As a speaker at the October 2016 Fall Philly event of The Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), I knew I wanted to raise the issue of the need for more diversity in children’s books. I went searching the internet for the excellent graphic by Tina Kügler from 2012, and discovered it has recently been updated by illustrator David Huyck. (The new graphic was created under a Creative Commons license; anyone may republish it.) I read the story behind the update at sarahpark.com, where there is also a follow-up piece with links to additional information and graphics. There is more diversity now than there was in 2012, but we still have a long way to go, especially since we are moving towards a time (2020?) when white children will make up only about half of U.S. children.
As this image illustrates so well, we need diversity in children’s books so that children can see themselves. You can observe the difference in the size of mirror each child (or animal/inanimate object) has, and the possibilities that those mirrors reflect. But the other half of the story, though not shown by the illustration, is this: We need diverse books so that children can see each other. That white child on the right needs to be able to envision the other children as astronauts, sports stars, scuba divers and animal lovers, too. And yes, even royalty. Inability or refusal to do this holds our society back as much as limiting children’s visions of themselves.
Although I’m focusing this discussion on David Huyck’s chart, of course diversity isn’t just related to racial and ethnic identity. As defined by the We Need Diverse Books organization, it can also refer to LGBTQIA identity, gender, people who are differently abled, and cultural or religious minorities. We could add economic or class diversity, or even something I heard about with great relief from my daughter’s head ofschool– academic diversity. Yet looking at only one kind of diversity still raises many questions.
This chart doesn’t reflect the numbers on how many children’s books are written or illustrated by people of the same ethnicity that they are writing about, or why that might matter. I’ll discuss the need for “Own Voices” in an upcoming post. This chart doesn’t suggest why the world of children’s book publishing is so unbalanced, although a peek at the diversity of professionals in the field may. The chart also doesn’t aproach a concept that I’ve begun to grapple with recently, thanks in part to a lecture series at the University of Pennsylvania Museum— the possibility that race is just a construct, with no genetic basis. The chart, of course, can’t address a question I’m often asked when the subject of diversity comes up: What can white writers (or white readers) do? I’ll share some thoughts about that in a later post, too. But, for now, what any of us can do is raise awareness by spreading the word about the continued need for more diversity in children’s books.