As Demographics Shift, Kids’ Books Stay Stubbornly White
The publishing industry really needs to rethink this direction and what it means for their future. In a world where text readers are replacing books, children’s books, specialty books, trade books, and cookbooks will become the diminishing world of physically published books. If they are not catering to the full spectrum of children, what are publishers doing to their own prospects as well as the children’s?
When it comes to diversity, children’s books are sorely lacking; instead of presenting a representative range of faces, they’re overwhelmingly white. How bad is the disconnect? A report by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that only 3 percent of children’s books are by or about Latinos — even though nearly a quarter of all public school children today are Latino.
When kids are presented with bookshelves that unbalanced, parents can have a powerful influence. Take 8-year-old Havana Machado, who likes Dr. Seuss and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. At her mothers’ insistence, Havana also has lots of books featuring strong Latinas, like Josefina and Marisol from the American Girl Doll books. She says she likes these characters because, with their long, dark hair and olive skin, they look a lot like her.
Havana’s mother, Melinda Machado, grew up in San Antonio, and her family is from Cuba and Mexico. She says she didn’t see Latino characters in books when she was a little girl, so she makes sure her daughter does.
“But you do have to look,” she explains. “I think children today are told, ‘You can be anything.’ But if they don’t see themselves in the story, I think, as they get older, they’re going to question, ‘Can I really?’ “
Only a small fraction of children’s books have main characters that are Latino or Native American or black or Asian. And it’s been that way for a very long time. In 1965, The Saturday Review ran an article with the headline “The All-White World of Children’s Books” — and the topic is still talked about today, nearly 50 years later.