When marginalized children don’t see themselves represented in books, they internalize the belief that their stories, perspectives, and experiences are less valuable. They learn they do not matter. Conversely, when white children, straight children, able-bodied children and boys only see themselves represented in books they learn that their stories, perspectives, and experiences are “normal.” They learn they matter more than others.
ALL kids need to see themselves and others in books.
Here are a few concrete steps you can take to promote diversity in children’s publishing:
1. BUY DIVERSE BOOKS…BY DIVERSE CREATORS.
Publishing is a business. Spending money on diverse books shows publishers there is a market for representation. If they can make money selling diverse books, they will make more diverse books.
Diverse books increased from 28% in 2016 to 31% in 2017, thanks in large part to the movement started by the #WeNeedDiverseBooks organization. However, the majority of books, including diverse books, are written by white authors.
Out of the approximately 3,700 children’s books the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) looked at, 340 were about African/African Americans, but only 122 (roughly 29%) were #OwnVoice titles by a Black author or illustrator. Similarly, only 39% of books about Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific Americans were created by Asian Pacific authors or illustrators, while 53% of books with Native content were written or illustrated by a Native person. In the Latinx #OwnVoices category, the statistics are actually getting worse. In 2016, 61% of books about Latinx characters were by Latinx creators, compared to just 24% in 2017.
Of the 3,700 books the CCBC received, only 134 (3.62%) had significant LGBTQ+ content. Of those, only 21 were written by an author who actually identifies as LGBTQ+.
– There Are More Diverse Books Than Ever – But Too Few Are Being Written by POC, According to A New Study, Bustle
Why are white creators chosen over #OwnVoices creators? It’s not because there is a lack of #OwnVoices stories or talent.
We don’t just need more diverse stories. We need diverse stories told by people in their #OwnVoices. If you’re going to buy books, support diverse creators. Good sales help diverse authors and illustrators build longer careers in publishing.
2. TALK TO YOUR LIBRARIAN (and/or YOUR LOCAL BOOKSELLER)
Don’t have extra cash to spend on books? Never fear, you don’t have to spend money to make an impact. Librarians and booksellers can play key roles in promoting diverse books.
If you can’t find specific diverse titles or authors on library or bookstore shelves, talk to the librarian or bookseller and make a request. They will get your book(s). If diverse books do well in the library market (yes, this is a thing!) or in stores (see #1!), this tells publishers that people want more.
Librarians and booksellers are also great resources for learning about diverse books and authors you may not know yet…so, go cozy up to them, they’re wonderful.
3. SHOW UP FOR LOCAL BOOKSTORE AND LIBRARY EVENTS THAT FEATURE DIVERSE CREATORS
These events don’t need to be specifically diversity-themed to feature diverse authors and/or illustrators. Maybe you love graphic novels and your local bookstore is hosting a panel that includes an author with a disability. Maybe your kid loves drawing, and the library is hosting an event with a local illustrator who happens to be Muslim. Buy a book, get it signed. Bring a friend. Fan-girl or fan-boy it up when you meet the author or illustrator.
These events help boost sales, generate dialogue, promote diverse creators, and support the diverse books movement.
4. LEAVE REVIEWS
If you liked a diverse book, take a few minutes and leave a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. A book’s number of positive reviews can influence visibility, sales, bestseller lists, and awards.
5. PROMOTE ON SOCIAL MEDIA
If you liked a diverse book, write about it on Facebook, take a picture and #bookstagram it, or Tweet about it. Share the love. Readers, parents, teachers, librarians, bookworms and book-lovers often find book suggestions online. Engage in dialogue about the importance of diverse books and help point others in a diverse direction.
Publishers are online too. They learn from what you say.
Sidenote: In this spirit, I’m starting a new Instagram account with diverse book recommendations. I will be posting my favorites from board books to YA. Follow me @joannahobradshaw.
6. SPEAK UP ABOUT SCHOOL CURRICULUM THAT IS NOT REPRESENTATIVE OR INCLUSIVE
No. The history of white, European men – or their white descendants – is not the only history that matters. No. Any canon of literature that only includes books written by white men is not “the classics.” Our kids and our future deserve and need better.
Talk to teachers, school leaders, and district officials about the curriculum taught at your local schools. Make suggestions. If they need training on equity, culturally-responsive teaching, race, or anything really…send them to me. I create teacher PD that will blow their minds…it’s THAT GOOD, I promise.
Be gracious…then throw down if you have to. As if we needed any more reasons to be like Jacqueline Woodson, my idol extraordinaire, behold…and be like her:
Here’s Jacqueline Woodson’s plan in case her first letter didn’t go well…which, thank goodness, it did (and yay for Mr. _____!).
7. SUPPORT ORGANIZATIONS AND VOICES DEDICATED TO DIVERSITY IN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE
Donate money or volunteer for We Need Diverse Books. Your money and/or time helps gets diverse books into classrooms and supports budding authors and illustrators. You can also support Children’s Book Council, Multicultural Children’s Book Day, and book awards that focus on diversity such as the Coretta Scott King Award, Pura Belpre Award, Lambda Literary Award, Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, or the Dolly Gray Award.
Follow blogs that are writing about diversity in kidlit including: Gay YA, Disability in KidLit, American Indians in Children’s Lit, The Brown Bookshelf, Latinx in Kid Lit, Trans Lit, Colorin Colorado, Teaching Tolerance, We’re the People Summer Reading List, Mirrors Windows and Doors, and Rich In Color.
8. ADD YOUR VOICE TO THE CONVERSATION
Dialogue is the beginning of change. Jump into a discussion on Twitter. Engage with a colleague in person. Make your own list of diverse book favorites and share it with friends. Form a book club that focuses on books written or illustrated by diverse authors. Write the publisher or create a blog post if something in a book with diverse characters feels off. Work with schools to bring in diverse authors to talk with students.
Together, our voices and efforts can help keep moving the needle forward.