli Hodaie, Luxembourgish-Congoloese Élodie Malanda, and Afro-Surinamese-Dutch Gloria Wekker. If we have cited more scholars of color from outside of Germany, that's partly because there are more. We need more such scholars within Germany. [End Page 25]

In this paper, we have placed European and North American discourses of multiculturalism in dialogue. As two scholars of different nationalities and genders, we are also in dialogue with one another. In publishing this essay, we offer not the last word on the subject, but rather invite further conversation.

C. Action

If we understand that something is wrong and yet fail to correct it, then we are complicit in that wrong. So, we have some suggestions of what we might do collectively and individually.

As educators, we can make multicultural literature central to our courses. If we teach future teachers, we can also teach them how to teach multicultural children's books. And we can check classroom and school libraries. Who is represented in the books? How do these books represent non-White people? How do they represent people who are ethnically different from the majority population? How many such books are there?

In 2013–14, German's children's publishing agreed to change offensive terms, such as the n-word in Astrid Lindgren's books, and considered changing but did not alter the n-word in Michael Ende's work. Publishing houses' willingness to consider the pain that racist slurs can inflict, and to alter texts accordingly (or not), signals some awareness of and openness to multiculturalism. That's a promising start.

However, we strongly suggest that German publishers adopt as their mission the publication of diverse books. While Germany has a smaller non-White population than the United States does, the percentage of ethnic Germans in Germany is very close to the percentage of Whites in the United States. In 2017, 78.7% of the German population identified as ethnic Germans and 73% of the U.S. population identified as White. What percentage of German children's books feature ethnic or national minorities? What percentage of such books are written by ethnic or national minorities?

To the best of our knowledge, such statistics don't exist. But we can create them. Long before the founding of the We Need Diverse Books movement in the United States (in 2013), the University of Wisconsin's Cooperative Children's Book Center has (since 1985) been documenting diversity statistics in U.S. children's publishing, and then using that data to push for greater representation. Using separate categories for "by" and "about," the CCBC currently tracks children's books by and books about people in the following categories: Black/African, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx, Pacific Islander, and Arab ("Books by and/or About Black, Indigenous and People of Color 2018–"). What would such a project look like in Germany? We could build a metric, and use it to agitate for change. [End Page 26]

Prizes can also help promote books. The Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis [German Youth Literature Prize] offers an award to a book chosen by a youth jury, which elevates the voices of young people. It also has a new talent award, which helps promote the voices of those just getting started. Why not add an award for multicultural children's literature?

Germany has done an admirable job educating its young people about the rise and the crimes of National Socialism. In this respect, Germany's efforts have been far more thorough than America's efforts in educating young people about its founding crimes—enslavement of Africans and genocide against Native Americans—and their long, painful legacy. Children's books (most famously, The Diary of Anne Frank) played a key role in educating the young about the Holocaust. They can also play a key role in educating the young about Germany's colonial history and its multicultural, multiethnic present.

America's failure to tell the truth about its own past has led it to its own precarious present—a moment when its system of democracy is being attacked by its former president and most of his party. Fascist organizations like the U.S. Republican Party oppose multiculturalism because multiculturalism is the best defense of democracy. As historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his analysis of the Republican Party's attempted coup on January 6, 2021, "We cannot be a democratic republic if we tell lies about race, big or small."

Although our histories differ, multiculturalism offers a strong defense for German democracy, too. While children's picture books are but one way to tell the truth about race and racism, they are vital because children's literature is where the very young begin to cultivate their imaginations. Diverse books can help them cultivate healthy imaginations. Books and images that omit minoritized children tell them they're not important enough to warrant representation. Those same books and images can imbue majority children with a false sense of superiority—by suggesting that only White people's stories truly matter. Omission damages all imaginations. That is why representation matters—for everyone. As James Baldwin wrote, "the interior life is a real life, and the intangible dreams of people have a tangible effect on the world" (12).

Philip Nel

Philip Nel is University Distinguished Professor of English at Kansas State University. He is the author or co-editor of thirteen books, including Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books (2017), four volumes of Crockett Johnson's Barnaby (co-edited with Eric Reynolds, 2013–2020), a double biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss (2012), Keywords for Children's Literature (second edition co-edited with Lissa Paul and Nina Christensen, 2021), and Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children's Literature (co-edited with Julia Mickenberg, 2008).

Ada Bieber

Ada Bieber is senior lecturer at University of Malaya, Malaysia / Humboldt-University in Berlin, Germany. Her research focuses on German and international children's literature and film of the twentieth and twenty-first century. She is the author of a monograph on James Krüss (2012), co-editor of a volume on robinsonades (2009) as well as a special issue of Colloquia Germanica on New Perspectives on Young Adult GDR Literature and Film (2019). She has published articles in journals such as Children's Literature and The Lion and the Unicorn.


