Diversity in Children’s and YA books
Updated: Nov 16, 2021
May 20, 2021
As the media gets more progressive, controversies have begun to arise regarding where the line should be drawn for diversity. These debates have reached many subjects, but children’s and YA books have taken the spotlight in the conversation. Some argue against adding diversity to children’s books for multiple reasons that will be discussed. It is my belief that they are wrong. This editorial will urge you not only to support the diversification of mainstream children’s books, but also to buy from and support Black, Indigenous, and other authors of Color.
The conservative viewpoint argues against diversifying main characters because they don’t understand that, while individual people are inherently diverse regardless of race, there is also a unique set of experiences that comes with each race because of how our society views them. So, to argue that people are diverse without concern for race — and to focus on how people can be diverse while all being white — is to miss the greater point. You can have a diverse set of characters while having an all-white cast, but that diversity is limited because all those characters are limited to the white experience. Conservatives aren’t taking into account the difference in experience that comes with different races, particularly in America. Diversity can mean variety, and race is another facet of variety that is influential on multiple aspects of life. Therefore, when you introduce a more diverse experience into the main media by showing MCs of different races, you get a more diverse and well-rounded experience.
Another flawed argument commonly used is the assumption that we already have exceedingly diverse main characters in children's books. The use of this argument shows a lack of curiosity in the subject, as it is as easy as going on Google to realize that this is not the case. The Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) has delivered its 2019 study results on diversity in kids' and YA writing. The report identifies the quantities of kids’ and YA books about BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) from the previous year. The CCBC has announced that, in future reports, they will add Arabs/Arab Americans to their findings. For a fast breakdown, out of the 3,716 books they reviewed, here are the percentages of main characters of varying races:
Asian/Asian American: 8.7%,
First/Native Nations: 1%,
Pacific Islander: 0.05%.
So, obviously, there is not an even spread of representation.
Stacy Ladonna says it best. She has a goal: her aggressive objective was to feature both traditional and independent Black youngsters' creators and to open children up to various kinds of writing they probably won't experience in any other case. She says “it’s very important that [black children] see themselves in everything—literature, art, television, and STEM programs. It validates their experiences and liberates their imaginations.” She then continues with: “[...] providing diverse books isn't only an issue for Black children and other children of Color. All children need exposure to diverse life experiences through the windows of literature. Exposing children to diverse, inclusive children's and young adult literature fosters an understanding of people who have different life experiences," Ladonna said. "These are things scholars have said for years."
The second important step is to buy from and support Black, Indigenous, and other authors of Color. Supporting Black, Indigenous, and other authors of Color will not only encourage diversity in authors, but also in content. It's been shown that Black, Indigenous, and authors of Color are likely to write about their respective races. The same study done by The Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) also focuses on this. These are their findings when looking at books featuring characters that were written and/or illustrated by authors and/or illustrators of the same race;
First/Native Nations: 68.2%,
Asian/Asian American: 100%,
Pacific Islander: 80%.
Again, Ladonna said it best. "When I looked to find books with Black characters, I found a lot of them, but they were written by White authors. I asked myself where all the Black writers were. [...] There was nothing wrong with these books by White authors, but I wanted to read about our cultural experience."
By purchasing books from Black, Indigenous, and other authors of Color, you support the diversification of standard children’s and YA books. Race is a facet of diversifying mainstream children and YA books, and statistics have proven that not only is there not an even spread of different races in books, but that supporting other writers of Color can help make children and YA books more diverse.