Following the appointment of an all-white-male panel of “luminaries in children’s literature” at this year’s BEA, there has been a lot of media buzz about the lack of diversity in children’s and young adult books. Today through May 3 there will be a huge social media push to get the word out there using the #weneeddiversebooks hasthag. Check out the We Need Diverse Books Tumblr for more details.
Why is this important? According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s report on the representation of people of color in children’s books, out of the 3,200 children’s books examined by the CCBC, only 93 (2.9%) were about blacks, 69 (2.1%) about Asians and Pacific Islanders, 57 (1.7%) about Latinos, and 34 (1.1%) about American Indians. This is especially disturbing when you consider that in the 2012 census, 13.1% of the United States population reported that they were black, 5.3% were Asian or Pacific Islanders, 16.9% were Hispanic or Latino, 1.2% were American Indian or Alaska Native, and 2.4% were two or more races. Many of these populations are growing, and the percentages would be even higher if you considered only those under 18.
As a librarian, I defend books and other media that represent people of all backgrounds and viewpoints. I want all the members of our community to feel welcome and included at the library. But when we look at children’s books, I think the need for diversity is even more important. Kids who don’t see themselves in the books they read may get turned off of reading, which could cause them to struggle in school. Beyond test scores, a lack of diversity in books can create false impressions for kids of what they can and cannot achieve. Ellen Oh writes about a school event where a young girl approached her with a notebook to sign and said “I love writing and I want to be a writer but I didn’t think I could because I’m not white.”
It’s time for our culture, especially our books, to represent all the members of our diverse population. It’s time for writers to introduce kids to stories about them, characters who will inspire them and show them that their dreams are not and should not be limited by their race or their background.
If you’re interested in reading more about diversity in the writing/publishing world, Pub Hub has a monthly roundup of links called Diverse Words.
What about you? How do you feel about diversity in kids’ and teens’ books?