Thanks to everyone at the Internationale Jugendbibliothek, but especially Claudia Söffner, Jochen Weber, Élodie Malanda (who has since left the IJB), and Nadine Zimmermann; Nadia Mansour; Sara Van den Bossche (Tilburg University); B. J. McDaniel; Christoph Rieger (Internationales Literaturefestival, Berlin); all who have tried to teach German to Phil, but especially Ljudmila Bilkić (University of Kansas). Finally, thanks to Ute Dettmar for inviting us to present a version of this at Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main (via Zoom) in January 2021, and to all who attended our talk.


1. Though the full extent of U.S. influence on German racism is beyond the scope of this essay, U.S. eugenicists and Nazi eugenicists actively shared their "scientific" discoveries until the late 1930s, and, as James Q. Whitman documents in Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law, the Nazis admired U.S. racist immigration and citizenship laws, and directly borrowed from anti-miscegenation laws for the Blood Laws codified at Nuremburg in 1935.

2. Though the book does center Whiteness, it also does some more interesting work in mobilizing and modifying German cultural tropes to construct a rhetoric of inclusion. Late in the book, where the children (including Vimala) march arm-in-arm down the street to her school—in solidarity with her—Vimala gehört zu uns invokes a famous scene from the Billy Wilder film of Erich Kästner's Emil und die Detektive. It's an ingenious use of a nationally known image, even if it more reifies "traditional" German-ness than challenges it.

Works Cited

Part 1: Multicultural German Picture Books since 1989

We were unable to discuss each book in all categories. So, we have used those categories as an organizing principle to catalogue all of the books, including those we did not address.

A. Allegorizing Difference

Baltscheit, Martin. Grüne Bande. Beltz & Gelberg, 2016.
———. Jschiep! Beltz & Gelberg, 2018.
Bansch, Helga. Achtung Ziesel! Verlag Jungbrunnen, 2017.
Dorémus, Gaëtan. Leander. Übersetzung aus dem Französischen von Thomas Minssen. Bajazzo Verlag, 2002.
Ellerman, Heike. Der Dritte Bär. Lappan Verlag, 2003.
Fuchshuber, Annegert. Karlinchen: Ein Kind auf der Flucht. Annette Betz, 1995/2015.
Hurra, Judith, and Richard Klippfeld. Anders, und nicht so. Luftschacht Verlag, 2016.
Janisch, Heinz, and Helga Bansch. Die Brücke. Verlag Jungbrunnen, 2010.
Müller, Birte. Herr Müller und Herr Meier. Michael Neugebauer Verlag, 2001.
Müller, Heidrun. Kim ist meine Freundin. Illustrated by Robert Albrecht. Brandes und Apsel, 1999.
Ramos, Mario. Der Kleine Soldat. Translated from French by Alexandra Rak. Oetinger, 2000.
Schärer, Kathrin. So war das! Nein, so! Nein so! Atlantis/Orell Füsli Verlag, 2007.
Tàssies. Das verschwundene Kind. Translated from the Catalan by Jochen Weber. Edition Bracklo, 2018.
Vaugelade, Anaïs. Fabian und der Krieg. Translated from the French by Tobias Scheffel. Moritz, 1999.

B. White Germans Represent non-White German Children

Bittner, Wolfgang. Felix, Kemal und der Nikolaus. Illus. by Ursula Kirchberg. Nord-Süd Verlag, 1996.
Boie, Kirsten, and Jan Birck. Bestimmt wird alles gut. Klett Kinderbuch, 2016.
Karimé, Andrea, and Annette von Bodecker-Büttner. Mondkaninchen. Picus Verlag, 2017.
Kirchberg, Ursula. Die Reise um die Welt. Gerstenberg, 1994.
Mönter, Petra, and Sabine Wiemers. Vimala gehört zu uns. Kerle, 2002
Scharnberg, Stefanie. Fatma Fährt mit: Eine deutsche-türkische Geschichte. Includes Turkish text (translated into Turkish by Karin Kaçi). Thienemann, 2009.

