Tuesday, February 23, 2016

CCBC Multicultural Statistics for 2015

Examining new books for our records
Continuing an annual CCBC effort of over 30 years, we’ve documented the books we received in 2015 that are created by or are about people of color or from First/Native Nations.  Here are the numbers*: 

*numbers updated April 5, 2016 (additional titles came in). The commentary that follows the bulleted numbers below reflects the numbers in our original post of February 23.
  • 268 books had significant African or African American content
    • 92 of these were by Black authors and/or illustrators
  • 106 books were by Black book creators

    • 14 of these had no visible African/African-American cultural content  

  • 42 books had American Indian / First Nations themes, topics, or characters
    • 18 of these were by American Indian/First Nations book creators
  • 19 books were by American Indian / First Nations authors and/or illustrators
    • 1 of these had no visible American Indian/First Nations content
  • 113 books had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content
    • 45 of these were by Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American 
  • 175 books were by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage 
    • 130 of these had no visible Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content
  • 82 books had significant Latino content 
    • 40 of these were by Latino/a authors and/or illustrators
  • 58 books were by Latino/a authors and/or illustrators
    •  18 of these had no visible Latino content

These numbers as well as those for previous years are available on the CCBC web site.

As always, we are drawing this information from the books we receive at the CCBC. We received about 3,400 in 2015.  While we can’t read every single book from cover to cover, we do our best to determine relevant content by hands-on examination of every title.  We work to identify authors and illustrators whose books should be included in our counts from information on book jackets, websites, social media, other online sources, and sometimes the authors and illustrators themselves.

In determining “significant” content, we are referencing visibility and inclusion. This in turn brings up two important things to note about our statistics. The first is that we are regularly faced with making decisions to determine if cover art depicting racial diversity is truly representative the book itself.  Sometimes it’s easy to note a book’s content (X: A Novel), while other times making that determination presents more of a challenge (Fifteen Dollars and Thirty-five Cents).  This is also reflected in the ongoing flood of paperback series publishing, many with a primary cast that includes at least one non-white character.

The second important thing to note is that in doing our counts, we are are not evaluating any of the books for cultural substance or authenticity. We are documenting quantity, not quality.  

How do the 2015 numbers compare to previous years?  Some numbers are up slightly from last year, but from the past we know a slight upward fluctuation is not necessarily sustained in subsequent years.  A few numbers have made larger leaps, some of which we conjecture about below.  

The number of books with significant African or African American content increased by almost 50%, from 180 in 2014 to 261 in 2015.  The number of books by Black authors and/or illustrators made a more modest climb, from 84 in 2014 to 100 in 2015.  Numbers of books with First/Native Nations content or authors or illustrators, books with Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content, and books by Latino authors and illustrators stayed virtually static, while the count for Asian/Pacific heritage authors increased from 129 in 2014 to 173 in 2015, and books with Latino content rose from 66 to 82 during the same time.

While we welcome any increase in these numbers, which have stayed largely flat for decades, we also know there are several factors that are likely responsible for some of these changes. We have always received the majority of our books from mainstream U.S. trade publishers, getting most new titles annually. We also have always received some formula series non-fiction titles. In recent years, as CCBC statistics have been cited with increased frequency in the media and online discussions, we’ve begun receiving some books from publishers outside the realm of mainstream trade publishing or educational publishing who are sending titles specifically because they know we are keeping track of multicultural books. 

We are also seeing more books with “casts” of characters that are diverse, including, as noted earlier, paperback series publishing. But it extends to stand-alone trade titles, too. While white authors writing books with characters who are people of color or from First/Native Nations is nothing new (and a topic much debated and discussed), what we are seeing that is different are more books with two or three main characters, of who one – or two – are people of color.
When it comes to our numbers documenting books by authors and illustrators who are people of color or from First/Native Nations, it should be noted they include multiple books by individual authors and artists. The 100 books we noted by Black authors and illustrators, for example, do not represent the work of 100 different Black book creators. This is important to understand because part of the essential work in publishing a more diverse body of books each year for children and teenagers--books that reflect our nation's racial and ethnic diversity and the diversity of experiences within and across these dimensions of identity--is to expand the numbers of authors and artists of color and from First/Native Nations getting published.   

Of course, as noted above, not every book by every author or illustrator of color or from First/Native Nations are about those cultural experiences. This is important to keep in mind when we're considering who is writing literature reflecting diversity for children and teens. So we see, for example, that although we documented 111 books about Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific Americans, only 42 of those were written by Asian Pacific/American authors and illustrators.   That means that 68 of the 111 books (or roughly 68%) were written or illustrated by non-Asians. Author Ellen Oh recently addressed this issue in a provocative post 

A selection of the books we documented in 2015

The CCBC began documenting these statistics back in 1985. They are one piece of a much larger effort that spans a far greater number of years. It has always been led by people of color and First/Native Nations, joined by others who also know that while books matter in the lives of children and teens, what’s in them matters, too. 

 It would be wonderful to think that a day will come when we won’t need to keep track of these numbers because publishing for children and teens will have become truly representative of the cultural diversity of the audience it serves. But we aren’t there yet. Not nearly. Year after year we can point to wonderful multicultural books that come out, and year after year that heartens us. But this work also must continue.


  1. Thank you for documenting these trends. It's really important.

  2. Thanks, CCBC, both for the numbers and the thoughtful interpretation of them. "We aren't there yet...The work must continue." Words for us all to take to heart.

  3. I suspect I already know the answer, but will hopefully ask anyhow: does this include young adult books?

  4. Great work! I see you examine books you receive. Where do they come from? Do you use a list of books published from the largest publishers? Do you buy them? Just wondering as I'd love to cite your work.

    1. The books come to us as review copies directly from the publishers. We don't buy them. We keep track of the books via publishers' catalogs, and in the past have used the PW Fall and Spring lists, which is a really good source of upcoming books.

  5. Huge thank you to everyone at CCBC, not just for keeping track of these stats, but for telling some of the stories behind the numbers. The issue of white authorship of diverse cultural content matters greatly. So does the question of whether the number of diverse books are increasing while the number of diverse authors remains static. Again, thank you.

  6. Thank you for your good work. It's interesting that publishers send books. Makes me think they're at least somewhat aware.