PoC Faces on Book Covers: Poll Results

138 librarians and booksellers responded to my unscientific but informative poll last week, and here are the results:
25% said, "A Kid/YA book with a brown, black, or Asian face on the cover is RARELY bought or borrowed by white kids unless I push it."

37% said, "A Kid/YA book with a brown, black, or Asian face on the cover  is SOMETIMES bought or borrowed by white kids unless I push it."

38% said, "A Kid/YA book with a brown, black, or Asian face on the cover circulates or sells THE SAME as other books, depending on buzz and reviews."
Discouraging at first glance, isn't it?  No wonder people with an eye on the bottom line are tempted to whitewash. But after listening to the conversation, I have several theories, further questions (i.e, do we need fewer or more faces on covers?), and ideas I'll share tomorrow. For now I invite you to leave your thoughts and reactions in the comments.


cynjay said…
Staggering but not surprising. Waiting to hear your thoughts on the results.
Mitali, this is very interesting. On the positive side, 75% are saying that PoC faces on books may not be or definitely aren't a problem... I think that's a far better percentage than you would have gotten, say, 20 years ago. But the answers do suggest that some people may make some decisions based on race. Is that surprising, given the state of affairs in the US today?
Mitali Perkins said…
Not suprising, but can and should our industry be creatively proactive about it? If so, how?
Pam said…
For me it's the back of the book and the buzz. If the pubs took more care with the synopsis and the ads and marketing maybe that would make a difference? Or does that make me a minority in the reading world that I don't care who is on my cover as long as the story proves to be interesting enough to pull me in?
Deb Taylor said…
I think it's important that folks who care about this attack this on several fronts. Teachers with classroom libraries need to have diverse collections. Second, students need to be introduced to the books not just during Black History Month or Diversity Day or some set aside time. Third, we need to promote books the way the music industry promotes hip-hop - the coolness factor. In addition we need to be advocates for more POC in genre fiction, those are the books kids read for pleasure.
"Not suprising, but can and should our industry be creatively proactive about it? If so, how?" True, and you've already gotten two good answers to that question. I'm just making the (obvious) point that this is an issue that has connections and causes far beyond the reach of our industry.
Sravani said…
Hi Mitali,
What an interesting study! I will look forward to your thoughts on these results.

As a homeschooling mom to two voracious gifted kids, it is never the case of the cover of the book, but the content of the book. And many of my homeschooling friends are so too. I find this to be a wonderful opportunity to read books of varied cultures. I am not white, but many of these books are recommended to me by friends who are whites themselves.

I am also in the CA bay area, which is heavily populated by Asians and other cultures, and quite a few whites show a ton of interest in learning about other cultures and lit.

I wonder if these results would change drastically if these polls were categorized based on various states ??

Just a thought. Thanks for sharing.
Coffeegrl said…
I have friends who have adopted a son whose birth mom was herself adopted from Korea, and the birth dad is African-American. This toddler while being raised by white parents, is very visibly a young PoC. At the same time, my husband is Japanese and I'm a Caucasian American, and I'm concerned about the images that my own toddler daughter, very close in age to our friends' son, sees in books. I'm always on the lookout for quality stories that either feature children of color prominently or else, depict them in the illustrations with no outward mention of their race/ethnicity. Either way the representation is important to me.

Sadly, I find that my friends don't have the same approach to parenting their son. They are convinced that skin color doesn't really "matter" and the few books that they have in their home which depict non-white children were gifts from me to their son. I hear this a lot from people; the whole "I'm colorblind" reason for not looking beyond their comfort zone, but it continues to frustrate me. And shouldn't it?
nathaliemvondo said…
Mitali, that "unscientific" poll is a wonderful resource. Thank you very much for that initiative.

I'm pulling up my sleeves, as it is telling me that we have much to do to change positively these numbers: let's get started.
Tandy said…
I believe fully that the impact of kids of color seeing kids like them is huge, that white kids also need to read books about kids of color, and that this conversation is one we need to have.

I'm just not sure how informative this poll really is. Would we get similar results if we asked about particular genres? I believe historical fiction is a very hard sell for today's children, for example.

Must we assume a kid who doesn't choose to read a book about POC is prejudiced? I'd like a study that asks the kids, breaks results down by state, by parental belief system, etc.

My husband and I were having a conversation about how our parents were pretty prejudiced; how we occasionally catch ourselves having unconsciously prejudiced thoughts but try really hard to correct ourselves and attend to the issue; and our kids seem to like and accept all the kids they meet (we live in a diverse area). Perhaps some of this is just growing pains for our culture--but if so, I'm still glad our community is attempting to make proactive choices to move us more quickly towards a better and more inclusive society.