C. Promoting Diversity and Recycling Stereotypes

Barroux. Ahmed. Translated from the French by Claudia Sandberg. Schaltzeit Verlag, 2016.
Höglund, Anna. Feuerland ist viel zu heiß! Translated from Swedish by Angelika Kutsch. Carlsen Verlag, 1996.
Hula, Saskia, and Ina Hattenhauer. Die beste Bande der Welt. Residenz Verlag, 2012.
Maxeimer, Alexandra, and Anke Kuhl. Alles Familie!: Vom Kind der neuen Freundin vom Bruder von Papas früherer Frau und anderen Verwandten. Klett Kinderbuch, 2010.
Müller, Jörg. Der standhafte Zinnsoldat. Verlag Sauerländer, 1996.
Stalfelt, Pernilla. So bin ich und wie bist du?: Ein Buch über Toleranz. Translated from Swedish. Klett Kinderbuch, 2014.
Tuckermann, Anja, and Tina Schulz, Alle da!: Unser Kunterbuntes Leben. Klett Kinderbuch, 2014.
Wyatt, Valerie. Die Bademattenrepublik: Anleitung zum Aufbau einer eigenen Demokratie. Illustrated by Volker Fredrich. Translated from the English by Petra Buck. Klett Kinderbuch, 2014.

D. Incidental Diversity

Besse, Karin, and Mathilde Rousseau. Nelly und die Berlinchen: Die Schatzsuche. HaWandel Verlag, 2019.
———. Nelly und die Berlinchen: Rettung auf dem Spielplatz. HaWandel Verlag, 2019.
Glattauer, Niki, and Verena Hochleitner. Flucht. Tyrolia Verlag, 2016.
von Kitzing, Constanze. Ich bin anders als du. Carlsen, 2019.
———. Ich bin jetzt … Carlsen, 2017.
Wolfsgruber, Linda. Wir sind da. Verlagsanstalt Tyrolia, 2017.

E. Own Voices (sort of)

Çelik, Aygen-Sibel, and Barbara Korthues. Sinan und Felix. Betz, 2007.
Sarihi, Sepideh, and Julie Völk. Meine liebsten Dinge müssen mit. Beltz & Gelberg, 2018.
Schami, Rafik. Wie ich Papa die Angst vor Fremden nahm. Pictures by Ole Könnecke. Carl Hanser Verlag, 2003.
Tuckermann, Anja, Mehrdad Zaeri, und Uli Krappen. Nusret und die Kuh. Tulipan, 2016.

F. Own Voices

Della, Nancy J. Das Wort, das Bauchschmerzen macht: Empowerment für Kinder. Illustrations by Rina Rosentreter. Edition Assemblage, 2014.
Each One Teach One e.V. Tayos Weg. Durch die Geschichte der Schwarzen Präsenz in Deutschland. Each One Teach One e.V., 2021. Online available at Issue,
Gausmann-Läpple, Dagmar, und Mariam Holzapfel. Land in Sicht! Altonaer Museum/Kinderbuchhaus, 2007.
Kodna, Dayan. Odo. Co-authored by Jando. Illustrations by Robby Krüger. Gratitude Verlag, 2019.
Ngonyani, Agatha. Mwangaza und die Geschichte mit dem Zahn. Illustrations by Antje Flad. Carlsen Verlag, 2011.
Thoma, Patricia. Wilkommen in Deutschland. Verlaghaus Jacoby & Stuart, 2016.

