When I did the count last week, I didn't take authorship into account. But one of the things we do keep track of here at the CCBC is just that -- the number of books written and/or illustrated by people of color. We first began documenting the number of books by African-American authors and illustrators since 1985 when CCBC Director Ginny Moore Kruse served on the Coretta Scott King Award Committee, and was stunned to see that there were only 18 books by Black authors and illustrators published that year. We decided to keep track and put the statistic into print each year, and by 1994 we were also documenting the numbers for Asian/Asian-American, Latino, and Native American author/illustrators, as well.
No one will be surprised to learn that there are always more books about people of color than there are by people of color. But it may surprise you to know just how many -- at least so far in 2013.
|15 of the 47 books received so far in 2013 by and about people of color|
|Published by Abrams, (c) 2013|
So are authors who choose to portray characters as animals really avoiding race and ethnicity? And, if they are, what does it say about us as a nation if we assume our children will have an easier time identifying with a dinosaur than they will with a human child of another race?
Is it that we assume children will have an easier time identifying with animals? Or is it that we adults are skittish of depicting humans of one color or another in situations that might be perceived as negative? For instance, let's say an author writes a book about how a child deals with being bullied by another child. Any way the illustrator tries to portray the children, the connotations are negative. If both children are portrayed as White, then the book could be perceived as assuming a dominant ethnocentric stance. If both children are portrayed as being Black, Hispanic, or Asian, the book could be perceived as depicting bullying as a problem more common among people of color. If one child is portrayed as being of one race/ethnicity and the other child is portrayed as being of another race/ethnicity, the book could be perceived as implying bullying always involves race/ethnicity. Using animals as characters in place of people allows some sidestepping of those connotations. But at what price?ReplyDelete
I know many author/illustrators choose to use animal characters with difficult topics such as bullying, death, divorce, etc., to give a little distance between the child reader and the subject matter. But most of the animal character books I saw when I was doing my count last week were about fairly innocuous topics. Animal characters may also be chosen simply because they are fun to draw. And then there is always the sidestepping, as you say.Delete
Is this the nature of the publishing ceiling for minority authors? Where can they find the tools to break out of the zoo if they have stories about real people to pubish? Are there not more than 2 or 3 publishers that provide opportunities for Latino authors for children? Is there a belief that Latino Children do not consume books?ReplyDelete
You are asking very deep and complex questions, Cynthia, and they are crucial because they get beneath the surface of the numbers themselves. What are the barriers for authors and illustrators of color? We've all heard anecdotes over the years. One that commonly circulates is the fact that the "buyers at Barnes & Noble" discourage mainstream publishers by refusing to stock multicultural books because "they don't sell."Delete
I think there is definitely a belief that Latinos don't by books, or at least, don't buy books published by U.S. publishers in Spanish and/or about Latinos. but I heard a surprising and hopeful statistic this morning on NPR that Univision, the Spanish-language channel, has topped the national television ratings for three weeks running so far this summer. That sort of statistic ought to help businesses recognize that there is, indeed, a market for Spanish-language materials.
KT, I'm curious about the number of books that are published by minority authors without any minority content. I'm thinking of, say, AN ARMY OF FROGS by Trevor Pryce or DORK DIARIES 6 by Rachel Renee Russel. Are minority authors expected to publish minority content, and *only* minority content?ReplyDelete
Jonathan, you'd have to ask publishers and authors/illustrators your question about what the expectations are for book creators of color.Delete
We do keep track of the number of books published each year by authors and/or illustrators of color with no specific cultural content related to the individual book creators. So far this year we've counted 47 books by authors and illustrators of color without specific cultural content. The majority of these (30 out of the 47) are by Asian or Asian-Americans. Our statistics suggest that there are no expectations, but we don't see what doesn't get published.
Figuring out what to count as cultural content is sometimes tricky. For example, we did not include last year's hit "Wonder" by R. J. Palacio as being about Latino characters in last year's tally. Although the author herself is Latina and Augie's mother is of Brazilian descent, we didn't think it would have had enough obvious cultural content to have been considered by the Americas Award Committee. (The Belpre Award does not include Brazilian in its definition of Latino, and Americas does.)
Whether or not the book would resonate on a cultural level with a Latino child is open to speculation. Next week I'll be working with a group of 7th graders where nearly half the kids are Latino and we'll be discussing "Wonder" so I can ask them. I'm curious myself.
Yeah, I don't think the average reader gets very much multicultural mileage out of WONDER. Or something like THE REAL BOY where the dark complexions of the characters are only evident from the illustrations. It's refreshing, but also kind of inorganic.ReplyDelete
I wonder if mainstream publishers tend to dilute multicultural content. ARISTOTLE AND DANTE is a wonderful Latino book, but I think it pales in comparison to SAMMY AND JULIANA in terms of its Latino-ness. For one thing, consider the liberal use of untranslated Spanish in the former which is relatively absent in the latter. I just feel like ARISTOTLE AND DANTE, while still wonderful as all get-out, is a more generic representation of Latino culture. I'm sure that's an unpopular sentiment, but that's how I feel. Am I wrong?
I know beggars can't be choosers, but what I would really like to see is more genre fiction--mystery, fantasy, science fiction, horror, romance--by and about African Americans. I have strong African American readers who just aren't going to read Christopher Paul Curtis or Rita Williams-Garcia or Jacqueline Woodson because they want to read Rick Riordan instead.
Aristotle and Dante felt very Latino to me -- the leisurely pace, the conversational intellectualizing, and the exploration of platonic and romantic love --but that may be because I've read much more Spanish and Latin American literature than English and American literature. I suppose it all depends on what readers bring to a book.ReplyDelete
Oh, ARISTOTLE AND DANTE felt very Latino to me, too, but I kind of felt like that book could have been written by a couple dozen writers in the field, whereas I felt there was cultural knowledge in SAMMY AND JULIANA that could have only been written by Ben Saenz. I don't know if that makes any sense. Maybe I should just shut up.ReplyDelete
I wrote an SLJ column about the issue Jonathan raises -- why should authors of color write about one subject as opposed to another -- why shouldn't they write about all and everything? While publishers do play a role in this, so does an expectation from gatekeepers that books by people from under-represented groups should be about those groups. To me that is very limiting.ReplyDelete