Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased In Eighteen Years?

Since LEE & LOW BOOKS was founded in 1991 we have monitored the number of multicultural children’s books published each year through the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s statistics. Our hope has always been that with all of our efforts and dedication to publishing multicultural books for more than twenty years, we must have made a difference. Surprisingly, the needle has not moved. Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, children’s book publishing has not kept pace. We asked academics, authors, librarians, educators, and reviewers if they could put their fingers on the reason why the number of diverse books has not increased.

The Diversity Gap in Children's Books

The Diversity Gap in Children’s Books (click for larger image)

KT HorningKathleen T. Horning, Director of Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: I think we saw the numbers of multicultural books flatlining when school and public libraries began to get funding cuts, so that publishers came to rely more on bookstores for sales. At around that time, we also saw the rise of Amazon, Borders, and B&N. I’ve heard many times from publishers that the “buyers at B&N” believe multicultural books don’t sell. When they are not stocked in these bookstores, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.I’ve heard many times from publishers that the “buyers at B&N” believe multicultural books don’t sell. When they are not stocked in these bookstores, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Librarians and teachers will tell you that the demand is there, at least in the institutional market. I think the answer is to work to restore funding to school and public libraries so that we return to a position of prominence in the market.

Nikki GrimesNikki Grimes, Poet/Author: I’m not sure I know the full answer to that question, but I do think the changes in the industry have affected authors of color disproportionately. With the shift from backlist to frontlist, and from school and library markets to blockbuster-craving bookstore markets, fewer authors of color have been able to secure contracts. Wonderful poets like Janet Wong, for example, have shifted to self-publishing alternatives for precisely this reason. I, myself, am finding it exceedingly challenging to sell at the level I was even five years ago. There are still too few people of color represented in the decision-making positions in publishing, as well. But I think it’s more than that. I think authors of color who do not produce manuscripts that fit an expected demographic, who, for example, are writing books featuring characters who are middle class, instead of poor, or characters who live in two-parent households, instead of single-parent homes, are finding it difficult to place their manuscripts. That, of course, speaks to the perception that only people of color will want to purchase books by people of color, and so publishers want to play to the audience which they believe—wrongly or not—is the average, or the norm.

Rudine Sims BishopDr. Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita, The Ohio State University: I suspect that, at bottom, there is a concern among large publishers, in spite of the success of publishers like Lee & Low, that multicultural books will not sell as well as they would like. If my closest big chain bookstore is typical, it seems that even the books about people of color that are published are not marketed heavily or well. I have trouble finding children’s books about people of color on their shelves. If I want a specific book I have to order it. I find that my local independent bookstore is the best source, because it is owned by knowledgeable persons committed to selling high-quality literature, including books that reflect America’s diversity. And we know what’s happened to many independent bookstores nationwide.I, myself, am finding it exceedingly challenging to sell at the level I was even five years ago.

On the other side, there may be factors that give the impression that the market for such books is small. There may be a perception among some teachers and others whose job it is to connect children and books that “multicultural books” are only for or mainly for so-called minorities, rather than for all children. Therefore, they may not be in widespread use in classrooms, which could be one potential market. In perusing journal articles on children’s literature in the classroom, one finds few mentions of so-called multicultural books as part of literature or literacy lessons, unless that is the specific focus of the piece. And in my experience, parents and others who seek books about people of color for the children in their lives have a difficult time even knowing what’s available. So they don’t ask for such books at their chain stores and the stores think there is no demand for them.

Vicky SmithVicky Smith, Children’s and Teen Editor, Kirkus Reviews: I have heard and participated in discussion after discussion after discussion about the lack of representation of minority voices in children’s literature, so I’m not sure I have much new to offer. One thing, though, strikes me, and that’s how much the world of children’s literature is like a family. In so many ways, that’s a wonderful thing: By and large, we all seem to like each other, and I’m not sure you can say that about many other industries. But it also means that we don’t have to work very hard to look outside our family for our resources, and since we are a largely white clan, I suspect that these warm, firm relationships are part of the problem.There may be a perception among some teachers . . . that “multicultural books” are only for or mainly for so-called minorities, rather than for all children.

It’s an environment where connections mean everything. I have heard many aspiring authors and illustrators say it’s as hard to get an agent’s attention these days as an editor’s, and with that extra gatekeeper between creators and publication, people who are not within our network are operating at a terrible disadvantage. An agent friend of mine told me that she gives a piece of slush [an unsolicited manuscript] sixty seconds, no more. That’s an awfully high barrier for an unknown to leap. My guess is that people who know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody might get ninety or even one hundred twenty seconds, which might make all the difference.

With editors working faster and faster and under greater and greater pressure to put out the next Big Thing, the temptation to rely on a known quantity, even if of a degree or two of separation, rather than a complete unknown must be very difficult to resist. (I think this is probably especially true in YA, where the commodification of the book has reached dangerous levels—I think for some people it may be all about the movie deals and not about the books.)

Debbie ReeseDebbie Reese, Tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo; graduate student in Library/Information Science, San Jose State; formerly Assistant Professor in American Indian Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: I think that if we were to do a count of books by not-Native people that are marketed as being about American Indians (like Susan Cooper’s Ghost Hawk), or that feature Native people in some way (like Meyer’s Twilight or Mickaelsen’s Touching Spirit Bear and its sequel), we’d find quite a lot of books.

