The numbers don’t lie. When we look at the number of protagonists of color, we see that there is a serious lack of diversity in children’s and YA literature. We also see that there are few published authors of color as well. Below are visuals depicting what we know when it comes to the numbers and diversity in children’s literature.
Illustration ©2016 David Huyck, in consultation with Sarah Park Dahlen and Molly Beth Griffin
The infographic above, and a lot of the statistics that we have on this subject come from the CCBC, which stands of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center.
As far back at 1985, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin began tracking the number of African American authors of the books that they received (back then it was a mere 18 out of 2,500 books). Starting in 1994, they began tracking authors of color as well including Latino, Asian/ Pacific, and First Nations authors.
A note on what they are counting: “The CCBC receives most of the trade books published annually in the United States. The titles the CCBC receives also include a limited number of series or formula non-fiction books, and books from several Canadian publishers that distribute in the United States, and these have also been included in our multicultural counts when applicable.”
There findings are quite useful, because they were probably the first to collect this type of information and are still heavily referenced when we look at the numbers. This chart, published on their site, shows that the numbers have improved over the years, which is encouraging.
I found another helpful infographic on a blog post by Lee & Low Books analyzing the 2016 data published by the CCBC. While the numbers have increased over the years, there is still a low percentage of content written by authors of color – only 6%!!
We still have a lot of work to do. The issue of diversity in books can be emotionally and politically charged and disagreements on how to approach these complex issues abound. It is a conversation that is important to have and crucial to have. Mistakes may be made along the way, but I am in agreement with Dashka Slater that they are mistakes worth making. It is only through opening the lines of communication that we can hope to make a change.
Dashka wrote an amazing article entitled, The Uncomfortable Truth About Children’s books, on the issue in the Oct., 2016 issue of Mother Jones. It not only gives a great background to this history of the movement, but clearly explains some of the key challenges and sensitivities. “Whose story gets told, and who gets to tell it? How do you acknowledge oppression without being defined by it? And to what extent should writers bow to popular opinion? There are no simple answers.”