Where to Find Diverse Children's Books and Why Inclusion Is Important
The Importance of Having a Place Within the Pages
The United States is a melting pot of diversity, shaped by immigration since its very inception. However, despite this diversity, many cultures and communities remain underrepresented in American culture. This is especially true in children’s publishing and children’s books. According to the Diversity in Children’s Books 2018 infographic compiled by David Huyck and Sarah Park Dahlen with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, 50% of children’s books feature and focus on white characters. In comparison, only 5% of books feature Latinx characters, only 10% feature African American characters, only 1% feature Native American characters, and only 7% feature Asian characters.
This lack of diversity and representation in children’s books matters enormously. As children’s author Zetta Elliot writes, “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.” The push for greater diversity in children’s books is not about political correctness; it is about meeting the real needs of diverse children for books they can relate to, see themselves in, and feel inspired by.
Improving Diversity in Children’s Books
Improving diversity in children’s books can be tackled at a range of different levels. At the highest level, responsibility must be taken by the publishing houses and editorial boards, which act as “gatekeepers,” deciding what will be published and promoted to children, parents, and educators nationwide. According to Lee & Low Books, compilers of the Diversity Baseline Survey, the lack of diversity among employees in the publishing industry is a key contributor to the problem.
It may seem that there is little that those outside the industry can do to tackle this issue. However, because it is the interest and spending power of the public that drives publishing decisions, there is a lot that can be done by individual educators, librarians, parents, booksellers, and influencers to improve the diversity of books our children are exposed to. Most critically, we can choose to support, promote, and buy books featuring diverse characters created by diverse authors and illustrators.
Choosing Racially Diverse Books
In line with the growing awareness of and public outcry against systemic racism in the United States, resources are plentiful for parents and educators who want to support racial diversity in children’s reading choices. At the top of the list is the dedicated website and organization, We Need Diverse Books. Visitors to the website can find teaching resources, book lists, blog articles about diversity in children’s literature, and information about the many programs, awards, and advocacy initiatives managed by the organization.
Another fantastic resource is The Children’s Book Council (CBC) website, which offers diversity in YA literature reading list and a resource list for social inclusivity and information about the CBC Diversity Initiative, including resources and book awards. For those interested in deepening their understanding of diversity in children’s literature, scholarly publications such as International Research in Children’s Literature and The Lion and the Unicorn and dedicated review periodicals such as the Horn Book Magazine offer a wealth of in-depth discussion from industry experts.
As you set out to select books, it is worth keeping in mind that diversity means, by definition, variety. The more comprehensive the representation of races, cultures, and ethnicities in the characters and authors you choose, the more diverse your selection will be.
Choosing Gender- and Sexuality-Inclusive Books
Although resources supporting gender and sexuality diversity in children’s books are less readily available, the publication and dissemination of children’s and YA books featuring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ+) characters or by LGBTQ+ authors/illustrators continues to grow. In an article for the NCTE LGBTQ Advisory Committee, Stephen Adam Crawley offers links to resources for educators and definitions, themes, and reading suggestions. A webinar provided by Lee & Low Books is equally useful, titled LGBTQ+ Children’s Books.
Some fantastic recent publications include Jack (Not Jackie) by Erica Silverman, Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, and From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea by Kai Yun Ching and Kai Cheng. Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar, and Lie to Me by Kaitlin Ward are excellent recent publications for older readers.
Choosing Ability-Inclusive Books
As with LGBTQ+ representation, resources supporting ability-inclusive literature and representation of disabilities are less readily available, but they can and should be found. According to writers on the Open Book Blog, children’s books representing physically and/or intellectually diverse characters remain scarce. Of those that do exist, themes of pity and dehumanization and the over-representation of white male characters have limited the inclusiveness of the genre.
In an open-access article in Disability Studies Quarterly, Donna Sayers Adomat writes that “[b]ooks about disability … inevitably frame their students’ opinions regarding disability” and recommends choosing books that “[portray] characters with disabilities as independent, equal, and socially active.” If you are just starting your list, Think Inclusive offers a great list of titles for younger readers, including We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio and Hands and Hearts by Donna Jo Napoli. The Disability in Kid Lit site reviews more great choices, including titles for older readers, like Stoner & Spaz by Ron Koertge and Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick.
Here Are Some Lists of Diverse Children's Books
Black History Books to Read with Your Kids
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In this episode, I talk with Jeanne Walker Harvey, the author of the stunning picture book biography Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas.
A Girl of Color is a simple, hopeful, happy celebration of color, perfect for teaching young readers the importance of diversity and inclusion.
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Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas is a beautiful and thought-provoking biography for young readers and artists to enjoy. Highly Recommended!