Less than 8 percent

Diversity is a concept with many vantage points. Here is one that is startling: In 2012, only 216 of 3,600 children’s books published in the United States were by authors and/or illustrators of color. Only 271 children’s books had significant content about people of color. That’s only 6 percent of authors and/or illustrators and less than 8 percent of content.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which gathers these figures, notes the situation was even more discouraging in 1985 when they started to keep track:

When CCBC Director Ginny Moore Kruse served as a member of the Coretta Scott King Award< Committee that year, we were appalled to learn that, of the approximately 2,500 trade books that were published that year for children and teens, only 18 were created by African Americans, and thus eligible for the Coretta Scott King Award.

Match these numbers up with the demographics of our country– the majority of young people will be people of color in just 5 or 6 years– and the urgency for greater racial diversity in children’s literature is more than apparent. Add to this the layers of other types of diversities needing greater representation in books, such as class, gender, and sexual orientation, and it’s clear that children’s publishing will need to make a significant push.

We need all of our children to be able to find books that share characteristics of themselves and their families when they visit the library. It’s so powerful to get to see a part of yourself, your family, and your culture in books! AND, we need all of our children to find books about many, many different life experiences. It’s so powerful to get to know people through books! (Author Mitali Perkins has a great post and discussion on her site about the idea of books as “windows and mirrors.”)

Thankfully, the CBC Diversity Committee is drawing needed attention to this issue. The Committee encourages “diversity of race, gender, geographical origin, sexual orientation, and class among both the creators of and the topics addressed by kid lit” in addition to other significant goals. (Take a look at this Publisher’s Weekly article about its launch.)

On May 16th I attended a panel that the Committee co-hosted with Charlesbridge in Watertown, Massachusetts. It was titled “Diversity on the Page, behind the Pencil, and in the Office” and featured author Mitali Perkins, illustrator London Ladd, editor Katie Cunningham of Candlewick Press, editor Monica Perez of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and editor Alyssa Mito Pusey of Charlesbridge. Ayanna Coleman of the the CBC Diversity Committee moderated.

It was a lively discussion that touched on definitions of diversity in children’s publishing, barriers that currently exist in the industry for producing more diverse stories, and strategies for getting more multicultural books into the hands of more kids. I was grateful to attend and look forward to future discussions. Since then, I’ve also found the Committee’s website is a helpful hub of information on this topic, including articles, links, and booklists.

Even if we don’t sit at the editor’s desk, all of us who have a relationship to children’s books have an ongoing role to play in shifting these statistics– whether as parents and friends of children who decide which books to purchase and share, or as writers and illustrators who choose which characters we include in our stories.

In my next few posts I’ll pick up on this theme through interviews with two children’s book creators who have taken inspiring steps toward inclusiveness in their own work: author JL Powers and author/illustrator/publisher Janine Macbeth. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, take a look around the Committee’s Goodreads booklist for some terrific book recommendations.
Also- here’s a great opportunity from publisher Lee & Low Books for new children’s writers of color: The winner of their New Voices Award receives a cash prize and a publishing contract. Submissions are due by September 30th.