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Culturally-Authentic Literature

What is “Culturally Authentic Literature?”

Every individual growing up is surrounded by cultural experiences. Whether these experiences  come from association with family members, friends, social groups or church gatherings, these connections provide the context for the individual’s perception of the world. When removed from that environment, the individual may come across a story that brings back memories of experiences and may say “Yeah, that’s right, I remember that!” These stories or illustrations ring “true” to the reader, because as an insider, i.e. someone who has firsthand knowledge and experience, recognizes fundamental elements from their own cultural background that connects at an emotional level. When that happens, the reader encounters a culturally authentic piece of literature.

“Cultural authenticity can be defined as the extent to which a book reflects the world view of a specific cultural group along with the authenticating details of language and everyday life.”

Source: Kathy Short, Stories Matter: The Complexity of Cultural Authenticity in Children’s Literature

Turn to the Experts for Advice!

In the past 20 years, the number of books published in the United States with stories and illustrations focused on our diversity has increased substantially. Unfortunately, not all of these publications are culturally authentic. So, how do you know if a book is culturally authentic or not, especially if you are not a cultural insider? I recommend starting with these two short articles:

Hispanic/Latino Children

Latino Children’s Book Awards in English – for use in libraries and classrooms An initiative of the State Library to promote culturally authentic literature for all Utah children and their families. Through this initiative, most of the books honored by the Américas Award, Pura Belpré Award and the Tomás Rivera Award are available from the State Library. Public and School Librarians can contact the State Library and request books to be sent directly to their library via Interlibrary Loan.


Américas Book Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature Américas Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Established in 1993, the Américas Award is given in recognition of U.S. works of fiction, poetry, folklore, or selected non-fiction (from picture books to works for young adults) published in the previous year in English or Spanish that authentically and engagingly portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States. The award is sponsored by the national Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) and currently hosted at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Award winners and commended titles are selected for their (1) distinctive literary quality; (2) cultural contextualization; (3) exceptional integration of text, illustration and design; and (4) potential for classroom use. The winning book is honored every year at a ceremony in September at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.


Pura Belpré AwardPura Belpré Award

Established in 1996, the award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. It is co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, an ALA affiliate. It was given as a biennial award from 1996 through 2008 and annually since then.


Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book AwardTomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award

Established in 1995 and named in honor of Dr. Tomás Rivera, a distinguished alumnus of Texas State University, College of Education, the Tomás Rivera Award is given annually to honor the author/illustrator of the most distinguished book for children and young adults that authentically reflects the lives and experiences of Mexican Americans in the United States.


Native American

Native American Materials for All Ages Special collection available from the State Library. Public and School Librarians can contact the State Library and request books to be sent directly to their library via Interlibrary Loan.

For more information or assistance contact:

Juan Tomás Lee
State Data Coordinator
Phone Number (801) 715-6769 or (800) 662-9150 (Utah toll-free)
Email address jtlee@utah.gov