“Children need to see themselves reflected in books,” says Carla Hayden, the new Librarian of Congress. “Books can be mirrors, and they can be windows.” In this video she describes her favorite book as a child, one she loved because the little girl in the story was so much like her.
The problem is that the stories that get published do not adequately represent everyone. As a result, some children, especially children of color, don’t have as many opportunities to see themselves accurately reflected in the books. This recently published cartoon by David Huyck in consultation with Sarah Park Dahlen and Molly Beth Griffin illustrates the disparity of racial representation in children’s books published in 2015:
David created this with a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license so that Tameka, Sarah, and others working toward equity in children’s literature publishing may freely use it.
Comparing the numbers in this cartoon to the actual racial diversity in Kitsap County, the stories published don't accurately represent our community either. Within Kitsap County, the under 18 child population by race/ethnicity looks like this: 2% American Indians/First Nations, 11% Latino, 5% Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans, 3% African/African Americans, 12% Non-Hispanic, two or more race groups, and 67% white. These numbers are based on the 2014 data available on Kidscount.org
What can we do to encourage more diversity within the publishing industry? After all, the library can’t purchase books, and we can’t all read them, if they aren’t published in the first place. An organization called We Need Diverse Books is a great place to start, with many programs, resources, booklists. If you are a writer, or you know a writer, encourage them to write stories that fully represent the huge diversity within our world. Readers, if you see a book the library doesn’t own that you think we should, fill out a purchase suggestion. And, next time you are looking for a good read, consider selecting a book that is “window” rather than a “mirror.”