For my own area of knowledge . . . America/Americans love “Indians” of a certain kind. For some, it’s like a fetish. Because they adhere to the bogus images in books like those above, they find books about real Native people boring. If we don’t walk on water, they’re not interested in us. They don’t care to know what sovereignty is or means. They want vision quests and the like.

So books that you and I want to promote—those that accurately reflect Native peoples—especially of today, are at risk! I hate, hate, hate to even write those words, but I think they are true.It’s an environment where connections mean everything. . . . An agent friend of mine told me that she gives a piece of slush sixty seconds, no more. That’s an awfully high barrier for an unknown to leap.

As I write, I’m at the Association of Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums conference in New Mexico. As I flew to Santa Fe, the two white women in the seat in front of me were talking about missionaries and “squaws.” I was so irate. I wondered whether or not I ought to speak up. During the trip, the pilot said he was from Albuquerque and would be narrating our flight. Rather than confront the women, I wrote him a brief letter, telling him what I’d heard and how he could interrupt misinformation in the passengers he brings into NM by casually adding information about present-day American Indians to his narrative. I also told him what is wrong with the terms “squaw” and “papoose.”

Part of the point of telling you about this incident is that Santa Fe is a popular tourist town, and people flock there to see Indians, buy jewelry and art, etc. They carry such massive misinformation, much of it planted in their minds when they were kids by stereotypes in the books they read. Cooper, Meyer, Mikaelson . . . they uphold that misinformation. They keep that circle of misinformation intact, unbroken.

In a book chapter I wrote, I included something Simon Ortiz said about how people want Indian legends, but not the Indians of today who fight for our sovereignty, for our rights, for our intellectual property, for our rights of representation (UN declaration), and so on.

Betsy BirdBetsy Bird, School Library Journal blogger at A Fuse #8 Production: It would be nice if there were a single solitary answer that we could point our fingers at with a collective “J’ACCUSE!!” Unfortunately, I think what we’re dealing with here is a multi-pronged problem. The public outcry for more multicultural books has so far been more of a public whimper. My hope is that with the rise of the Common Core Standards Curriculum we’re going to see more and more people asking for materials starring and written by diverse people. Then there’s the creation standpoint. How many authors or illustrators are people of color? How many editors? How many folks in marketing and sales? Finally, we need to officially address how we feel about white authors and illustrators writing books about people of other races. Is it never okay? Sometimes okay? Always okay?
Like I said, it’s a many headed Hydra of difficulties. It can be overcome. There just needs to be a concentrated effort.

Sarah Park Dahlen, Ph.D.Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen, Assistant Professor, St Catherine University: I don’t have evidence for this, but I think that most publishers have not diversified their staff enough, have not trained their staff enough in cultural competency, and are still hesitant to take a chance on new authors. Although they know that diversity continues to be an issue, they maintain that all they’re looking for is a “good story,” but perhaps their criteria are still determined by what they already know and are comfortable with.

Next, marketing continues to be an issue. I recently attended a Booklist webinar where some big publishers promoted their new spring books. If a book cover had any people on it, they were white people, except one: Gabby Douglas’ biography. It appears that for a nonwhite person to make the cover of a book that will be promoted through a Booklist webinar, you have to be an exceptional character—an Olympic gold medalist. So if diverse books aren’t being strongly marketed, how will they be purchased? If they’re not purchased, then publishers can say, “diverse books don’t sell.”

Language in marketing also matters. I’ve received letters from editors promoting their Asian/Asian American books that contained problematic language. For example, one editor used the word “exotic” in his letter. While this word itself is relatively neutral, as an Asian American woman I found it distasteful because I know the history of white males exoticizing Asian women, goods, etc., and that’s immediately what comes to mind whenever I hear or read that word. Someone with more knowledge about Asian American issues would know this and probably not use that word in his or her promotional materials. I wonder how many other Asian Americans are turned off from books that are marketed using words such as “exotic” “foreign,” etc?The public outcry for more multicultural books has so far been more of a public whimper.

At the heart of the issue I think is the question of authorship. I hope that people would want to read more works about certain cultures or experiences that are written by people who are from that culture or who have experienced that particular experience. Although not uniformly, I’m wary of non-Asian Americans who have written Asian American stories because I’ve read so many patronizing, Othering texts. I worry that publishers look for established white authors whose books they know will sell, rather than take a chance on a new author whose engagement with a particular culture may be more nuanced, more real. But how will editors know that if they don’t know much about the culture? What if something doesn’t seem “real” to them, but it really is real to the culture? A friend of mine is trying to get her transracial adoption YA novel published, and one editor questioned “Why does the protagonist struggle so much with her race?” or something like that. If editors could trust authors a little more, or perhaps enlist the help of a consultant, then perhaps we could move beyond these kinds of questions.

Uma KrishnaswamiUma Krishnaswami, Author: It seems to me that as long as so-called “multicultural” books, even award-winning ones, are placed in a separate category and not judged and read and recommended as good books on their own merit, this will continue to be the case.

There’s another factor that may have something to do with this kind of categorization. The world of literary publishing (for grownups, that is to say) has been affected by social movements that made their way into theory (feminism, post colonialism). Such trends made it possible for writers (Alice Walker, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Chinua Achebe, and so many more) to be considered as writers first. We in children’s literature, however, have pretty much allowed those enriching, transformative “isms” to pass us by. We like to think we’re above and beyond that sort of theorizing. Story comes first for us, we writers like to insist, and yes, it should. At the same time, there’s a phenomenon in children’s books that the adult literary market doesn’t have to contend with. Many of those who buy books for children still cling sentimentally to the books they remember with nostalgia from their own childhoods. Some of those books—not all, but some—are terribly dated in terms of the social and political norms they represent. If we questioned the canon more, if we used the tools of theory to do so, maybe we’d be more open to new work from writers of color or about characters of color.

