Where Are Your Mirrors? Diversity in Children’s Books 2015 Infographic

It’s one thing to read stats, and it’s another thing to see them. Based on information compiled by the the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), David Huyck created the infographic below:


image by David Huyck

How sad is it to see actual kids with less representation than animals and inanimate objects? Publishing as a whole needs to provide diverse young readers with way more mirrors.

The good news is that David has made his infographic available for general use, so you can share this around your own blog/social media networks. Because the more we see and talk about problems like this, the harder it is to ignore.

Race and Responsibility in YA

Sarah Ockler has an excellent post up about the issue of race in YA. Like most other genres, the characters are predominantly white, and so are the authors. Sarah looks at the problems associated with this and what YA authors themselves can do to fix these problems. One part I especially liked:

Actively diversifying our fiction does not mean any of the following:

  • Giving a character almond-shaped eyes or coffee-mocha-latte-chocolate-hazelnut-caramel-cappuccino-colored skin. In fact, as a general rule, writers seeking inspiration solely from Starbucks menus probably need to dial down the caffeine.
  • Including a non-white character whose only real difference from the white characters is the color of his skin and/or his snappy catch phrases. Word!
  • Putting a sushi or taco bar in the school cafeteria. Which is one of those things that sounds like a good idea at the time, but usually isn’t.

Oh my lord, I remember so many almond-shaped eyes and caramel-colored skin from books I read as a preteen/teen, it was ridiculous. Obviously Sarah adds a good dose of humor here, but her points are still valid. You can’t just throw in stereotypical details and assume your non-white character is covered. Or include a non-white character just to fill in your racial gap. It reminds me of how sitcoms about white families always feature a kid with a non-white best friend, whose job it is to show up and be sassy/awkward/etc.

It's a small world, after all.

Sarah also takes on the excuse of “I’m not black/Asian/Mexican-American so I can’t write about those people.” She says:

“I don’t buy it. We’re writers. Storytellers. Weavers of tales great and small. It’s our job to make things up, to imagine, to explore different perspectives through the eyes of our characters. This isn’t to say we can plug-n-play a few multicultural characters into our work or rely on stereotypes or assumptions for crafting our fictional friends (see aforementioned anti-starbucks advice), but that’s writer 101 stuff. Cardboard, one-dimensional people have no place in a story, whether they’re white, black, brown, purple, or invisible. Authenticity is important, but thanks to the library, the internet, and, you know, other human beings, it’s possible to learn about something we’ve never personally experienced. Sometimes all it takes is a simple question: Hey, people who’ve been there, what’s your take on this? People want their voices heard. They want to share. They want to help.”

This is something we don’t see very often. It can feel like you’re overstepping boundaries to write about, say, a Muslim girl living in Chicago if you don’t have that background. There’s pressure to capture her cultural and religious background accurately, and it can be overwhelming for someone who hasn’t experienced that. But, as Sarah says, how is that different from creating any other character? If you’re only writing about characters who have had your exact experiences, you’re going to run out of stories pretty quickly.

At NESCBWI, I took a creating magical worlds workshop with Cinda Williams Chima. One thing she mentioned was that, in creating your magical world, think about what different races/religions/backgrounds might be represented. She encouraged us to look for opportunities to make our worlds diverse. Fantasy novels don’t get off easy, either!

There’s a lot more in Sarah’s post, so make sure to check it out. As she mentions, we’re the ones who can bring so many other voices to YA.

(image: NASA)(H/T bookshelves of doom)

Fostering Diversity in YA

At That Hapa Chick, Julia has a great post about why diversity is important in YA. She talks about discovering Lisa Yee’s books, many of which feature Asian characters:

“Everything about those books hit so close to home; the humor, the characters, the Asianness of it all. These books made me realize how much I was connected to my Asian culture and how much I really appreciated it.”

I love that Julia found a deeper connection to her background through Yee’s novels. Books like these don’t just reflect many readers’ experiences; they can help those readers form a deeper appreciation for their own history and culture.

Obviously literature in general could benefit from more diversity, and young readers in particular need to see that their backgrounds are valued. But I’d also argue that it’s important to write books with diverse characters that aren’t just about those cultures. Kids from various cultures participate in sports, get in fights with their friends, laugh at inside jokes, try to get their homework done five minutes before class. I think that balance of cultural background and modern teen life is something most readers can understand.

The 10 Percent


“Every year the Cooperative Center for Children’s Books at the University of Wisconsin reports the number of books they receive from US trade and small publishers and how many are written by authors of various backgrounds. Again, in 2010, more than 90 percent of books for children and young adults in the United States were written by white authors about white protagonists.

Hopefully this can spark more publishers to accept books about different characters and background, and spark more writers to share different stories.

If you’re an SCBWI member, you can read more about this in the current SCBWI bulletin (March/April 2012).