Where did the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign come from?

In a Twitter exchange on April 17th, 2014, Ellen Oh and Malinda Lo expressed their frustration with the lack of diversity in kidlit. This wasn’t a new conversation for Ellen or Malinda, just the latest, this time in response to the all-white, all-male panel of children’s authors assembled for BookCon’s May 31st reader event. In a series of tweets, Ellen started talking about taking action. Several other authors, bloggers, and industry folks piped up saying they would like to be involved as well.

We planned a three-day event for May 1-3 to raise awareness, brainstorm solutions, and take action (Diversify Your Shelves). Aisha Saeed primed the pump on April 24th with the first tweet including the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag.

After Aisha’s post, the hashtag started taking off, officially trending for the first time on April 29th, around 9:30 pm EST.

Who is on the #WeNeedDiverseBooks team?

You’ll find the team members here.

Can I get permission to reuse the pictures from your campaign?

While the images were submitted to our campaign for use on our tumblr, we do not own those images. You would have to contact the individuals who created them for permission.

Are you still looking for #WeNeedDiverseBooks images? How do I submit one of my own?

We are still accepting submissions. Visit our Submit page.

How can I get #WeNeedDiverseBooks SWAG?

There will be a limited number of #WNDB buttons and bookmarks at the NAIBA Fall Conference in Arlington, VA, and also at NCTE in November. We are also working on a CafePress site, and are planning a crowdsourcing campaign that will have various levels of #WNDB perks.

If you can’t be there to get a physical button, though, feel free to grab a virtual #WNDB button on the sidebar!

What are the statistics supporting the dearth of diverse literature?

On September 11th, 1965, an article was published in The Saturday Review titled “The All-White World of Children’s Books.” It revealed that of 5,206 children’s trade books published by sixty-three publishers during a three year period, only 349 books, about 6.7 percent, had one or more African American characters in them. Eight of the publishers at that time published only all-white books.

Move forward to the year 2013 where out of 3,200 children’s books published, there were only 93 about African American people. This led to a New York Times piece that asked the question, “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s books?

In June of 2013, multicultural publisher Lee and Low Books put together a graphic illustrating that although 37% of the population of the United States are people of color, only 10% of children’s books published contained multicultural content. This gap has remained steady from 1994-2013—18 years!

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) further examined the issue with their study, Children’s Books by and about People of Color Published in the United States. They answered an often asked question: What about the use of animals as stand-ins for human characters in children’s books? How does that affect the statistics? The CCBC discovered that out of 1509 books published in 2013, 78.3% depicted human characters. When we subtract the 326 books with non-human characters, that leaves 1183 books with human characters. Only 124 of those books were of people of color, about 10.57% of the total. Even though the statistics only reflected the first six months of 2013, we see the same trend of underrepresentation.

What are the benefits of children seeing themselves in books?

Seeing Reflections of Themselves

Rudine Sims Bishop published an article in 1990 titled “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” that speaks about how our society has grown with culture, but our books don’t reflect it. She describes that people of color see through windows, looking in at a world that isn’t like their own. Bishop noted, “When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.” Children are affected by what they see around them, and it helps them to grow.

Learning the True Nature of the World Around Them

For white children, they also suffer from not seeing the true nature of the world around them. It can distort the world around them and their connections to other humans. All children can learn from the richness of culture. As this School Library Journal blog post notes, non-white parents are three times more likely to talk about race to their children than white parents. Even at a young age, children do categorize themselves into groups. Children’s books can be used as a resource to help with tough topics.

Seeing Themselves in Characters and Their Environment

Kids do search for themselves in books. While our population continues to grow and change, children do deserve to find connections with character they are looking for like themselves. Children aren’t the only ones who are looking for themselves in books. In a survey of 2,000 schools, 90 percent of the educators believed children would become more enthusiastic readers if they had books reflecting their lives. Schools and libraries are searching to remedy this, however,it can be a challenge to find go-to books that remind them of their own students and want to share with them. Initiatives like First Book’s Stories for All initiative can bridge that gap. Read more in the “Study on Children Are Not Colorblind: How Children Learn Race” from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee by Erin N. Winkler, Ph.D.

What benefits are there to reading diverse books?

  1. They reflect the world and people of the world
  2. They teach respect for all cultural groups
  3. They serve as a window and a mirror and as an example of how to interact in the world
  4. They show that despite differences, all people share common feelings and aspirations (Source here)
  5. They can create a wider curiosity for the world
  6. They prepare children for the real world
  7. They enrich educational experiences (Source here)

Finally, the Association for Library Service to Children has a wonderful White Paper on the Importance of Diversity in Library Programs and Material Collections for Children that sums all of this up very nicely.