Jane GangiDr. Jane M. Gangi, Associate Professor, Division of Education, Mount Saint Mary College: One theory is that editors are quite often white, and quite often supported by husbands who make more money than they do. We tend to choose books that “mirror” us.

Jonda McNair of Clemson University has written that mainstream white publishers underestimate the amount of money people of color spend on books.

We grow up in the myth that whiteness is and should be the default; we don’t question it. Not even my students of color question it. One student from Puerto Rico asked me, “Why did I have to wait until college to realize there was something wrong with this picture?” She did not know Puerto Ricans wrote books until eighth grade.

Katie CunninghamDr. Katie Cunningham, Assistant Professor, Manhattanville College: There is no easy answer to the perpetuation of a plateau in the number of multicultural children’s books being published. As someone who approaches these topics with a critical literacy lens, I am brought back to questions of power, positioning, and perspective.When teachers have limited knowledge of multicultural literature they are unable to support families in multicultural selections.

Children’s literature is driven by what schools, families, and libraries purchase. Schools continue to purchase books that align with curriculum that is oftentimes created by outside agencies. In my thirteen years in teaching, I’ve seen the deterioration of teachers as curriculum creators with increasingly limited power to determine what they’re teaching and the resources they can draw from. When texts are predetermined, those in positions of power to purchase books for classrooms tend to stick to traditional children’s literature. The exemplars suggested by the Common Core State Standards Committee maintain this status quo. Many teachers also have limited knowledge of the field of children’s literature and have few opportunities to engage in professional development that could increase their knowledge of what is available and which texts could tap into the identities and interests of their students. Families often turn to educators for suggestions about what to purchase to support their children as readers at home. When teachers have limited knowledge of multicultural literature they are unable to support families in multicultural selections.

From my experiences as an urban and a suburban resident, libraries have the greatest number of multicultural texts. It is librarians who are the scholars of children’s literature and should be seen as tremendous resources within school and local communities. Librarians should continue to purchase the ALA winners each year beyond the Caldecott and Newbery-winning titles. They have great opportunities to educate communities about the power of mirror and window books for all children of all ages. It’s time for teachers, parents, and librarians to take stock of the books they are reading aloud and putting in children’s hands and critically question whether the books they read represent our increasingly diverse society.

***

The act of publishing multicultural books is a political statement. LEE & LOW BOOKS has chosen to address an existing problem in a concrete way—and nothing is more concrete than books. If readers feel the same, they must also address the problem in a concrete way: by buying them. True activism that entails supporting diverse books in both words AND buying power is crucial. If this does not occur, our diversity mission, although well intentioned, will remain a niche market when it should be a mainstream one.

The main problem is that the many efforts for equality are separate. Women petition for women’s rights. African Americans care about the well being of other African Americans. Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans work to gain equality and acceptance for those of similar backgrounds. But do Latino/Hispanic people worry about the affairs of Asians? Are Asians concerned about the plight of Native Americans? The lack of unity keeps progress from gaining any significant momentum. A shift toward “human rights” is long overdue.

***

This is not an isolated incident, but a wide reaching societal problem.
Read more Diversity Gap studies on:

The Tony Awards
The Emmy Awards
The Academy Awards
The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List
US politics

28 Comments

  1. Mike
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    Hi. I saw this article and bought a copy of ‘Tankborn’ for my niece.

    Thank you for your efforts! I wish there was a publisher like you when I was kid.

  2. Charisse Howard
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Talk to Bonnie Verburg at Blue Sky Press (Scholastic), who published the late Virginia Hamilton & Leo Dillon among others & fights this battle daily — & check out her inspired list!

  3. Posted June 18, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    So true, and so upsetting. The kids I teach here at Bank Street are also outraged…

    http://bankstreetcollegeccl.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/part-i-are-all-covers-created-equal-bank-street-6th-graders-weigh-in-on-race/

    “I think that marketing even more books with people that are caucasian is not sending the right message to kids.” -6th grader

    “It was sickening to see all the stereotypes, the assumptions.” -6th grader, upon walking out of B&N

    “Teen books should have a bigger variety of covers. Most of them have the same flowy dress with a skinny girl, usually white.” -6th grader

  4. Posted June 18, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    In 2007 I wrote a story called “I am Flippish!” for my children to explain to them about being biracial (Filipino+Irish=Flippish). I shared my story to other mixed raced families and they encouraged me to get my story published because it will help lots of parents of multiracial families to explain to their kids why they look like they do. I sent my manuscripts to agents & publishers who somewhat claim to publish multicultural books. In those days there were barely any children’s picture books that talk about being multicultural. The same amount of rejection letters returned. I figured they weren’t ready for a children’s picture book that talks about mixed heritage.
    I took it upon myself after several revelations and decided to self publish my book. In spite of a slow start, my book has been embraced by families, schools, and libraries. I have been invited to speak at several schools around Southern California. It is unfortunate that I don’t have the backing of a large publisher because I have had teachers and principals comment on how other students all over the US can benefit from my book if it was available through Scholastics.
    Agent or no agent, I will still spread the word about my book so that multicultural and non multicultural families can use it as a resource to instill pride of heritage in their children.
    I commend Lee & Low for addressing this problem and hopefully there will be more multicultural books out there.
    If Lee & Low is interested, they can check out my issue with the Nielsen Company in making my biracial child choose 1 ethnicity after the interview. http://leslievryan.com/?p=691 There are lots of families out there who are faced with the same issue. Maybe the publishing world and Nielsen can both wake up and smell 2013.

