Diversity in children’s books: A blog comment discussion

Elizabeth Blair’s (2013, June 25) blog post As demographics shift, kid’s books stay stubbornly white about the lack of racial diversity in children’s books, sparked a blog comment debate 325 comments long. Children’s books, particularly picture books, are dominated by Caucasian characters and authors to the point where approximately only 10% of children’s books published in America are about, or are written by non- Caucasians (Lee & Low Books, n.d.). Considering that in the American population of children aged under five years old is, as of 2012, 49.9% non- Caucasian (United States Census Bureau, 2013, June 13), and it is predicted that one third of the American population will be Hispanic, with a total non- Caucasian population percentage of 57% by 2060 (United States Census Bureau, 2012, December 12) the growing disparity between representation and reality in children’s literature is causing concern.

Similar statistics for Australia are much more difficult to locate as the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012) prefers to study migration and ancestry patterns rather than placing people in the broad ethnic categories that would make international comparisons easier. However the effects of the lack of diversity in children’s literature are comparable between countries. Hughes-Hassell (2013), in her article on counter-storytelling, notes that ‘culturally relevant literature’ allows the reader to ‘personally connect’ with characters, encourages children to read, reduces feelings of isolation, and boosts self esteem in ‘children of colour’ whilst allowing children from ‘the majority culture’ to experience other perspectives.

Throughout the long and fascinating blog comment debate nearly all agreed that the under-representation of non- Caucasian characters in, and authors of, children’s books was a serious issue which needed to be addressed. Many contributors provided detailed and high quality arguments and anecdotes about the importance of racial diversity in children’s literature, as well as discussing the self-fulfilling prophecy many publishers have that books about non-Caucasians won’t sell, meaning the publishers provide little marketing support and the books don’t sell. The publisher’s belief that readers won’t buy books about ‘people of colour’ has resulted in not only the under-representation of non-Caucasian authors and characters, but has led publishers to ‘white wash’ book covers of books with black characters (Larbalestier, 2009, July 23). Many contributors commented that only by making a conscious effort to buy racially diverse children’s literature would publishers respond to rising demand by printing more of the same material.

Following this blog debate has made me grow as a person by making me think about a situation that I took for granted. As a Caucasian I have never had difficulties relating to characters in a book because they were ‘like me.’ Becoming aware of the lack of racial diversity in children’s books will allow me to identify areas where a library collection needs expansion to support the cultural needs, and therefore the mental and emotional needs, of the children I serve.

This activity has taught me many things about myself and the people around me, of ignorance causing racism and the effects on the human psyche when differences are not embraced and accepted.

It has also taught me not to feed the trolls.

References

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2012). Cultural diversity in Australia: Reflecting a nation: Stories from the 2011 census. Retrieved Decemeber 14, 2013, from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/2071.0Main%20Features902012–2013?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=2071.0&issue=2012–2013&num=&view=

Blair, E. (2013, June 25). As demographics shift, kid’s books stay stubbornly white. Retrieved December 12, 2013, from http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/06/25/193174358/as-demographics-shift-kids-books-stay-stubbornly-white

Hughes-Hassell, S. (2013). Multicultural young adult literarure as a form of counter-storytelling. The Library Quarterly, 83 (3), 212-228.

Larbalestier, J. (2009, July 23). Ain’t that a shame (updated). Retrieved December 13, 2013, from http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2009/07/23/aint-that-a-shame/

Lee & Low Books. (n.d.). Why hasn’t the number of multicultural books increased in eighteen years? Retrieved December 12, 2013, from http://blog.leeandlow.com/2013/06/17/why-hasnt-the-number-of-multicultural-books-increased-in-eighteen-years/

United States Census Bureau. (2012, December 12). U.S. Census Bureau projections show a slower growing, older, more diverse nation a half century from now. Retrieved December 13, 2013, from http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb12-243.html

United States Census Bureau. (2013, June 13). Asians fastest-growing race or ethnic group in 2012, Census Bureau reports. Retrieved December 13, 2013, from http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb13-112.html

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3 thoughts on “Diversity in children’s books: A blog comment discussion

    1. Thank you for pointing out the reference I missed, the blog has been edited to include this reference, including correct spelling of the author’s last name (oops). Thank you for commenting on my blog.

  1. Two important Publishers of Children’s materials in Australia that I use my discretionary budget to address the imbalance of representation in Children’s literature are Magabala Books, and Indijj Readers. Magabala Books represent Aboriginal authors and illlustrators as do Indijj Readers who also have authors and performers who visit schools and libraries. I recommend Magabala Books as an amazing source of Australian Children’s Literature. Sharon McIlwee.

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