In 2016, Books by People of Color Made Up Twelve Percent of Children’s Literature

February 22, 2017

Book SpinesChildren’s books written or illustrated by people of color are in demand, but there’s still an awfully limited supply, NPR reports.

According to a recent report by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Education School, people of color contributed to only about twelve percent of 3,400 US children’s books in 2016, while nearly twenty-two percent of those books were about people of color. The demographics tracked include black, Latino, Native American, and Asian Pacific Americans, who make up a thirty-eight percent of the population combined.

The CCBC’s research of the diversity of US literature, which began in 1994, was prompted by requests from teachers who couldn’t find books that reflected their students’ experiences. “And in some cases, they were looking for books that didn’t exist,” said Director Kathleen Horning to NPR. “There’s no problem with publishing five or six books in a season about bunnies. But if we’re talking about books about black boys?”

Having a diverse literature at our disposal frees young people to gain exposure to other lifestyles and experiences, said Stacey Barney, a senior editor at Penguin Putnam Young Readers. “You can grow up and think, ‘Oh, well everybody must get up and watch cartoons and eat cereal and go to school and that’s just what life is.’”

Barney added, “I was unaware until I started reading books that prompted me to look outside of my experience.... Books that are about black people or about Muslims or about Asians can also find a home and be loved by people who are not of that culture.”

Campaigns like We Need Diverse Books and #1000BlackGirlBooks have been on the frontlines of the demand for more diverse books. Last month, We Need Diverse Books announced the recipients of the 2017 Walter Dean Myers Award and three Honor Books for the Outstanding Children’s Literature – Young Adult Category; the winner of the Myers Award was March: Book Three by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell; the three Honor Books were Watched by Marina Budhos, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, and The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.

Related reading: Last week, World Read Aloud Day, a worldwide celebration of books, took place. The Los Angeles Times also offers selections of readings by Barack Obama, B. J. Novak, Betty White, and others.


Photo Credit: Robyn Budlender.

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