We Need Diverse Books

That’s it, that’s my article. Well—maybe not. Here’s why we need diverse books—especially diverse children’s books. According to a survey of children’s books published in 2012, only 3% of...

That’s it, that’s my article.

Well—maybe not.

Here’s why we need diverse books—especially diverse children’s books.

According to a survey of children’s books published in 2012, only 3% of books were about African American kids, 1.5% were about Latin@ children, 2% were about Asian Pacific American kids, and less than 1% were about Indigenous children. Of the books surveyed, 93% were about white kids.

Even though non-white children make up the majority of American kids.

More recent data highlights this diversity gap. Lee and Low, the largest multicultural children’s book publisher in the United States, has been tracking the number of children’s books published each year since 1994. 2014 was the first year that the number of books by and about people of color jumped to 14% from 10% in 2013 (which is the highest that this percentage had jumped while Lee and Low has been tracking these numbers).

Even so, this increase is not a guarantee of a long-term change, and creators of color are still heavily underrepresented. In every category except Latin@ authors, more books with characters of color were written by white authors as compared to books written about characters of color by authors who were also of that same background. In 2014, more than half the books written about children/people of color were created by what Lee and Low call “cultural outsiders”. Those that are writing about a culture they are not from.

More white creators are speaking for people of color than people of color speaking for themselves.

Lee and Low also have asked a really important question that many of us who consume media grapple with daily: who is checking to make sure diverse books are culturally accurate and do not reinforce stereotypes?

Do these white writers—these cultural outsiders—have someone during the editing process to pinpoint moments in the book that are inaccurate and misrepresentative and need to be changed?

So—why do we need diverse books anyways?

Asides that reading only about white people is boring, children need to see themselves in media. As Rudine Bishop explains in his article titled “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Doors”, people of color see through windows, looking in at a world that isn’t like their own:

“When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.”

We don’t just need diverse books written by people of color; we need diverse books that are also written by diverse authors of diverse backgrounds—sexuality, gender, ability, age, and religious background—and we also need diverse books that are written by authors who intersect these various backgrounds.

We also need books with diverse characters written by authors of diverse backgrounds that both feature specific cultural contexts and diverse characters just having fun (while learning lessons about life) and enjoying themselves. What would it be like for Alexander to have had the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day in the context of liking to wear dresses and being not White? Or, any diverse character having gone to Where The Wild Things Are?

We need books that feature characters learning about their culture and history, books about the Muslim girl going to school and meeting new friends along the way, and books about Muslim kids living life in post 9/11 world.

White authors can write about people who are not from their own background and write books that don’t have any overt political message, so writers of color and other marginalized backgrounds should also be able to write the same diversity of stories—both serious and fun.

We need diverse books.

Shahar – Contributing Columnist

Hello! I’m Shahar, a Bangladeshi college student from Dallas. I’m a cisgender pansexual Muslim feminist with Sufi influence. I have feelings about everything from social justice and politics to fairy tales and fashion. Mostly I just watch ridiculous amounts of TV and tumblr about media issues and representation.
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Shahar

Hello! I’m Shahar, a Muslim feminist with Sufi influence. I have feelings about everything from social justice and politics to fairy tales and fashion. Mostly I just watch ridiculous amounts of TV and tumblr about media issues and representation.

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