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The All-White World of Children's Books


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The All-White World of Children's Books 
This article reports; "Of the 5,206 children's trade books launched by the sixty-three publishers in the three-year period [1962,1963,1964], only 349 include one or more Negroes--an average of 6.7 percent."





Almost 50 years later, in 2013, a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin which looked at 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people (that is less than 3%).  Only 68 were written by African-Americans a whopping 2%!


Sure it would be a mistake to directly compare the percentages from the 1965 article and the 2013 study.  However the sobering stories these percentages tell across a 50 year period is the same.


In March of 2014, four months before he passed, celebrated author, Walter Dean Myers published an article in The New York Times, "Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?"  


"Thousands of young people have come to me saying that they love my books for some reason or the other, but I strongly suspect that what they have found in my pages is the same thing I found in Sonny’s Blues. They have been struck by the recognition of themselves in the story, a validation of their existence as human beings, an acknowledgment of their value by someone who understands who they are. It is the shock of recognition at its highest level.
I’ve reached an age at which I find myself not only examining and weighing my life’s work, but thinking about how I will pass the baton so that those things I find important will continue. In 1969, when I first entered the world of writing children’s literature, the field was nearly empty. Children of color were not represented, nor were children from the lower economic classes. Today, when about 40 percent of public school students nationwide are black and Latino, the disparity of representation is even more egregious. In the middle of the night I ask myself if anyone really cares."


I've been asking myself that question since I began selling books over 17 years ago.  The answer is, sure there are people who care; there simply are not enough of us, with the resources, to make a difference.  Therefore the outcomes we are observing are no different than an environment in which no one cared. 


As recently as 1985, when then-CCBC Director Ginny Moore Kruse served as a member of the Coretta Scott King Award Committee that year, she was appalled to learn that, of the approximately 2,500 trade books that were published that year for children and teens, only 18 were created by African Americans, and thus eligible for the Coretta Scott King Award.


I often wondered why the same names kept popping up as Coretta Scott King Award winners, not I see the pool of book of good book written by Black writers is not very deep.  Given the staggering lack of attention paid to the CSK Awards I have to wonder it the American Library Association, who presents the awards, has begun to question the relevancy.  


As I work on a revamped version of the Power List's website, I too question if it is worth the effort to celebrate Black books.  I have gotten a few requests to add a category for Childrens books, and I think it is a good idea.  But it is hard enough producing this quarterly list given the lack of widespread support.


Perhaps as Myers describes, we have gone far too long without a validation of our existence as human beings, or an acknowledgment of our value, to do anything about this situation.


I for one have no idea what to do about it....

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  • 5 months later...

I actually wrote a paper on this topic. I even used the discussion of how Black kids were presented in Children's toy commercials. This was a while back, but I'm sure like this post states the numbers probably haven't changed much at all. The problem begins with how overwhelmingly frustrating the submission process is to get an agent and to get a publisher. Those rejection letters are like daggers no matter how much you love writing. Even when I succeeded in getting an agent, I grew frustrated with the requests for gangsta lit. I write a Young Adult novel for my thesis and while it was just my panel, they thought the book was pretty darn good. My agent didn't even try to get me in the door with that book. I eventually gave up on it and did what most writers do, I got a job. People will only write what they feel will sell it seems. There are probably some pretty good children's lit books out there, but the writer's a frustrated.

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