Monday, June 24, 2013

The Diversity Gap in Children's Books Published in the United States

A blog post on The Open Book (the Lee and Low blog) reads:
Since LEE & LOW BOOKS was founded in 1991 we have monitored the number of multicultural children’s books published each year through the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s statistics. Our hope has always been that with all of our efforts and dedication to publishing multicultural books for more than twenty years, we must have made a difference. Surprisingly, the needle has not moved. 
The graph is telling. Look at that flat line of percentages.

So what do we do about this, exactly? At VCFA we've talked about the need to recruit more students of color into the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. How do we do that in conscience, if this is how the numbers play out?

I've been at conferences where teachers and librarians have stopped to look at my books and talk to me, then say as they disengage apologetically, "I don't have a large South Asian population in my area." Nikki Grimes and Rudine Sims-Bishop both refer to this frequently encountered perception that books about minority characters will only be read by minority kids.

Is this for real? Do we really only expect people to read books that reflect themselves? That seems like an awfully narrow view of reading. Speaking for myself, if I'd only been willing to read books about kids like me, I'd have grown up illiterate.

5 comments:

  1. Aaaargh! Isn't it tragic that in order to get those wonderful books that are out there (like yours) into the hands of children, who will love them (or not, for the same reasons they like/don't like any book), there is the intermediary adult in the way, who is not necessarily a bad person but does need educating...

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  2. >>Do we really only expect people to read books that reflect themselves?

    It's actually more than that: We expect white kids to read books about themselves and all other kids to read books about white kids.

    Not them, us. We are children's-YA publishing. We're in charge of what's made available and how it's framed. There's a lot of finger pointing, but everyone is responsible. If we're going to make progress, we'll all have to own and act on that.

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  3. Marjorie I think that's just a fact of this business, which is why this is such an important conversation to keep alive. The presence of gatekeepers is a blessing in many ways--librarians and teachers are allies and colleagues, and which other group of writers can claim this kind of extended community among two different professional groups? I have learned so much from the teachers and librarians I've encountered over the years. So I don't want to come across as dismissive.

    Also, as Cyn points out, "the business" is us and maybe what we all need to do is think a bit about our own reflexive biases. Do I really expect a segregation in audience? And how does that then affect my writing? How does it affect where or to whom I choose to submit my work? How about the work in progress I choose to develop--or not? What projects do I choose to focus on and why? All good stuff to chew on. Thank you both.

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  4. I love this line: "Speaking for myself, if I'd only been willing to read books about kids like me, I'd have grown up illiterate." Thank you so much for raising this issue!

    I am a white American living in Malaysia. I've just recently read your book, Book Uncle and Me, and loved it! I went to recommend it on my blog, Mommynificent, which has a primarily North American readership, only to find that it is impossible for North American readers to even get the book. So not only are these books not being recommended, they are completely unavailable! Do you know if that is true for all of your books? I certainly hope not as I intend to do a blog post soon, highlighting you as an author. I'm only waiting because I am trying to figure out if any of your books are available there. Here is my post where I mentioned you briefly and where a friend and I commenced a hunt for your books in the comments: http://mommynificent.com/2013/06/27/goodness-and-mercy-patti-hill/
    May you be magnificently blessed today!
    Tina @ Mommynificent

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  5. Tina, Book Uncle is probably the only one of my books that isn't yet available in North America. Everything else that's in print is available in the US and Canada--you'll find the titles on my web site, http://www.umakrishnaswami.com

    Thanks for your interest.

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