If Kids Ran the World

Credit: Leo and Diane Dillon

Dillon, Leo and Diane. If kids ran the world. Blue Sky Press/ Scholastic, 2014. 32 pages. Tr. $18.99, ISBN: 978-0-545-44196-4

The prolific author/illustrator duo Leo and Diane Dillon are among the greatest contributors to children’s literature in the past century. Indeed, their work spans five decades and has received due praise from positive reviews and multiple awards. In fact, the Dillons won the Caldecott medal consecutively in 1976 for Why Mosquitoes Buzz In People’s Ears by Verna Aardema and in 1977 for Ashanti To Zulu: African Traditions by Margaret Musgrove. They also received Coretta Scott King honors in 2003 for Rap a Tap Tap Here’s Bojangles- Think of That and in 2005 for The People Could Fly –The Picture Book by Virginia Hamilton.

Leo and Diane were an interracial couple (Diane is white and Leo was the son of Trinidad immigrants) and the pair dedicated their career to portraying diversity through their art. Leo was the first black Caldecott award-winner. “’We’re an interracial couple, and we decided early in our career that we wanted to represent all races and show people that were rarely seen in children’s books at the time,’ Leo said in a 2002 joint interview” (Marcel, 2015). Marcel writes that the Dillons are “recognized for being among the most talented and versatile artists of their genre, and their work is praised for its vibrancy and ethno-racial diversity of subject matter” (2015).

Credit: AIGA

The Dillon’s contributions to art and illustrations and their life-long devotion to diversity in children’s books makes it uncomfortable to criticize If Kids Ran the World. Critique is further inhibited by the fact that the book was the last publication the couple created together – Leo past away before the book was complete. Furthermore, it should be noted that the text is inspiring and backmatter includes information about volunteerism and a note to parents and teachers. For the purposes of this project, however, the illustrations present an example of diversity without inclusion.

Throughout the book, children of many skin colors are seen actively pursuing community projects, making art, playing music, visiting sick friends, and growing and cooking food. The story presents idealistic possibilities for global comradely and equity for all people – if only children ran the world. Most pages feature characters wearing contemporary, everyday clothing including jeans, sneakers, African prints, and hijabs. However, several pages show children wearing historical, ceremonial-like outfits from given cultures without written explanation, specifics, or context. Furthermore, these outfits appear with text that refers to make-believe, play, or dress-up. One two-page spread shows 10 children in a tree house, most wearing theatrical costumes like tops hats or circus apparel but one kid is dressed in moccasins and a buck skin shirt with fringe and a feather in her hair. This child is handing some sort of proclamation to a dark skinned friend with dread locks wearing some sort of cowboy outfit. Perhaps the Dillon’s intention was to show diversity but a scene like the one described suggests that the past is irrelevant to present. It also propagates the “one story” notion in which certain cultures are presented in a stereotypical, mono-dimensional way.

Credit: Leo and Diane Dillon

Another page shows children playing dress-up. One child is dressed as a ballerina, one an admiral, another a space creature, and the last as an Indian, again in buckskin, moccasins, and full headdress. As many illustrators and authors, including the Dillons, are making efforts to include children of diverse cultures and backgrounds in an accurate context, images like this are confusing, if not insulting.

Yet another illustration shows a group of children with their arms around one another admiring a sunset. The text reads, “Even if they were busy, people would remember to stop to see the beauty of a sunset or a rainbow. All over the world, people would feel safe with one another”[22]. Some children are dressed in contemporary clothes, but one boy wears lederhosen and a girl sports a kimono. The image requires explanation, even in a “what if” context.


Marcel, S. (November 16, 2015). Diane and Leo Dillon [blog post]. AIGA. Retrieved from http://www.aiga.org/diversity-inclusion-design-journeys-essay-diane-leo-dillon

Titlewave. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.titlewave.com/search

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Leo and Diane Dillon. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_and_Diane_Dillon