There is a serious problem with children’s literature these days. And it has to do with the ‘who’ more than the ‘what.’
This is a hot button topic. So much so, there is even a indiegogo campaign being funded to invade Times Square to build awareness.
The topic? Diversity in children’s books. Or rather, the lack of. According the Children’s Book Council (CBC Diversity) out of the 3600 books they received in 2012 only 7% were about children from non-Caucasian cultures. (3% African American, 2% Asian American, 1.5% Latino/as and 1% Native American) Considering that the general population is not 93% Caucasian, this leaves a huge number of children disenfranchised in their reading material. (US demographics July 2007 estimate: European 79.96%, African 12.85%, Asian 4.43%, Amerindian and Alaska native 0.97%, native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.18%, two or more races 1.61%. a separate listing for Hispanic is not included because the US Census Bureau considers Hispanic to mean persons of Spanish/Hispanic/Latino origin including those of Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican Republic, Spanish, and Central or South American origin living in the US who may be of any race or ethnic group (white, black, Asian, etc.); about 15.1% of the total US population is Hispanic)
As a member of the SCBWI, I see that the majority of people attending the conferences, whether they be local, regional or national tend to be female and white. Obviously, it is easiest to write or illustrate books about the culture you are a member of and are most familiar with. But if our aim is to enhance literacy, shouldn’t we endeavor to include as many children as possible? As illustrators, shouldn’t our portfolios portray the society around us beyond our own little circle of friends and family?
Take a good long look at your portfolio. If all the people you have there look like they could be family members you may need to expand your horizons.
But adding multiple ethnicities to your art is more than changing skin color. People come in all shapes and sizes. Even in a gray-scale photo you can tell if someone is African American, Asian American or European American. There are certain facial features that define Hispanic children and make them appear different than Native American ones. As an illustrator it is your job to sort out the differences and portray them in a way that is neither stereotypical or derogatory. Not to mention that each character needs to have its own individuality preserved as well.
While you’re at it, think about adding children with disabilities as well. They are represented with even less frequency.
We are the creators of children’s literature. How we step up to this challenge has far reaching consequences for future generations. As the world becomes smaller and populations all over the planet become less homogenous, we owe it to our readers to make sure they see themselves inside the covers of their books.
What are you waiting for – go start gathering reference!