When children don’t see themselves in books

[ 0 ] September 14, 2016 |
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DiversityInChildrensBooks2015_fc4 by David Huyck

I’m a white author in a largely white Scottish village, trying along with half the writing world to become published in children’s books. The question of ethnic and cultural diversity in both authorship and storyline has been very much on my mind, because as a newcomer to this industry, it’s impossible not to notice – and agree with — the groundswell of feeling that children’s publishing is overly white and needs to change.

So it was with tremendous interest (and discomfort) that I saw this startling infographic, Diversity in Children’s Books 2015: it illustrates with painful clarity that not enough children are seeing themselves in the books they read.

The disparity is immense. While white kids (and rabbits…lucky rabbits) see themselves in abundance in children’s books, the news is grim for people of color. The data shows that, in an analysis of the percentages of books depicting characters from diverse backgrounds, more than 73% of those depictions are of white children.

Kids of black, Asian, Native American and other cultures are significantly underrepresented. No one ethnic group gets a higher percentage of depictions than the 12.5% of books devoted to animals, trucks “and other non-human objects.”

Diversity in Children’s Books 2015

This infographic is the brilliant work of Illustrator David Huyck, Assistant Professor Sarah Park Dahlen and author/teacher Molly Beth Griffin, and you can read a blog post here by Sarah about its genesis. The infographic has taken fresh 2015 data as its foundation (publishing statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison), so what you see here is the latest, hardest information — and hard it is.

What happens when children don’t see themselves in books? What happens when those children are grown-ups who are aspiring writers, but who have spent years feeling in their gut that their stories aren’t “the kind of thing” people read or publishers publish?

And those questions don’t cover what is perhaps the gravest issue of all, for communities like my overwhelmingly white village: what happens to white kids who lose the chance, in their childhood, to put themselves inside the heads and hearts of black, Asian, Latino, Native American and mixed-race main characters?

A chance for deep, real empathy is lost – that’s what happens. That’s what’s happening.

Even the whitest communities are becoming more diverse, and fast. Scotland’s defined ethnic minority population might be just 200,000 people, but that’s doubled from 100,000 people in 2001. The Scottish Book Trust has recently introduced the Saltire Bursary 2016 to encourage more aspiring authors, poets and storytellers from diverse backgrounds. I am with YA author Elizabeth Wein, a fellow Scotland resident, when she says this truly is one of the best countries in the world to be an author, given the support of organizations like SBT.

The Saltire Bursary is fantastic, and change needs to start somewhere. But when we see things like this 1968 exchange between “Peanuts” creator Charles M Schultz and the Americans who urged him to incorporate a black character into his famous strip, the mind boggles that such a badly needed diversification has been so slow in coming.

Look at this infographic, share it. Tell David, Molly and Sarah what you think of it.

And ask yourself – what does happen when children don’t see enough of the real world, and the real people it contains, in the books they read and love? What can you do — in your own teaching, writing, parenting, book-reading and book-buying — to help improve and champion diversity?

Give props to the creators of this amazing infographic, please. Cheers to Sarah for posting it earlier today. Please note, David created the infographic with a Creative Commons license; but please link to Sarah if you reproduce it.

David Huyck, Illustrator
davidhuyck.com/
@huyckd

Sarah Park Dahlen, Assistant Professor at St. Catherine University’s MLIS Program
http://sarahpark.com/
@readingspark 

Molly Beth Griffin, Author and Teacher
http://mollybethgriffin.com/

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Category: Blog

About the Author ()

I live outside Edinburgh, Scotland and write middle-grade adventures (age 9-12) with a science-fiction/fantasy bent. Originally I'm from Boston in the US, where I studied American History & Literature and did arguably too much student theatre at Harvard University. I’m represented by Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

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