  5. Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on SCBWI Caribbean South.

  6. Claudia Pearson
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    I think one of the problems is that people who are recommending books do not always perceive the universality of a story which features minority characters and, as mentioned by several of those in this article, see any text which has a person of color as a main character as a text specifically about and for readers from the same culture rather than a universally human story. For example, just as a story about a white child growing up in the city depends on detail to achieve a fully realized characterization, Keats’ SNOWY DAY depicts details from the African American culture, but few would argue that SNOWY DAY is a story which is unique to a young black child. Assuming that stories about minority characters are only accessible to readers of the same minority may be the biggest flaw in the publishing and marketing processes.

    There are other similarly universal stories which for some reason are not often recommended by book sellers and librarians to white readers. Hope Anita Smith’s THE WAY A DOOR CLOSES (separation and possible divorce), Jacquline Woodson’s COMING ON HOME SOON (work requiring a parent to leave a child with grandparents), Jerdine Nolan’s PITCHING IN FOR EUBIE (first child in a family has a chance to go to college but the family must raise additional money to make it possible) are all stories about families of color, but the problems these families face are universal, not unique to the culture of the characters.

    BLACKBIRD is a fairy tale, which should be as accessible to white readers as a fairy tale from Germany, France, Italy or England, but how often is it read instead of “Cinderella” when teachers are presenting lessons using fairy tales for retelling activities?

    I prefer to think that the failure to use and recommend these books to readers is the result of a lack of familiarity with them, but then I must ask why the book sellers and librarians are not familiar with these texts. Perhaps if all award winning books were shelved as “Award Winning” books and divided by reading level (picture books, midgrade texts and young adult reading) instead of shelving the Caldecotts and Newbery Award winners (which sadly reflect the same disparities as publishing in general) seperately from the CSK winners (which are often not even shelved in many big stores) book sellers and librarians would become more familiar with the wide range of these universal stories and realize that a story about a minority character is and should be as accessible to white readers as they assume books about white characters are to minority readers.

  7. Claudia Pearson
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Vicky wrote: “It’s an environment where connections mean everything. I have heard many aspiring authors and illustrators say it’s as hard to get an agent’s attention these days as an editor’s, and with that extra gatekeeper between creators and publication, people who are not within our network are operating at a terrible disadvantage. An agent friend of mine told me that she gives a piece of slush [an unsolicited manuscript] sixty seconds, no more. That’s an awfully high barrier for an unknown to leap. My guess is that people who know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody might get ninety or even one hundred twenty seconds, which might make all the difference.”

    This is very true, which is one of the reasons Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators exists. One of the best things ANY author or illustrator who is serious about being published by a mainstream publisher can do is join SCBWI and become an active volunteer. Active volunteers not only get the additional 60 seconds, but often have the opportunity to get to know editors, agents and published authors and illustrators on a personal level.

    Selection and preference patterns can perpetuate disparities in representation only if those who have access to the network are all of the same race. SCBWI is an international organization which embraces diversity and has a diverse membership on its Board of Directors. It has also recently offered the “On the Verge – New Voices Award” to encourage additional diversity in its membership. But the regional membership patterns do not always reflect the diversity they should no matter how hard we try to reach out to these communities.

    Anyone who is interested in learning more about SCBWI should check out the website http://www.SCBWI.org or they can contact me at pearsoncrz@earthlink.net

    Claudia Pearson
    co-Regional Advisor
    SCBWI – Southern Breeze

  8. Posted June 19, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the information, Claudia. Also for any authors who are reading this – Lee & Low does accept unsolicited submissions, which means you do not need to be represented by an agent to be considered for acquisition. We also started our New Voices Award in 2000, to try to increase our chances of discovering new authors of color. For more information about the New Voices Award go here: http://www.leeandlow.com/p/new_voices_award.mhtml

    Last year, we started a second author award called the New Visions Award, which is for authors of color who write scifi, fantasy, and/or mystery novels for young adults. For more information about the New Visions Award go here: http://www.leeandlow.com/p/new_visions_award.mhtml

  9. Claudia Pearson
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Lee & Low has been a leader in the field, and their list has many great books for ALL readers. Another excellent resource for finding books with universal themes that have characters who are not white is the theBrownBookshelf.com

  10. robtrujillo
    Posted June 20, 2013 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    I think it is great that Lee and Low does what they do and I think it’s great to continue this conversation.

    As an illustrator/writer/parent of color I agree with a lot of what has been said about the disparities and some of the reasons. I think what Lee and Low has which is of great power is strength in numbers. That strength can be translated into some powerful action.

    Take for instance “Indie Bound”, they are a network/family/group (whatever you want to call it) and they have a symbol and a site to support that group all across the US. I say we make an up to date/accurate list of Independent publishers and small bookstores who serve as beacons in the realm of multicultural books.

    In the Bay Area where I live “Marcus Books” in Oakland/San Francisco is the only bk store to carry a WIDE variety of picture books featuring African American children.

    There is also “Walden Pond” books in Oakland and the recently opened “Luna Press” in San francisco.

    Blood Orange press is a new creator owned publishing company too.

    If we can create a large database, we have a place to point readers and buyers to. And we can encourage publishers and stores to wear a symbol on their store front saying I support multicultural books loud and proud. I agree alot with one of the writers said about building a movement. Power cedes nothing without a demand right? We can start by asking for 10%, then asking for at least 40%.

