What are you reading? I usually prefer my fiction books to be about the familiar–usually finding books where the protagonist is a thirty-something white female. It’s not that I don’t like reading fiction stories featuring other protagonists, it’s that these books are easy to find.
According to the 2015 study by Cooperative Children’s Book Center, there is not enough diversity in children’s picture books. In 2015, almost 75% of the books published featured a white character, while 12.5% featured characters that were animals or trucks. More books with animal characters were published than ones featuring African Americans. More books with animal characters were published than ones featuring Asian Pacific Americans. More books with animal characters were published than ones featuring Latinos. More books with animal characters were published than ones featuring American Indians.
Why is diversity in books so important? People want to read about the familiar. It’s easy for a white child to find a book featuring a main character that looks like them, but not as easy for other children. Children who see themselves reflected back in literature will make more connections with reading and will generally foster a more positive experience with reading.[i] Diverse books are more than just books featuring a character of a different race than the reader. Diversity in books also includes featuring characters of a different religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability, cultural background, or socio-economic status.
While researching the lack of diversity in children’s books, I came across the Reading Without Walls Challenge (http://read.macmillan.com/mcpg/reading-without-walls/#challenge). This challenge helps promote diversity in what we read.
1: Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you
2: Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about
3: Read a book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun (it could be a chapter book, picture book, graphic novel, a book in verse, an e-book)
If you are interested in ways to promote inclusion of diverse characters in books, check out We Need Diverse Books (http://weneeddiversebooks.org), whose mission is to advocate for changes in the publishing industry to produce books that reflect ALL people.
Recently, 11-year old Marley Dias, made it her mission to promote diversity in books. Marley was frustrated that she could only find books about white boys and dogs. Her goal was to collect 1000 books about black girls. Marley launched #1000BlackGirlBooks—a large book drive to collect those books. She met and exceed her goal, and was able to donate these books to a local school.[ii]
What new and exciting things will you read?