Many people today talk about the need for diversity in children's books. The argument is that there are not only enough books with characters of color, or with disabilities, or who are LGBT, etc., there are also not enough diverse writers and illustrators either. However, the problem really starts behind the scenes where diversity is lacking the most - the industry itself.
Lee & Low is a publishing company whose mantra IS diversity. They are the largest multicultural publisher in the United States. On their About Us page, one sentence written in bold says, "we pledged to make a special effort to work with unpublished authors and illustrators of color." Not only are the founders of the company diverse, all of their imprints revolve around diversity. From bilingual books to books focusing around Asian or Latino culture, you can always count on Lee & Low to make sure diverse books are getting into the hands of children around the world.
Recently, Lee & Low posted a baseline survey that took a year to complete. The evidence from this survey, as well as research conducted by the Cooperative Children's Book Center, shows the breakdown of diversity in different areas of the publishing world. And the results should come as no surprise - "the number of diverse books published each year over the past twenty years has been stuck in neutral, never exceeding, on average, 10 percent."
In every category of the survey - from the industry overall, to the executives, the editorial and sales departments, the marketing and publicity departments, and the book reviewers - 77% or more of the people are caucasian/non-minority, 88% or more have no-disability, and 86% or more are straight/non-LGBT.
In one part of the survey, it says, "While all racial/ethnic minorities are underrepresented when compared to the general US population, the numbers show that some groups, such as Black/African Americans, are more severely underrepresented. This mirrors trends among children’s book authors. In 2014, just 2 percent of the books tracked by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center were by black authors. Latinos were similarly underrepresented in both places."
So what can be done to change this lack of diversity in publishing?
Looks like it would help to start at the top, to encourage and hire more people of diverse backgrounds in more decision-making positions. In addition, more people of color and diversity need to write and illustrate. And authors and illustrators all around need to include more diverse characters in their books.
If people can start making these kinds of changes, perhaps one day the publishing world will reflect more of the real world around us.
Angela Padron is a published illustrator of two books, including "The Hero in You" by Ellis Paul, as well as a Star Wars geek and chocolate chip cookie connoisseur. She also writes and illustrates her own picture books, board books, and chapter books. When she's not teaching, Angela works as a freelance writer and editor for educational publishers and spends weekends enjoying walks along the beach with her family. She's also one of the admins for the online KidLit Illustration Critique Group. View her online portfolio at www.angelapadron.com. You can also "like" her facebook page, follow her on Twitter @angela_padron, and follow her own blog called "Show and Tell" with weekly posts about teaching, writing and illustrating books for children.
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