Unless it is about the latest blockbuster film, weighty information about literature for teens and children doesn't always make its way into popular media. But CNN, Entertainment Weekly, and several other mainstream publications have been running articles about the lack of racial diversity in books for young people. Thanks to stellar statistics kept by our own Cooperative Children's Book Center, folks are standing up and taking notice of the fact that children's books are looking...well, they are looking as white as ever. For instance, out of 3,200 books published last year, only 61 had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content. Depressingly little change since Nancy Larrick's groundbreaking 1965 article in the Saturday Review, "The All-White World of Children's Books."
A couple of weeks ago, a school librarian colleague and I took a road trip to UW LaCrosse's Murphy Library to hear author Mitali Perkins talking about diversity in books for young people. It was terrific to hear her, she had many astute things to say about her own life and writing, and the issues facing teachers, librarians, students and publishers. She is smart, engaging and very accessible. Here are 10 Tips for Writers and Readers that she discussed at the talk.
Another relevant story I want to pass on to you, fabulous librarians is:
There are many ways that kids will find windows (into the wide, wide world) and mirrors (reflections of themselves) in books. Mitali Perkins described a letter she got from a girl in rural Iowa who really identified with the main character in her novel Rickshaw Girl, about a girl seeking a micro-credit loan in Bangladesh. This farm kid recognized her step mother's controlling nature in a character that the protagonist has to deal with. Now this girl has the benefit of expanding her own worldview, while also seeing her own experience validated in print. Perkins advocated for librarians and teachers to recommend stories to kids by emphasizing the mirrors they will find, no matter the setting or race of the protagonist.
One of the ways to improve the variety on the horizon is to increase demand. And perhaps one way librarians can do this is by recommending existing titles for a broad range of reasons.