Since the CCBC is the source of the multicultural statistics that have been widely quoted since USA Today first used them in a feature article back in 1989, I decided to respond to Roger will some hard data. I took a look at the children's and young adult trade books we have received so far in 2013 here at the CCBC. I counted the total number of books we have received, noting how many were about people, and how many were about nonhuman characters. I also counted how many were about white people and how many were about people of color. I was generous in my assessment: if a cover with a crowd of kids showed two or more kids of color, I counted it as multicultural. Similarly, if a cover showed two people and one was a person of color, I counted it as multicultural. I was struck by how many middle-grade fiction books show three kids on the cover, a la Harry Potter, all of them white.Semi-facetious response: While the blog states the disparity between the non-white population in this country (37% of the whole) and the percentage of children’s books with “multicultural content” (hovering around 10% over the last eighteen years), I want to know what percentage of children’s books are in the first place about people (as opposed to talking rabbits or outer space, for example). Things may look worse than they are.
|A sampling of 2013 books from the CCBC's Current Collection|
To date we have received 1509 books from U.S. publishers. Of these, 1183 (or 78.3 %) are about human beings. I know it seems like there are lots and lots of bears, mice and bunnies standing in for people in books, and there are, but these stand ins occur mainly in picture books, which represent just 23.5% of the books we have received so far in 2013. I went through all the picture books published in 2013 that we have received so far as review copies. Of the 355 picture books in our current collection, 164 had non-human characters (mostly dinosaurs and cute furry critters but we also have picture book protagonists who are cars, crayons, monsters, lollipops and smurfs).
I counted 191 picture books with human characters, which is a little over half (53.8 %) of the total number of this year's picture books in our collection. Of these 191 titles, 28 (or 14.6%) feature a child of color as the protagonist. In the overall total number of picture books, adding together human and nonhuman characters, children of color make up just 7.8% of the total number of picture book protagonists.
Nonfiction is another genre that includes a lot of books about animals, outer space, etc. We have received 472 nonfiction titles so far this year, which makes up 31.27% of the total number of books. Just 130 of these books (or 27.5%) are about nonhuman subjects. People of color fare a little bit better in nonfiction than they do in picture books: of the 342 books about people, 60 are about people of color, which amounts to 17.5% of the total number of nonfiction books.
The really dismal numbers come with fiction, both middle grade and young adult. Anyone who is up on trends in children's and young adult book publishing knows that fiction (a/k/a chapter books and novels) make up the bulk of what is currently being published. Our stats so far for 2013 bear this out. We have received 682 works of fiction to date this year, which makes up 45.19% of our total. Just 32 of them are about non-human protagonists (Most of these were animals; I only counted paranormals if there was no interaction with mortals in the story.) That means 95.3% of all fiction titles are about human beings. Of the 650 books about human beings, 614 feature white characters, and just 36 feature people of color as main characters. That amounts to just 5.27% of the total.
So to get back to Roger's semi-facetious response, here is the big picture. Of the 1509 books published in 2013 that we have received so far, 1183 (or 78.3%) are about human beings. If we subtract the 326 books about nonhuman characters from the overall total and just figure the percentages of books about people of color among the books with human characters only, we still get a fairly dismal number: of the 1183 books published so far in 2013 about human beings, 124 of those books feature people of color. That's 10.48%. We're only half way through the publishing year and the fall season is usually the heaviest, but it still looks like we are on track for yet another year of stagnation.
Thank you! My inner-science geek loves the number crunching. My not-so-inner neurotic hopes somebody already sent you Written in Stone.ReplyDelete
And here's what I'm curious about in regard to Native American characters. I think given the cultural tendency to romanticize the American West, some Native American communities have not been happy with their portrayal in children's fiction over the years. I think many editors are nervous about acquiring titles with Native American characters. And I wonder, given the ease of self-publishing, if some tribes have decided to write and publish their own books for their own children. And if this is true, how would you at the CCBC ever find them. I also think that there is a better market for western and Native American stories in the regional presses and university presses.
Sherman Alexie made an interesting point when he was speaking in Portland recently. He had trouble coming up with anybody besides himself and Louise Erdrich who were writing for children but he could reel off the names of dozens of Native American poets with no effort at all. I've read a few of the poets he mentioned (though, maddeningly, I can never remember their names)and they would have strong appeal for high school readers and lots of use in high school English and history classrooms. But I'm guessing these books of poetry are not coming your way either.
So how do you get your books? Presumably the big 5 just send them, but do they send every title? And what about regional presses or comic book presses? Are they on your radar at all? It might not change the equation all that much but I am curious.