Part 2: Other Works Cited

Amjahid, Mohamed, Max Czollek, and Priscilla Layne. "Radical Diversity: Los Angeles." Goethe-Institut. 26 Aug. 2020.
Baldwin, James. Nobody Knows My Name. 1961. Vintage, 1993.
Bishop, Rudine Sims. Free Within Ourselves: The Development of African American Children's Literature. Greenwood P, 2007.
"Books by and/or About Black, Indigenous and People of Color 2018–" Community Cooperative Children's Book Center. School of Education, University of Wisconsin at Madison. Date of access: 12 Feb. 2021.
Bullen, Elizabeth, and Kerry Mallan. "Local and Global: Cultural Globalization, Consumerism, and Children's Fiction." Contemporary Children's Literature and Film: Engaging with Theory, edited by Clare Bradford and Kerry Mallan, Palgrave McMillan, 2011.
Capshaw, Katharine. "Race." Keywords for Children's Literature. Second Edition. Ed. Philip Nel, Lissa Paul, Nina Christensen. New York UP, 2021. pp. 164–68.
Chin, Rita. The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Europe: A History. Princeton UP, 2017.
Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. 3rd ed. New York UP, 2017.
Dudek, Debra. "Multiculturalism." Keywords for Children's Literature. Second Edition. Edited by Philip Nel, Lissa Paul, and Nina Christensen. New York UP, 2021. pp. 126–29.
Deumert, Ana. "Colonial amnesia, the rise of the right and everyday racism." Diggit magazine 26 Oct. 2017:
Duyvis, Corinne. "Truth and Lies About Diversity in Speculative Fiction." Diversity in YA. 28 Sept. 2015.
Feldman, Daniel. "Address Unknown: German Children's Literature About Refugees." Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 2, Summer 2020, pp. 124–44.
Fields, Karen E., and Barbara J. Fields. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life. 2012. Verso, 2014.
"Gagen-Verträge und Fotos entdeckt Winnetous letzte Geheimnisse." Bild München, 9 Oct. 2018, p. 1.
Hirschfeld, L. A. "Children's Developing Conceptions of Race." Handbook of Race, Racism, and the Developing Child. Edited by S. M. Quintana & C. McKown. John Wiley & Sons, 2008, pp. 37-54.
Hodaie, Nazli. "Interkulturalität" Handbuch Kinder- und Jugendliteratur. Edited by Tobias Kurwinkel and Philipp Schmerheim. J. B. Metzler, 2020, pp. 322–33.
Katz, P. A., and J. A. Kofkin. "Race, Gender, and Young Children." Developmental Psychopathology: Perspectives on Adjustment, Risk, and Disorder. Edited by S. S. Luthar & J. A. Burack. Cambridge UP, 1997, pp. 51–74.
Kelly, Natasha A. "Why Germany Is In Need of a Racial Turn" Frieze, issue 214 (2020),
Leerssen, Joep. Imagology: History and Method. Rodopi, 2007.
Lepman, Jella. A Bridge of Children's Books. Translation of Die Kinderbuchbrücke (1964) by Edith McCormick (1969). The O'Brien P, 2002.
Loza, Roxana. "Cruisin' into Collaboration: Lowriders Graphic Novels as a Taller for Cross-cultural Teamwork." Modern Language Association Conference. 8 Jan. 2021.
Malanda, Élodie. "Afropean Youth Authors Against Systemic Racism: Are Afrofrench and Afrogerman children's books too activist for the local book market?" STARYL: Striving Towards Anti-Racist Research in Children's Literature. Talk given on 20 Jan. 2021.
———. L'Afrique dans les romans pour la jeunesse en France et en Allemagne, 1991–2010: les pièges de la bonne intention. Honoré Champion éditeur, 2019.
Mansour, Nadia, and Michelle H. Martin, "What Can Danish Multicultural Children's Literature and African American Children's Literature Learn from Each Other?: Literary Histories in Dialogue." Barnboken—tidskrift för barnlitteraturforskning/Journal of Children's Literature Research, Vol. 43, 2020,
Martin, Michelle. Brown Gold: Milestones of African American Children's Picture Books, 1845–2002. Routledge, 2004.
Moore, Suzanne. "Angela Merkel Shows How the Leader of the Free World Should Act." Guardian 29 May 2017:
Nel, Philip. Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature and the Need for Diverse Books. Oxford UP, 2017.
Noack, Rick. "How Angela Merkel, a conservative, became the 'leader of the free world.'" Washington Post 21 Nov. 2016,
Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States from the 1960s to the 1990s. 2nd ed. Routledge, 1994.
O'Sullivan, Emer. "Comparative Children's Literature." PMLA : Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, vol. 126 no. 1, 2011, pp. 189–96.
———. "Discourses of Internationalism in Children's Literature." In Child Governance and Autonomy in Children's Literature: Where Children Rule, edited by Christopher Kelen and Bjorn Sundmark. Routledge, 2016, pp. 30–42.
Radical Diversity: Los Angeles, a discussion series by Mohamed Amjahid and Max Czollek, guest speaker Priscilla Layne. 26 Aug. 2020.
Rana, Junaid. "Race." Keywords for Asian American Studies. Ed. Cathy J. Schlund-Vials, Linda Trinh Võ, and K. Scott Wong. New York UP, 2015. pp. 202–7.
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Rubin, James P. "The leader of the free world meets Donald Trump." Politico, 17 Mar. 2017:
Snyder, Timothy. "The American Abyss." The New York Times Magazine, 9 Jan. 2021:
Van Ausdale, Debra, and Joe Feagin. The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism. Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.
Weinkauff, Gina. "Kulturelle Vielfalt (in) der deutschsprachigen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur" kjl&m, 13.extra (2013), pp. 33–52.
———. "Kulturelle Globalisierung als Herausforderung für die Kinder- und Jugendliteraturforschung" Schnittstellen der Kinder- und Jugendmedienforschung. Aktuelle Positionen und Perspektiven, edited by Ute Dettmar Metzler, 2019, pp. 181–96.
Wekker, Gloria. White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race. Duke UP, 2016.
Welsch, Wolfgang. "Transculturality—the Puzzling Form of Cultures Today." Spaces of Culture: City, Nation, World, ed. Mike Featherstone and Scott Lash. Sage, 1999. pp. 194–213.
Whitman, James Q. Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law. Princeton UP, 2017.