It’s not often I get to shout out to wins in diversity by talking about the movies. But those of you who have seen the latest incarnation of Beauty and the Beast will understand – the multi-racial court in the Prince’s palace is a big deal because we all know that’s *not* how it was originally conceived.
Another actor bringing an originally white character to life is Storm Reid, who plays Meg Murray in the new adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time.
It’s great news that book-to-movie adaptations are (slowly) paying attention to the passionate dialogue about the need for diversity.
And in fact, a lot of children’s fiction itself is looking more diverse than ever before. These books are heeding the call of #WeNeedDiverseBooks championed by authors, agents, librarians, teachers, and readers demanding more #ownvoices writers, more non-white main characters.
And yet, in spite of the increasing volume of the cultural conversation, the actual number of diverse books on the shelves is still confusingly small.
The Cooperative Children’s Book Center, housed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, collects annual statistics on the number of books published by and about persons of color. And while their statistics are only a snapshot in that they do not report gender, sexuality, or religious diversity, they are a place to start looking for a picture of where we stand today in the push for diverse books.
In 2016, out of 3200 books published by United States publishers:
- > 12% are written by authors of color*;
- 21% are about persons of color, regardless of author ethnicity.
*NOTE: African/African –American, Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific American, First Nation/American Indian, and Latino writers.
I know. These abysmal numbers are hard to believe. Because if so many people are asking for diverse books, why aren’t we getting them?
The schism has been explained in part by the much-discussed 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey that revealed a pathetically small percentage of industry professionals are actually people of color.
It’s been nearly two years since that data was released – but the statistics haven’t changed appreciably. We all know publishing moves at a glacial pace, so even if editors snapped up a host of diverse projects in response to that survey, those books won’t be out until this year. So, maybe the 2017 CCBC numbers will be better.
That’s me being hopeful.
Realistically? We’re nowhere near where we need to be – one year isn’t going to close the gap. Which means our mandate is clear: #Ownvoices authors need to keep writing, keep querying, keep subbing, keep banging on the door. Readers need to support books that include the spectrum of skin and hair colors, culture, religion, and places.
I believe we can do this — but we will have to persist.
I’m curious – did those numbers surprise you?