5. Diversity in Children’s Literature

Recognizing the importance of diversity in children’s literature, Rx for Reading is committed to providing a books for children and teens that represent a wide range of identities. Explaining her choices as a writer of children’s literature, Zetta Elliott, a black author, comments, “I write predominantly about Black children because I grew up believing I was invisible in the real world, and it hurt just as much to discover that I was also invisible in the realm of the imaginary. . . . Ultimately, I try to tell stories that give voice to the diverse realities of children. . . . I write books my parents never had the chance to read to me. I write the books I wish I had had as a child” (“Why I Write”). Other writers of children’s literature echo these sentiments about diversity in children’s literature. Walter Dean Myers observes, for example, that although he loved literature as a child, the absence of black characters in a white-dominated world diminished his desire to read–it was only when, as a teenager, he read a Baldwin story humanizing black people that his hope in literature was rekindled (“Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?”). Diverse representations in children’s literature are important not only because children are empowered by seeing themselves in books, but also because children’s worldviews are expanded by seeing people who are different from themselves represented in books. As children’s book author Christopher Myers explains, “I want the kids who read my books to have a framework with which to understand the people they might meet, or even the people that they are becoming. I want the children who see my books to see an encounter with the other as an opportunity, not a threat” (“Young Dreamers”). In short, every reader benefits from diverse children’s literature.

Unfortunately, although children in the United States represent a diverse population–in terms of gender, race, class, (dis)ability, and cultural and religious customs–the body of children’s literature published each year is overwhelmingly homogenous, as are the participants in the children’s book industry. Further, diversity in children’s literature has stagnated as the population continues to diversify (Low). For example, although nearly 25% of US students are Latino or Latina, only 3% of children’s books on the market are written by or represent Latino people (Blair). This trend holds for all non-white races and ethnicities: a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that fewer than 8% of children’s trade books received by the university in 2012 were about people of color (Dodson). A disproportionate number of children’s book authors are white, as are a disproportionate number of staff members in the publishing industry, who make decisions about which books will be adopted by publishing houses (Low). Children’s literature also suffers from a gender imbalance. A study of nearly 6,000 children’s books from the twentieth century found that male characters, including male people and especially male animals, outnumbered female human and animal characters, and that gender roles were often stereotyped in the books (Flood). Few children’s books include disabled people, and when they are represented, disability often functions as something to be “healed” by good behavior (Day). Representations of people with different religious and cultural customs are also lacking (Robert; Safah).

To help correct these imbalances, commentators encourage public libraries and schools to purchase diverse children’s literature, publishing companies to solicit and accept books representing a wider range of identities, and children’s book authors to take more risks and to be thoughtful about whom they represent in their stories. Parents and educators can also seek out the many wonderful diverse children’s books already on the market to share with the children in their lives. The following sites recommend some such books, as well as resources for finding more diverse books:

We Need Diverse Books

Barnes and Noble’s “10 Children’s Books That Celebrate Diversity”

Goodreads, “Diversity Book Lists”

Children’s Book Council, Diverse Kids’ and YA Lit

Multicultural Books for Children: 60+ Book Lists

Scholastic’s “7 Books That Teach Kids about Diversity”

The Guardian, “The Fifty Best Culturally Diverse Children’s Books”

 

Bibliography and Recommended Reading

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