A Familiar Refrain

"Why are children's books still so white?" we asked on the Fire Escape last year, and the year before. This year, the CCBC released their 2008 statistics about race and children's books, and once again we repeat the question like a mantra.

Keep in mind that recent U.S. Department of Education statistics show that whites make up 56% of total school enrollment, Latinos 21%, blacks 17%, Asian 5%, and Native Americans 1%. Okay, ready? Of the 3,000 or so titles received at the Center:
  • 172 books (or only 6% of all books) had significant African or African American content, with 83 books (less than half) by black book creators, either authors and/or illustrators.

  • 40 books (1.3% of all books) featured American Indian themes, topics, or characters, with 9 of them (less than a quarter) created by American Indian authors and/or illustrators.

  • 98 (3% of all books) had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content, and 77 of these (82% of Asian/Pacific-content books) were created by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage.

  • 79 books had significant Latino content, slightly more than 2% of all books, despite enrollment statistics showing that more than 20% of the country’s students are Latino. 48 of these (60% of all Latino-content books) were created by Latino authors and/or illustrators.
As you reflect on the trends and changes highlighted above, listen to the suggestion made by CCBC scholars Kathleen T. Horning, Merri V. Lindgren, Tessa Michaelson, and Megan Schliesman:
We know that there are editors and publishers who care deeply about ensuring a continual output of wonderful new books that reflect the lives of children and teenagers today, but we also know that their passion for publishing multicultural literature cannot always carry the day in meetings with bottom-line number crunchers wanting to know whether such books will sell. We hope that librarians, teachers, caregivers, parents, and others will use their purchasing power to help committed editors and publishers make a convincing argument.


Windy said…
This is very insightful. Puts into perspective how big of a mountain the uphill battle is on.
tanita davis said…
I'd be interested to see what percentage of books with significant Caucasian or European heritage persons was written by a person of color...
Mitali Perkins said…
Great question, Tanita.
MotherReader said…
Two things. I think that this is about the publishers more than the book-buying public excuse. I think schools and libraries would certainly buy the books if they were out there. I mean, really, the publishers pick the illustrators and they don't seem to choose to picture children of color as often as they could - esp when it wouldn't matter in the content of the book. Also, why can't some of the books they do acquire be revised to feature a child of another race. I know I'm not talking about a book that would show a cultural theme, but it would still be great to see more diversity.

The other thing that I thought of immediately is that wanting to write a book is even listed in that website/book "Stuff White People Like." If there are more white authors, and they aren't sure if they are "allowed" to write about another race or culture, then you won't see as many diverse books.

I'm going for a frank tone, not a careful tone, with a nod to your post about how we talk about race in regards to publishing/books. At least one person commented of whether white people could write about other races. And I remember the discussion about the CSK Awards as going to African-American authors and illustrators, not based on the content of the book.
Doret said…
I also think its a matter of the customers knowing books featuring children of color are available. If these books are published, but receive no PR customers won't know to ask for them. These untalked about books are like that tree that falls in the empty forrest. (that sounded good in my head)
Mitali Perkins said…
I never want to discourage people to write outside of our race/ethnicity. All fiction by definition crosses borders and boundaries. So let stories come, but thoughtfully, creatively, compassionately. And the stats show that we need space in the industry for more books for kids by black and American Indian authors.

It gets old when booksellers, librarians, and teachers don't buy my books or subscribe to a fantastic magazine like Kahani because they "don't have enough South Asians in the community." Why assume that only South Asian kids will enjoy my books or be enriched by Kahani?