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 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.
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.