Diversity in Young Adult Literature

San Diego, California, United States of America

The United States is the considered the “melting pot.”  If that is indeed the case, and I believe it is, we need literature that reflects the total “American” experience.  According to an article on NBC News.com, Census: White majority in U.S. gone by 2043, non-hispanic whites currently make up 63% of the United States Population.  The article goes on to say that blacks make up 12.3%, Asians make up 5%, and multiracial Americans make up 2.4%.  This being said, it is somewhat astonishing that according to Walter Dean Myers article in The New York Times, Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?, only 93 out of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013 were written by black people for a total of 2%.  

diversity

First, let’s address why diversity in literature is important.  As I said previously, our literature should reflect the entire “American” experience which has always included many different races and cultures.  It’s important to give children and young adults literature they can identify with, however, it’s also important to provide children a map to help them face the world.  According to Christopher Myers in his article in The New York Times, The Apartheid of Children’s Literature, the lack of resources that have black characters that “when kids today face the realities of our world, our global economies, our integrations and overlappings, they all do so without a proper map.”

 

Next, let’s look at the publishing industry.  As I mentioned earlier, Walter Dean Myers indicated in his article in the New York Times, Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?, mentions that only 93 out of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013 were written by black people for a total of 2%. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center the amount of books published by or about people of color in 2014 was 14% of the total books written.  This means the gap is closing.  Perhaps the publishing world has taken note and there are increasing numbers of great books being released by and about people of color.  While the Zetta Elliot’s blog, Something like an open letter to the children’s publishing industry, Elliot discusses the “appalling inequality” that she sees in the publishing industry. She also discusses the fact that some white bloggers fume over the “injustice” of the Coretta Scott King award for black authors and illustrators.  While I will not fume over this award or any other that is reserved for a certain type of author, I ask how she would react to an award that was solely for white authors or illustrators.  The creator’s of an award that was reserved for white authors and illustrators would likely be compared to the Ku Klux Klan and accused of being racist.  Again,  I don’t have a problem with awards for certain nationalities or ethnicities, I hope that those awards encourage more people to write more quality books for our students to read.

I’m enthusiastic about the direction multicultural literature is going.  It appears from the statistics I found that the number or percentage of books by people other than white authors is increasing.  The increase in publication of more diverse books is good for everyone.  In contrast to the articles I read, I was actually pleasantly surprised that these numbers are increasing.

 

It is troubling to me that racism still exists and it impacts lives every day.  It exists in different forms. It is time that we as a nation stand up and say ALL lives matter, not just white, not just black, not just Asian, but ALL.

 

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3 thoughts on “Diversity in Young Adult Literature

  1. I think our country struggles with racism because it has been ingrained in us for so long. People of different color had been looked down upon for centuries by Europeans and that is where a lot of our ancestry is from.
    I can see where the anger is coming from for special awards for black authors but these kind of awards help these authors get published. I learned in my Children’s Literature course that special awards like this encourage authors of different ethnicities and backgrounds to write books for children and young adults. Pam Munoz Ryan, who wrote Esperanza Rising and several other books, wrote Esperanza Rising specifically for a the Pura Belpré Award which is specifically given to Latino authors who work promotes the Latino culture and experience. She may have never written her book if that award hadn’t been created. Having ethnic or culturally specific awards gives those authors a chance to write a book about their heritage, whereas without the award they may never have thought about it.

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  2. It troubles me that racism still exists as well. If we are truly the “melting pot” that we are said to be, we must begin to actually adopt that way of life. I’m so happy to see the statistics rising up! The statistics in the articles were shocking, but I’m glad to see that something is being done. Great post!

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