A Hard Look at Diversity and Children's Books, Part I
On Friday, April 1st, I gave a presentation on diversity at the AWP (Associated Writers Program) Conference in Los Angeles, CA. In the children's book industry, there has always been a wide gap between the numbers of diverse children who read books versus the percent of those books who feature diverse characters.
For example, in 2014 51% of children enrolled in American schools were of diverse ethnicities: black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, and so forth. And yet out of the 3200 books for children published that year, only 12% featured characters of color, up a mere 9% from a decade earlier.
Fortunately, thanks to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign (founded in 2014) and other grass roots movements, the publishing industry now recognizes the discrepancy and is making an effort to correct it. However, what I've discovered is that many of these efforts, while positive, are resulting in more white authors writing diverse books, while what we really need are more diverse writers.
The children's book publishing industry is suffering from a lack of diversity. In 2014, 88% of all children's books published were written by white authors, and 79% of industry professionals (editors, publishers, publicists, etc.) are white.
In my presentation, I posed questions that we in the industry still need to address. Why aren't more people of color writing books for children? How can we reach today's diverse youth and encourage them to become tomorrow's storytellers?
The problem is complex, including issues such as high school drop out rates, poverty, the inaccessibility of books in low income communities, and so forth. Motivating white authors to write books with diverse characters so children of color can see themselves in the books they read is just the first step to correcting a problem that has existed for more than a century.
As a mother of five children of Hispanic origin (their father was born and raised in Guatemala) and as a concerned author of books for children, my books all feature diverse characters. I believe it is my duty and privilege to help heal our industry and to nurture children of all races and backgrounds through the stories I tell.
How can you help? If you are an author, write stories with diverse characters. If you are a teacher or librarian, stock your shelves with diverse books. If you are a parent, purchase and read diverse books to your children.