    What do you think Jason?
    -Robert Trujillo @RobertTres

  11. Posted June 20, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    What I have observed from the books I see published every year is that independent publishers (both U.S. and non-U.S.) seem to show the strongest commitment to multiculturalism and presenting a diversity of voices in their lists. I’m particularly impressed in how much I see from Canadian publishers. Perhaps it’s because indies have more freedom to publish what might be perceived as risky or marginal in the bottom line-driven corporate environment of larger publishers.

  12. Posted June 20, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    I do like your idea, Robert. It is exactly the kind of activist thinking that I too have been thinking about as well. If anyone else has bookstores, orgs, or publishers who support multicultural books by producing them, selling them, and/or recommending them, list them here in the comments section. We will scoop them up and see if we can start a movement. Who knows where it will lead…

  13. Kaethe
    Posted June 20, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I don’t disagree with what anyone else has said, but I think there is a simpler way of looking at it: US society has always been racist (and sexist, and disablist, and heteronormative, and classist, and cetera) and anyone who isn’t actively working to increase diversity in all of its forms in their hiring, publishing, marketing, buying, reading and reviewing and recommending, will fall back into the old, safe, middle-class WASP mode represented by Dick and Jane. It’s not a problem that anyone else can fix. It’s something we all have to work on all the time.

  14. robtrujillo
    Posted June 20, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Ok,off the top of my head:

    Magazines:
    Mosaic Literary Magazine
    Colorlines
    Hyphen Magazine

    Stores:
    Marcus Books-Oakland/SF
    Walden Pond-Oakland
    Moes Books-Berkeley
    Ashay By The Bay-Vallejo
    La Casa Azul-NYC
    Luna Press-SF
    Mi Vida Shop/Boutique-LA
    Elisa Sol Garcia/Imix Books-LA

    Publishers (Independent):
    Reflection Press
    Shen’s Books
    Blood Orange Press
    Worlds to discover
    Inside The Books

    Sites:
    AALBC
    Latino Comics Expo
    In Culture Parent Magazine
    Black Comix
    Paper Tigers .org
    Aztlan Reads
    Angry Asian Man
    Nathalie Mvondo-Multiculturalism Rocks
    Ari-Reading in Color

    If you need help contacting one of these, let me know…
    -Rob info@robdontstop.com

  15. Brigitte
    Posted June 20, 2013 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    I am a librarian in a very multi-cultural community in New Jersey. My supervisor has been here about 9 years and she says that the books with people of color simply don’t circulate much. We are putting them out there, but our young black, Hispanic, Asian, etc. etc. patrons read the books with the white people on the covers and pass by most of the “multi-cultural” titles.

  16. Posted June 21, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    That is interesting feedback, Brigitte. The most appropriate response here is for a librarian to respond who is in a similar multicultural community like Brigitte’s, who has 9 years of historical data to look back on that shows students taking out the diverse books with excitement and compare notes. Anyone?

  17. towhomitmay
    Posted June 21, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Sorry that I am posting this anonymously — but since I’m going to “call someone out” I’d rather not reveal my true identity.

    I agree with many that this is a many-prong issue and I simply want show one evidence of one prong from a recent presentation by a young, white, female editor who publicly claimed with exaggerated distaste on her face against a book that’s set during a fairly significant era in the African American history. She was using it as a way to emphasize how GREAT the book truly is, that it made even her, the reader who couldn’t care less about historical fiction or the real life conflicts presented in the book, enjoy reading it. I could not, after her presentation, pay any more attention to what else she had to say – especially when she could not even pronounce Ku Klux Klan with vocal fluency. So, yes, we definitely need well rounded editors who don’t have to be of minority background but who will be able to see the literary and social merits of presenting diverse characters, backgrounds, historical or contemporary conflicts, etc. for our young readers.

  18. Claudia Pearson
    Posted June 21, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Brigitte,

    I’d be interested to know if the books with minority characters are shelved separately and presented to patrons as reading specifically for and about minority characters, or are shelved with all the other books.

    It would also be important to know whether your minority patrons are being referred to or selecting books which are shelved in a special section which is often represented as “best” such as special Caldecott and Newbery book shelves.

  19. Claudia Pearson
    Posted June 21, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    My concern with shelving books by/about minority characters in an area separate from other books is that it can subtly suggest to readers not only that books about white characters are readily accessible to all readers without regard to race or ethnicity or orientation, but that books about “other” characters are there for “others” to read, and that whites read them not because they can relate to the events on a personal level but for the purpose of studying (getting to know and understand) “others” as though they were anthropological subjects.

    A good book will have a universal theme that all readers should find accessible. Suggesting that books by/about minority characters have only limited thematic content important to a smaller segment of the population undermines the idea that they are intended for a “multicultural” audience, and suggests that the only books which can really have a multicultural audience are books about whites.

  20. Posted June 21, 2013 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    A lot of thoughtful articles being written out there in response to this article. I thought this one was particularly good: http://tanitasdavis.com/wp/?p=4503

  21. Tanya
    Posted June 26, 2013 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    A sad business, but at least it’s finally being discussed. I’ve been scouring bookshops and the internet for years trying to get hold of some.

    Some of our family’s recent favorites:

    The Black Cat Detectives, Wendy Maddour (around age 8)

    Nina and the Travelling Spice Shed, Madhvi Ramani (around age 7)

    Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman (13+ / teenagers)

    Show support and check them out!

