The Diversity Gap in Children’s Book Publishing, 2018

In February, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) released its statistics on the number of children’s books by and about people of color published in 2017. In 2016, we witnessed a substantial increase in the number of diverse books being published. Diversity remains an ever-evolving topic in publishing when it comes to books as well as the diversity among the authors and illustrators creating them.

So what has changed since last year?

The Diversity Gap in Children's Books, 2018

The number is steadily increasing…

Starting in 2014, the number of diverse books being published increased substantially. And in 2016, the number jumped to 28%. This year shows that number is steadily increasing, hitting 31% – now the highest year on record since 1994. Like 2016, there were major award wins for authors of color in 2017, including a Newbery Medal for Erin Entrada Kelly, a Newbery Honor for Jason Reynolds, Renée Watson, Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James, and a Morris Award and Printz Honor for Angie Thomas.

But still…

Even as the number of diverse books increases substantially, the number of books written by people of color still has not kept pace. Not much has changed since last year when Black, Latinx, and Native authors combined wrote just 6% of new children’s books published. This year the number is only 7%.

 Like last year and many of the years before, the majority of books (diverse or not) are still written by white authors. We wrote about this phenomenon back in 2015, and the numbers haven’t changed much since then.

There still seems to be a particular resistance to allowing African American creators to tell their own stories. It could also be the lack of opportunities and/or access given to African American authors as KT Horning noted last year. According to detailed CCBC statistics, only 29% of books about African/African American people were by Black authors/illustrators. Also, only 34% of books about Latinx folks were written/illustrated by Latinx people whereas last year the percentage was 61%.

Other #ownvoices books by other cultural groups aren’t much better; 39% of books about Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific Americans were created by Asian Pacific creators; 53% of books with Native content/characters were written/illustrated by Native creators.

So What Happens Now?

It’s great that the number of diverse books continues to increase, but we’re still left with similar questions from last year:

  • Why are we still giving preference to white authors telling diverse stories rather than authors of color/Native authors?
  • Why are Black, Brown, and Native authors and illustrators still so underrepresented?
  • What efforts (if any) are publishers making to diversify the creators they work with?

We’re looking forward to the day creators of color will be able to tell their own stories and be given the same opportunities to write stories with animal characters or talking inanimate objects that white authors are given. As the CCBC begins to track books with LGBTQIA+ content, we hope to see more LGBTQ+ characters of color and more intersectionality in regards to characters of color with disabilities. But change will only happen when publishing recognizes that equity is crucial, that the world is rapidly changing, and that creators of color deserve the chance to have their voices heard too.

14 thoughts on “The Diversity Gap in Children’s Book Publishing, 2018”

  1. You need to check out the ‘Beato Goes To’ children’s book series. It has an Asian author, hearing impaired European illustrator, and characters that come from all over the world.

  2. This is interesting to read. As an aspiring writer of color, this is still so discouraging, and I hope that as I write my first book, that my characters and people will be inspired to write more books. But I hope that someday we all will see more people of color write and begin to tell our stories.

  3. KT Horning is quoted as saying there’s a “particular resistance” to allowing African American writers to tell their own stories, and later this article uses the phrasing “why are we still giving preference to white authors telling diverse stories.” I’m very curious to hear what evidence is being cited here that indicates publishers are seeing both own-voices authors and white authors but choosing the white authors. I’m a long-time children’s book editor, and while of course I can’t speak to the whole industry, in my experience and that of the other editors I know personally, there’s never been an instance of choosing a white author’s story about a person of color over a story actually written by a person of color, which is what the language above implies. In my experience the imbalance has been due to the fact that there are significantly fewer submissions by own-voices authors, though thankfully we have been seeing more and more manuscripts by people of color on submission recently. I really hope the numbers look better next year!

