Marley Dias says she was tired of reading books about “white boys and their dogs” in school.
So at the age of 11, she launched the campaign #1000BlackGirlBooks to identify books featuring people of color as protagonists.
Over the past three years, Dias has collected more than 11,000 books. She is in the process of donating all the books and has given more than half to what she describes as “predominantly black and underserved” communities in the US, Haiti, Ghana, Jamaica and the UK.
The young activist from New Jersey has even gone on to author her own book — “Marley Dias Gets It Done” — and is currently developing an app so kids can find “black girl books” more easily.
. . . .
“I hope that my campaign will mean more opportunities for our stories to be told and for books with black girls as the main character to be put on bookshelves worldwide,” she tells CNN.
Yet despite the young writer’s best efforts, statistics suggest “black girl books” are still in short supply.
Just 9% of children’s books published in the US in 2017 featured African or African American characters — according to data from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) which has been measuring representation in children’s books since 1985.
While that figure appears small, it actually represents an improvement on previous years. In 2014, just 5% of children’s books recorded by the CCBC included African or African American characters.
. . . .
Moreover, CCBC director Kathleen Horning points out that many of the books about black experiences have not been written by authors from that demographic.
Africans and African Americans wrote or illustrated just 3% of the books counted by the CCBC in 2017. Horning says this statistic appears to depict how difficult it can be for black authors to break into the publishing industry.
When children’s books about black people do get published, Horning says they often fall into three broad categories: books about slavery, books set during the civil rights movement and books that tell “gritty, contemporary” stories about children growing up in struggling families or teens dealing with violence.
“All of these are important stories, but young readers also want more variety,” says Horning. For example, there aren’t traditionally “many fantasies with African American characters, or books showing a middle-class black family.”
. . . .
B.J. Epstein, a lecturer in children’s literature at the University of East Anglia in the UK, notes that diverse characters are often pigeonholed by their ethnicity, race, religion, disability or sexual orientation.
In her book “Are the Kids All Right?: Representations of LGBTQ Characters in Children’s and Young Adult Literature,” Epstein surveyed English books with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters.
She found the majority of stories dealing with this subject only highlighted the difficulty of coming out, and the negative repercussions associated with doing so.
. . . .
The consequences of a lack of diverse characters can extend well beyond the classroom.
“The stories that children read at a young age tell them who matters and who doesn’t matter, who’s human and who isn’t human,” explains Philip Nel, professor of English at Kansas State University.
“A story doesn’t have to tell us that explicitly. It can tell us that by failing to represent certain groups of people — omission tells us that these groups of people are not important,” Nel adds.
Link to the rest at CNN
Disclaimer: PG is in a smart-alecky mood today. (This is also a trigger warning.) He’ll undoubtedly be better tomorrow.
He wonders if there’s a reason why a publisher could not release multiple versions of the same children’s book. One could include only black characters. Another could include only Asian characters. One could include only white characters. And a final version could include characters of several races peacefully coexisting.
When commissioning an artist for a children’s picture book, the publisher could request four copies of each illustration that depicted people – one for each of the three races and one with mixed races.
For a children’s book without illustrations of children, a racial character tag could be dropped into the manuscript – “Sue was a white/black/Asian girl” – and repeated in a few other places in the story. Search and replace could do the job. If the publisher was confident it wouldn’t be accused of racial stereotyping, character names could be modified for each racial group as well – “Priscilla/Imani/Ah Lam loved running in the sunshine.”
For the cautious publisher, committed to battling prejudice in all its forms, this might be enough. The result might seem a little bland, but incautious attempts to insert different “authentic” elements or idiosyncratic language usage into each racial version might backfire. Indeed, stereotypical white/black/Asian tropes would be avoided lest they offend someone.
Some of the prospective purchasers of such books might want a version in which all of the characters were of the same race, other parents might want their children to see various races getting along with each other. A publisher fully committed to diversity could do another series of books mixing both races and genders with search and replace again. Should the number of genders increase in the future, the sensitively-structured electronic book files would make updating and reissuing new editions easy.
Professor Nel, quoted in the OP, should be happy because everyone would be “human” and Ms. Dias would be freed from any more “white boy” stories.