  22. Neil Larkins
    Posted June 26, 2013 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    As I posted over on Nathan Bransford, as important as the racial diversity subject is, I’m asking why after “all these years” (and I mean since the early 1960s) do we not have more books/stories about children born handicapped? From 1964 until 1997 I was married to an amazing woman who had been born with cerebral palsey. Trying to integrate “her world” – which she called “being crippled” – with the “normal world” was a life-long task and few people there were who were interested in what she was like in her self, her personality, all the things that being handicapped had made her. It was all these things that I loved and encouraged her to write about. But she had another problem that kept her from doing so: she was profoundly dyslexic; couldn’t put down on paper what it was to be her. So even though she is gone now I devote my life to writing what she was in characters and based-on-true-life stories. It is this dearth of stories about and of people like Teresa that I woiuld like to see some statistics on.

  23. Posted July 5, 2013 at 3:04 am | Permalink

    Does anyone here know of a good place for someone to shop a NA (New Adult) fantasy novel that happens to feature an African-American protag?

  24. kthorning
    Posted July 11, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    For some actual stats for 2013 so far, see the CCBC’s blog at http://ccblogc.blogspot.com/

    Still pretty dismal, I’m afraid.

  25. Posted August 2, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Sex and Relationships.

  26. Posted August 3, 2013 at 5:18 am | Permalink

    The number has increased, but with many books off the radar. Why? Because small publishers creating these works have been locked out of the “standard reviewing” bodies, the distribution networks, major mainstream media and school district purchasing processes. But with the release of Good Night Captain Mama/ Buenas Noches Capitán Mamá (ISBN: 9780983476030) last month, we’re bucking that trend! This 1st bilingual children’s book about why mommies service in military uniforms debuted directly onto 3 Amazon.com bestseller lists, is carried by Ingram and distributed by Baker & Taylor and many others. That despite that NONE of the “standard reviewing bodies” chose to review it. Their loss, not ours. I think this issue is being discussed in an odd way, because a “Latino children’s book” is expected to be about what exactly? A girl making tamales? A grandmother making chocolate in the kitchen? Day of the Dead? What I want to see is books about Latinas doing mainstream American things (like flying military airplanes as Captain Mama does in this new book) so that we can SHATTER stereotypes instead of reinforce them. That’s another form of creating multicultural literature w/o being so ethnic and frightening to white buyers. :-)

    Here’s what librarians had to say in School Library Journal about the perceived lack of books – http://www.slj.com/2013/01/books-media/collection-development/librarians-sound-off-not-a-lack-of-latino-lit-for-kids-but-a-lack-of-awareness/

  27. saralissapaulson
    Posted April 22, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Edith Kleberg Library and commented:
    What do you think?

  28. Denise Mistich
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Our team of children’s authors is definitely multi-cultural. It never occurred to me that might hold us back until we did a theme on MLK’s birthday and actually lost Facebook fans. Who cares. We will continue on course with books like A Voice from the River by Edward Appiah Boakye in Ghana.


74 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] While I personally have no knowledge of the theater outside of being an appreciative audience member, when I read Christine’s answers to our questions, I was not surprised. Christine’s experiences in the theater world mirrors our own efforts to bring our books to a wider audience. […]

  2. […] Must read article on publisher LEE & LOW’s blog: Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased In Eighteen Years? […]

  3. […] is the intro to the timely and highly informative piece, “Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased in Eighteen Years?”  Highly […]

  4. […] Lee and Low recently published an excellent article about the lack of multicultural books being published these days. In the article, authors, librarians, agents, and publishers discuss how the lack of […]

  5. […] read this post on the Lee & Low blog that asks “Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased In Eighteen Years?” with great interest. I’ve been writing about the need for children’s literature that reflects […]

  6. […] and Low’s blog is asking a good question: “Why hasn’t the number of multicultural books increased in eighteen years?” They have assembled a good variety of responses, and I have two more, one only […]

  7. […] Lee and Low books, an independent publisher focused on diversity, recently shared some discouraging statistics: in the past 18 years, the publication of children’s books by and/or about people of color has plateaued, remaining at about 10%, even though 37% of the U.S. population are people of color. They went on to ask professionals in the field–authors, librarians, educators, reviewers–why they think this is the case. Their answers are interesting: the decline of school and library budgets, the buying habits of big box bookstores, a failure of children’s literature to embrace social movements (feminism, multiculturalism) in the way the grown-up literature has, and the reluctance of publishers to take on new authors (particularly authors of color). The full article can be found here. […]

  8. […] via Lee & Low Books (yeah, it’s that bad) […]

  9. […] are complicated, or in other words, the issue is not (ahem) black and white. In their blogpost, “Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased In Eighteen Years?” Lee & Low surveys some of the leaders in the field about this diversity […]

  10. […] no doubt it will build on the recent on-line discussion following Lee & Low’s blog post “Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased In Eighteen Years?”  I wish I could be […]

  11. […] It’s a great, albeit troubling, read. Check it out here: Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased In Eighteen Years? […]

  12. […] of diversity in young adult covers and the negative message that sends. I’ve raged about recent studies that demonstrate how books are utterly failing to represent their readers  both in content and […]

  13. […] I’ve appreciated and been fascinated by so many of the voices in this conversation: Lee and Low’s report on our country’s discouraging track record over the last eighteen years of publishing […]

  14. […] I’ve appreciated so many of the voices that have contributed to this important conversation: Lee and Low’s report on our country’s discouraging track record over the last eighteen years of publishing […]