Besides Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdrich, there's also Joseph Bruchac, to name one. :)Delete
Rosanne, thanks for your comments. I think you are right about Native lit, and it might not be a bad thing that publishers are thinking twice before they publish some faux Indian book. We do see less of that sort of thing than we did ten years ago.ReplyDelete
In terms of your question about the publishers in the count, we get books from all the major trade publishers and many of the small presses as well, particularly those that publish multicultural literature like Arte Publico, Just Us Books, and Lee and Low. We seek out books from tribal publishers for the eight nations in Wisconsin, since we have such a demand from teachers. We sometimes get books from other tribal publishers and regional presses if someone calls them to our attention and we want to have them in our collection for our users to find. In recent years, we are getting quite a few self-published books, particularly by authors of color who know of our research interest. Hope that answers your questions.
You want to know why there aren't more books about people of color? Because white authors aren't encouraged to write them. If our population is 37% non white, that means proportionately, 63% of US writers are white. So, if we can't write those books, um...????ReplyDelete
actually, i believe the percentage of traditionally published kidlit authors who are white is well over 90%, ellen. and i'd have to disagree, there most definitely *are* white authors writing PoC characters into their novels. as KT says, the issue gets convoluted and complicated. white authors are afraid of getting it wrong. they are afraid to offend. but as a PoC author, i've been told i've gotten it wrong, that i've offended. you know as much as i do, it comes with the territory of being published. i do think when you are writing outside of your own experience, it takes more work, it takes more research, it takes more sensitivity. and it's scary and you will still be told you got it wrong. i think white authors often are not inclusive because: 1. due to fear. 2. that including non-white characters doesn't even cross their minds. the cycle perpetuates itself very very easily.Delete
Then why are so many books with POCs written by whites? The Peter books, The Help, Life of Pi Alex Cross series...I could go on....ReplyDelete
Ellen, I didn't take authorship into consideration while compiling the statistics. As Creole B noted, there are many books about people of color being created by white authors and illustrators, although I'm not sure we see as many as we did 25 years ago, as people in the industry have gotten more sensitive to issues of authenticity.ReplyDelete
There's no rule that says someone can't write about another race or culture, but I do think it gets complicated. I have found Rudine Sims Bishop's book "Shadow and Substance" to be particularly illuminating in this regard. I have also learned a lot over the years from critics like Debbie Reese who evaluates books about Native Americans from the perspective of a Native American. I appreciate honest, thoughtful discussions about these issues. Race is such a highly charged topic in our society that it's hard for many adults to talk about it without getting defensive.
I can take another look at the 2013 books we've gotten so far to see how many of the 124 books about people of color are actually written and/or illustrated by people of color. I'm curious myself now. That'll be a project for Monday morning. Stay tuned!
I'd also be curious to hear how many of those books about people of color were fantasy or science fiction. It's a genre that's severely lacking in diversity, which I'm sure you're aware of. But there's been a big push for diversity in the genre, too, and I'm in the midst of trying to see how it's changed over the years, but it's hard to find sources for numbers.Delete
Thanks for taking the time to do this, KT. I am saddened, though not surprised, by the continued stagnation, particularly regarding fiction for middle and high school levels, especially when we all know how important those periods are for lifelong literacy prospects...ReplyDelete
thank you for crunching the numbers for us, KT. much appreciated.ReplyDelete
Thanks K T that does help. I have heaps to learn about how this business works.ReplyDelete
And I have been thinking and doing some grant writing about what might be done in reservation and urban Indian communities to encourage a more balanced body of literature about the Native American experience. Because on the one hand, fewer poorly written Native American characters is progress, but if it comes at the cost of a decrease in overall titles with Native American characters, is that really the result we are hoping for? Maybe something that could be done is to engage the various MFA programs and have a substantial conversation about what is expected in the industry in terms of research for a writer working outside their own culture.
Thanks again for the numbers and for recommending Shadow & Substance.
I think we have to think beyond that to developing more writers of color and writers among Native communities. Do MFA programs seek out diversity in their students? Do writers' organizations seek out diversity in their membership? How does economic privilege play into this, given that writing doesn't pay the bills for a long time for most people?Delete
The SCBWI's new grant for writers of color is a step in the right direction, but we need more like it.
Thanks for your timely analysis and reporting! Your comments are thought provoking, as always.
Do you keep stats on international books? translations vs imports from English language countries? :)
Thanks so much for posting this, KT. Is there a set of criteria in determine what constitutes of featuring diverse characters on CCBC site? For example,if a story set in a classroom where we are shown that two classmates of the three main white characters are Asian but who do not actively move the plot line along or have specific roles, does it count? How involved and important do the people of diverse backgrounds need to be to be counted as a book with diverse characters?ReplyDelete
I know I am coming awfully late to this party, but in doing some research I found a statistic that I think makes this conversation all the more important: as of July 1, 2013, 49.9% of all children under 5 in the United States are minorities. This makes the 7.8% of non-white picture book protagonists go from disturbing to positively unconscionable.ReplyDelete
Here's the article: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-13/white-share-of-u-s-population-drops-to-historic-low.htmlReplyDelete