    1. Thanks for your comment! Firstly, we would like to clarify that KT Horning did not use the wording “particular resistance” as this was our wording. This has now been reflected in the blog post for clarification. However, given the numbers that the CCBC has collected in their statistics, it seems that white creators are still given preference in telling stories that feature Black protagonists while Black writers aren’t given that same opportunity. So, why is this? Well, there can be many different reasons including the reason you’ve mentioned above. Access and opportunity are a huge part of the conversation, and if there are significantly fewer submissions by creators of color, there could possibly be a systemic issue behind that. When scenarios like that happen it begs the following questions: what efforts are publishers making to diversify the creators they work with? Are they providing equal access and opportunities to POC creators as they do white creators? Also, are publishers putting Black creators in a box, only accepting stories about Black pain (oppression, civil rights, etc.) from Black authors, but giving other authors free reign?
      We hope the numbers look much better next year!

  4. I tried to comment yesterday; maybe it was lost in the shuffle. I will try again now. (If you locate yesterday’s submission, there’s no reason to put it up if this one goes up)

    These numbers are huge news for cheering, in some ways. 31% of all books by or about people of color and those from Native nations? CCBC has noted that 20% of children’s books are not about people at all. So the percentage of books by or about people of color and Native nations heritage/membership, about people, actually rises to about 38%. Plus, it does not seem like other non-dominant communities such as the disabled, LBTQIA+ or Jewish writers/subject matter is accounted for. I bet that will push the figure of books about non-dominant culture people to more than half of all books.

    I also noted yesterday that looking at outcome data, which is what this inforgraphic does, is quite misleading. As RDS points out above, what is relevant is if the rejection rate for Black, Latinx, and Native nations writers is higher than that of white writers. I don’t think there is any evidence of that. I wondered also whether Lee and Low might share its own data on that front.

    1. Yes, we have made tremendous progress in regards to multicultural content in children’s books, but in regards to the creators—not so much. As mentioned in the post and my comment above, there can be many reasons why this is, like access and opportunity. And if publishers are not receiving diverse submissions, what efforts are they making to diversify their submission pool? Are publishers providing equal access and opportunities to POC creators as they do white creators? For your reference, the CCBC has also started keeping track of books with LGBTQIA+ content here and we’re looking forward to the same for books with disability representation. In regards to our data, we do have blog posts that list the diversity of our creators and of our company. We also have our annual New Voices and New Visions Award which is given to writers of color and Native Nations. You can find the submission guidelines here (we’re open for submissions now)!

      1. Jalissa, thank you for the response, but that data is not what I’m asking. What I’m asking is, “At Lee and Low for the last 12 months, how many manuscripts were received from people of color, and how many have been chosen for publication? And how many manuscripts were received from white writers, and how many have been chosen for publication?”

        Who has a harder time at Lee and Low to get published published, white writers or people of color? And if any other editors like RDS, at other publishing houses, can weigh in anonymously on their own submissions, that would be great.

  5. I think the point is that we still have a long way to go. If publishers are not getting own-voices submissions, it’s also because of institutional or systemic factors that are at work that prevent access, the industry has been overwhelming white for some time — so, it’s not enough to say, well, we would take them if had them. Providing opportunities and grants and opportunities for POC and other diverse groups to access writing programs, publishing industry etc is needed because children need to see themselves and all of their experiences represented in books. It’s progress, but we still have more work to do.

  6. Anonymous May 11, it is not misleading, because the post author’s point is that–under the general subject of “we need diverse books”–white people writing about people of color provides only a semblance of diversity. The need is not being met. Publishers are not seeking out those stories.

  7. It seems like the message of this infographic and blog post is that there will never be equity in children’s publishing until and unless there is authorship on a de facto numerus clausus basis.That is, representation of authorship of children’s/YA books in more or less exact proportion to the population percentage of American whites, African-Americans, Latinx, Caribbean, East Asian, South Asian, Muslim North African, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, each letter of LBTQIA+, gender, etc. The upshot is that if a person is an author and a member of a racial, ethnic, religious, or other group that has been significantly overrepresented in the past in the number of manuscripts accepted for publication, watch out. It might be time to look for a new career.

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