  15. […] Lee & Low’s most excellent post about the lack of diversity in children’s books, “Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased in 18 Years?” It is indeed a hot topic these days and a sensitive issue for those of us who […]

  16. […] The image is going viral and some great conversations are happening online.  This responsive essay from Lee and Low Books highlights the question “Why Hasn’t The Number of Multicultural […]

  17. […] content about people of color—a number that hasn’t shifted much over time. Lee & Low asked a number of librarians and editors why this is so and how we might change it. Definitely worth a read. (One of the featured […]

  18. […] CCBC study, which shows that the number of children’s books by and about people of color has not grown in eighteen years: “Children’s books are not keeping pace with the demographics of this country.” […]

  19. […] of the US population consists of people of color, children’s book publishing has not kept pace. LEE & LOW BOOKS asked academics, authors, librarians, educators, and reviewers if they could put their fingers on […]

  20. […] and Low Books, a independent publisher focused on diversity, maintains a blog and they wrote a fascinating article about the recently released statistics about the continued lack of racial and et…. Check it out here–they’ve pulled together comments from a great variety of […]

  21. […] publishing diverse books isn’t about meeting quotas, much as we use the stark numbers to show how little things have changed over the years. It’s not about hitting a certain number so much as acknowledging how badly we’re doing at […]

  22. […] on Read Roger, I  posted a link to a provocative post on Lee & Low’s blog that asked, “Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased in Eighteen Years?” Lee & Low, whose publisher Jason Low was interviewed in these pages in March (“Jack [and […]

  23. […] as well as any child-directed media really, is often overlooked. Just as the importance of proper representation within children’s literature has begun to become more widely discussed, so too, I feel, that […]

  24. […] Whitman, editorial director of Tu, multicultural publisher Lee & Low’s young adult fantasy and science fiction imprint, agrees. She adds, “In our growing […]

  25. […] race and inequality in the spotlight. Our previous Diversity Gap studies on the Tony Awards and the children’s book industry revealed a disturbing trend in ethnic and gender representation. We decided to focus on the […]

  26. […] The World of Colorblind Children’s Book […]

  27. […] to Lee & Low, a multicultural children’s publisher, 37% of the US population in 2012 was comprised of people […]

  28. […] However the work by Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Canadian Women in the Literary Arts, Lee and Low, and Diversity in YA, has inspired me to attempt to gather hard data about the state of the […]

  29. […] the board—not just in movies and TV, but in the Tony Awards, and—as we know—in children’s books. It’s why I started Tu Books, and it’s why Lee & Low is in business in the first […]

  30. […] + Where’s the Diversity? A Look at the Emmy Awards and TV: A great post about the lack of diversity at the Emmys. Lee & Low Books have also done a post on the Tony Awards and the children’s book industry. […]

  31. […] charts are instead divided to highlight the slice sizes for people of color.  Lee & Low books quotes a fascinating collection of responses to the question “Why hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased in Eighteen […]

  32. […] nearly twenty years, the percentage of children’s books by and/or about people of color has stubbornly hovered around 10%. Growing the number of books by and about people of color […]

  33. […] if not surprising in light of our past Diversity Gap studies of The Tony Awards, The Emmy Awards, the children’s book industry, and US politics, where we analyzed multi-year samplings and found a disturbingly consistent lack […]

  34. […] on race and inequality in the spotlight. Our other Diversity Gap studies on the Tony Awards, the children’s book industry, and US politics revealed a disturbing trend in ethnic and gender representation. We decided to […]

  35. […] list so hopefully Emery Jones and other superheros, who happen to be black, can help bridge the diversity gap in children’s […]

  36. […] *Our Silver Sponsor is Lee & Low Books* Jason Lee started off this conversation when he posted on how the children’s book industry published the same number of multicultural books despite […]

  37. […] to Lee & Low, a multicultural children’s publisher, 37% of the US population in 2012 was comprised of people […]

  38. […] in various industries, and we were excited to watch some of those infographics go viral. Our infographics were shared by places like Upworthy and the Huffington Post, and got a hugely positive response from […]

  39. […] Lee started off this conversation when he wrote on how the children’s book industry published the same number of multicultural books despite […]

  40. […] Last year, books written by authors of color made up less than seven percent of the total number of books published (see these CCBC stats). Authors of color have been significantly underrepresented in publishing for many decades. […]

  41. […] And yet, while there are Asian American children’s books being published such that I can almost claim that they are a new genre, they still don’t reflect the experiences of 3rd generation (or 4th or 5th) Asian American kids. That doesn’t surprise me. Despite changing ethnicity demographics, the children’s book publishing world has not kept pace according to Jason Lee of Lee and Low Publishing. […]

  42. […] Why hasn’t the number of multicultural books increased in 18 years? […]

  43. […] believe that it can be done well; in fact, writing cross-culturally is an essential component of boosting the numbers of books about diverse […]

  44. […] books, and one of the sponsors of today’s event. I found this wonderful post on their blog, http://blog.leeandlow.com/2013/06/17/why-hasnt-the-number-of-multicultural-books-increased-in-eighte…about why the number of multicultural books being published hasn’t increased in the last eighteen […]

  45. […] Lee started off this conversation when he wrote on how the children’s book industry published the same number of multicultural books despite […]

  46. […] Between 1994-2012, a collective 10% of children’s books have contained multicultural content. […]

