I’ve heard a lot of concern around new policies at Barnes & Noble that will change the way MG books are acquired, particularly as it relates to diverse titles. I went to my local B&N and did a shelf inventory. I ran a simple tally of all the books in the MG section noting whether they had diverse content or not. POC, LGBT+, disablility, neurodiversity, and religious diversity were included. If none of those qualities were present in the book or the author, I put it in the Not diverse pile. If the book was animal, toy, or mythological creature-centric I left it out of the count entirely. In a group cast, if more than one person was diverse, I counted it as a diverse book. I did not count chapter books, easy readers, nonfiction, or graphic novels.
It’s not a perfect system. For example, leaving out Dogman and the Wings of Fire (animal-centric books) drops the numbers of white writers in the count. And any count like this is only a snapshot of what is on the shelf in a particular day. Still it’s a window into what’s happening and B&N under the new book buying policy, regarding the diversity of the collection.
Here are the numbers.
Overall collection size: 1225 books
Diverse titles: 455 or 37%
not-diverse titles; 770 or 63%
There were 4 endcap displays with faced out titles.
Mystery: 30 books total, not-diverse 90%, diverse 7% and animal narrated 3%
Staff Favorites: 24 titles, diverse 100% These were all Indigenous American titles and all authored by indigenous authors.
Rick Riorden Presents books: 18 titles, diverse 100%
Spooky: not diverse 68%, diverse 32%
Total endcap faced out books: 110, not diverse 48%, diverse 51%
Obviously these results are disappointing considering the rate of diversity among MG students is pretty close to 50%. Still there were encouraging signs. The most recent statistics from the CCBC put the rate of diverse books created at 33% about diverse characters and 37% by diverse creators. So the content on the shelves at B&N fairly closely mirrors the available books.
Many of the white authored titles belonged to long dead writers who were quite prolific, Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl etc. Among newer titles the rate of diversity was much more equitable.
There is plainly an effort to make diverse books more visible on end caps. The Staff Favorites titles were chosen for Native American history month and will change in December. On the other hand, if they are diligent about honoring Latin American history month, Asian Pacific Islander history month, Black history month, Pride month, and disability awareness month . That puts diverse titles on the end cap about half the time.
Barnes & Noble has a huge Manga section and the lions share of that section is diverse. Had I counted the MG section of those books there, I would have seen a clear majority of diverse MG books overall.
By its self my survey doesn’t prove anything, but I found it interesting to see the mix of older classics and new titles. The mix of what was faced out and not. I would encourage anyone who is concerned about diversity in publishing to take a close look at the actual numbers of diverse books at bookstores and libraries nearby. It at least gives us a factual basis on which to have a conversation.
And in the end a bookstore can only carry what sells in their local community. Much attention has been paid to the production side of the equation. I hope at least as much energy can be spent on encouraging diverse communities to come to bookstores and ask for diverse content. That’s is the only sure way to keep the progress we’ve made so far and continue it into the future.
Rosanne Parry is the author of 7 MG novels including best sellers A Wolf Called Wander, and A Whale of the Wild. Her first picture book Big Truck Day will go on sale in September of 2022. She sells books at Annie Blooms Bookstore in Multnomah Village and writes books in her treehouse in Portland, Oregon.
From the Mixed-Up Files is the group blog of middle-grade authors celebrating books for middle-grade readers. For anyone with a passion for children’s literature—teachers, librarians, parents, kids, writers, industry professionals— we offer regularly updated book lists organized by unique categories, author interviews, market news, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a children's book from writing to publishing to promoting.
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