This post is adapted from "Publishing in 2017: A Few Observations," an essay that will appear in the forthcoming CCBC Choices 2018 publication.
Diversity and representation are on the minds of many in publishing for youth. One of the things that stood out for us in 2017 books, especially picture books, was the presence of the brown-skinned child. Although we noted this last year, in 2017 it was even more pronounced. We are referring not to books that are specifically and authentically African American, or Asian/Pacific, or American Indian/First Nations, or Latinx, but rather books in which a character has brown skin and is of unspecified race or ethnicity, with no visible cultural markers in either the story or the art.
Is this a good thing? A bad thing? It's hard to make a broad statement either way. What we will say is that visibility is critical, and so, too, is authenticity. The question of whether books with ethnically ambiguous, brown-skinned characters offer children what scholar Rudine Sims Bishop refers to as windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors is one we would love to see studied. In the meantime, when we're feeling optimistic, we hope that these brown-skinned characters are publishing's short-term response to the need for greater diversity in the books they publish, one that will eventually be replaced by more culturally specific and authentic works by an ever-growing number of diverse authors and illustrators.
CCBC 2017 Statistics on Multicultural Literature
We continue to document the number of books by and about people of color and from First/Native Nations that we receive each year. To do so, we examine every book that we receive at the library, doing additional research when needed to try to determine whether a book, and/or its creator, should be counted in our annual statistics.
Of the approximately 3,700 books we received at the CCBC in 2017, most from U.S. publishers, here's the breakdown:
- 340 had significant African or African American content/characters.
- 100 of these were by Black authors and/or illustrators. (29.41% #OwnVoices)
- 72 had significant American Indian/First Nations content/characters.
- 38 of these were by American Indian/First Nations authors and/or illustrators. (52.78% #OwnVoices)
- 310 had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content/characters.
- 122 of these were by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage. (39.35% #OwnVoices)
- 216 had significant Latinx content/characters.
- 73 of these were by Latinx authors and/or illustrators. (33.8% #OwnVoices)
(The numbers will change slightly as we continue to receive a stray title or two. Check our website for up-to-date statistics, including the numbers for books from U.S. publishers only, and more on what and how we count.)
As always, these numbers are solely a reflection of how many books we received and have nothing to do with quality or authenticity of representation, which varies widely. It should also be noted that the number of book creators in each category does not represent that many individuals, as many authors and illustrators were involved in the creation of two or more books.
In addition, many book creators of color are writing and/or illustrating books without cultural content that reflects their own backgrounds. Among the 3,700 books we received in 2017, we counted 22 books by Black authors and illustrators; 0 books by American Indian/First Nations authors; 152 books by authors and illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage; and 43 books by Latinx authors and illustrators that did not reflect the cultural origins of their creators.
The unspecified brown-skinned characters we noted across many picture books are not included in the numbers of books "about," although we have tracked these books separately. All book creators we were able to identify are included in the number of books "by."
In 2016 we began what we are calling a "deep dive" into picture books, and we continued that work with the 2017 publishing year (excluding books that are classified as nonfiction). The deep dive analysis also looks at other dimensions of representation, including gender, religion, (dis)ability, and LGBTQ. The results have made for some stunning--and unsettling--comparisons.
For example, an early-November analysis of the 698 picture books we'd received so far in 2017 from U.S. publishers revealed:
- A character in a picture book was 4 times more likely to be a dinosaur than an American Indian child.
- A character in a picture book was 2 times more likely to be a rabbit than an Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American child.
- A female character in a picture book was highly likely to be wearing pink and/or a bow, even if she is a hippopotamus, an ostrich, or a dinosaur.
- A child with a disability appeared in only 21 picture books, and only 2 of those were main characters. Most others appeared in background illustrations.
We will continue to evaluate the data for the 2017 publishing year in the coming weeks and will post additional information on this blog. At the same time, we are expanding our diversity analysis in 2018 to include a deep dive into all of the books we receive: picture books, fiction, and nonfiction.