  47. […] Lee & Low Books. (n.d.). Why hasn’t the number of multicultural books increased in eighteen years? Retrieved December 12, 2013, from http://blog.leeandlow.com/2013/06/17/why-hasnt-the-number-of-multicultural-books-increased-in-eighte… […]

  48. […] paucity of kids’ books by and about people of color has, in fact, remained relatively unchanged for decades, according to recent reports. This despite the fact that the U.S. has grown […]

  49. […] Ongoing Question, An Ongoing Discussion :: CBC DiversityWhy Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased in Eighteen Years? :: Lee and Low BooksAs Demographics Shift, Kids’ Books Stay Stubbornly White :: NPR’s […]

  50. […] could point out how important it is for diversity in YA and the scarcity of stories about the Muslim American narrative. While werewolves, zombies and […]

  51. […] not surprising in light of our past Diversity Gap studies of The Tony Awards, The Emmy Awards, the children’s book industry, The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List, and US politics, where we analyzed multi-year […]

  52. […] our previous diversity studies on the Academy Awards, the Emmy Awards, the children’s book field, The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List, and the Tony Awards, we interviewed people who actively […]

  53. […] to other Lee & Low Books’ infographics in the series: The Tony Awards,  The Emmy Awards, Children’s Book Publishing, The NY Times Top 10 Bestsellers List, and American Politics. Consider central idea, evidence, […]

  54. […] than done. Data collected by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center indicates that from 2008-2012 only 10% of children’s books published were about people of color despite the fact that 37% of the U.S. population are people of color. That means that 90% of all […]

  55. […] than done. Data collected by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center indicates that from 2008-2012 only 10% of children’s books published were about people of color despite the fact that 37% of the U.S. population are people of color. That means that 90% of all […]

  56. […] not surprising in light of our past Diversity Gap studies of The Tony Awards, The Emmy Awards, the children’s book industry, The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List, and US politics, where we analyzed multi-year […]

  57. […] Those excellent articles—which pointed out that in the long history of children’s literature we haven’t made much progress—caught the attention of best-selling author Jennifer Weiner, who started the #colormyshelf […]

  58. […] Low, “Why hasn’t the number of multicultural books increased in eighteen years?” Lee & Low Books, 17 June 2013. Seeking answers, Low talks to Kathleen T. Horning, Nikki […]

  59. […] Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased in Eighteen Years? – http://blog.leeandlow.com/2013/06/17/why-hasnt-the-number-of-multicultural-books-increased-in-eighte… […]

  60. […] is not new, but it’s one we can’t stop having. Not when people of color are vastly underrepresented in children’s books and among children’s book authors relative to their numbers in the […]

  61. […] bigger topics like our Diversity Gap studies we design individual marketing plans. The work has paid off as a number of the Diversity Gap […]

  62. […] books, you are denying your patrons access to titles that might help to fill the “diversity gap.” I’m not claiming that all self-published books are as good as those that are […]

  63. […] My main character, Xander, is half Japanese (of course, like me) and I have this whole big world and plan imagined for him. I was a little bit afraid that nobody would buy it– I’d heard through the grapevine that publishers say that Asian characters (especially boy ones) simply don’t sell well. (Some of you might be following the #weneeddiversebooks movement, which asks publishers to provide more multicultural children’s books. Here’s an infographic showing how the number of children’s books with by/and/or/about people of color hasn’t changed over the …). […]

  64. […] of diversity are agents seeing? Being that the number of diverse books has not increased in the last eighteen years, in order to understand why this problem persists we decided to ask the […]

  65. […] lack of diversity in young adult and children’s fiction is astounding.  Did you know that only 10% of children’s books published feature racial and ethnic minorities?  And even when racially diverse characters are featured, they are seldom the main characters in […]

  66. […] if not surprising in light of our past Diversity Gap studies of the Tony Awards, the Emmy Awards, the children’s book industry, The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List, US politics, and the Academy Awards, where we analyzed […]

  67. […] not surprising in light of our past Diversity Gap studies of the Tony Awards, the Emmy Awards, the children’s book industry, The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List, US politics, and the Academy Awards, where we […]

  68. […] offers the solution to the whitewashed literary sphere that publishing houses have engendered. Others argue that publishers simply need to get past the perception that multicultural books won’t sell or […]

  69. […] [1] Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emeritus of Education at The Ohio State University and a leading scholar in multicultural children’s literature, made this statement in response to the lack of  literature representing children of color. Bishop, R. S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3).  For further reading: Official site of #WeNeedDiverseBooks (a grassroots campaign to increase publication of multicultural books), Christopher Myers’s New York Times opinion piece “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature,” and an info graphic on the number of multicultural books in the past 18 years. […]

  70. […] numbers don’t lie: in June 2013, indie publisher Lee & Low Books released this disturbing graphic, showing “37% of the U.S. population are people of color” and yet “10% of children’s books […]

  71. […] numbers don’t lie: in June 2013, indie publisher Lee & Low Books released this disturbing graphic, showing “37% of the U.S. population are people of color” and yet “10% of children’s books […]

  72. […] of the total children’s books published. Multicultural publisher Lee & Low Books put together a graphic illustrating that 37% of the U.S. population are people of color, and only 10% of children’s […]

  73. […] books it receives since the mid–1980s. In 2013, multicultural children’s book publisher Lee & Low examined the CCBC data and concluded that over the past 18 years, the percentage of children’s books by and/or about […]

  74. […] of diversity in young adult covers and the negative message that sends. I’ve raged about recent studies that demonstrate how books are utterly failing to represent their readers  both in content and […]

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