There has been some justified talk about the state of race in children’s books lately. Most recently, First Book issued the infographic above about a recent survey that illustrated how few characters are non-white in children’s books. Lee and Low asked why the number of multicultural books haven’t increased in the past eighteen years.
If the numbers are accurate, it’s a wakeup call for authors everywhere.
And that’s not because of quotas or any particular agenda. It’s because children’s books are not reflecting the lives of children in America today.
The census bureau recently announced that for the first time, non-whites and mixed race children accounted for a majority of births in America. We Americans are living in an increasingly diverse country, and while story is ultimately more important than strict fidelity to the world we live in, it’s nevertheless disquieting for fiction to diverge from reality that starkly.
In my own experience, my main character is mixed race. Jacob Wonderbar has an African American mother and a white father who, for the record, may also be from outer space.
Though interestingly, I’ve very very rarely seen reference to Jacob’s race in reviews and have never seen it included on a list of books with minority or mixed race characters. A few reviewers have noted it, but not many. Partly, no doubt, this is because of how I handled Jacob’s race in the novels, which is briefly mentioned in an oblique way and doesn’t occupy much of the narrative at all.
This was a conscious choice. Jacob spends the vast majority of his time with his friends, who don’t dwell on it at all, and with space humans, who are far more concerned with the fact that he is an “Earther.”
These books aren’t “about” Jacob’s mixed-raceness. It’s just a part of him, and one that his friends have accepted so wholly as a basic, nonthreatening reality that they don’t find it necessary to talk about it.
I’m hoping we’re moving toward that world. And while I’d never tell another author how to write their novel, I hope we all as children’s book authors strive to create our novels in a way that today’s children will find relevant, meaningful and reflective of the world they live in.
Are you troubled by these statistics?