Imagine growing up and never having read a book that has a main character that looks like you.
What might a child gain from seeing themselves reflected in a story? For the majority of Americans (i.e. white folks), this has never been an issue. For everyone else, it’s much harder than you might think to find a “mirror” of oneself in a children’s book.
In fact, there are some startling statistics that show just how far off the kids’ book industry is from the reflecting the makeup of the USA. In 2013, the publisher Lee and Low Books shared a graphic showing that although 37% of the population of the US are people of color, only 10% of children’s books published contained multicultural content. And they found that this gap had remained steady for almost 2 decades! Data from The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) analyzing the first six months of 2013 backed this up as well. They found that out of 1,509 books published in 2013, 78.3% depicted human characters, and of those, only 124 (or about 10.6%) featured people of color. And those are just the statistics focusing on cultural diversity. When you look at characters with disabilities and other types of diversity, the numbers are even more scant.
But enough about facts. Here’s another scenario:
Imagine growing up and never having read a book featuring a main character of another culture.
What might a child gain from a “window” into another culture or way of life? Reading stamps out ignorance, which can help create tolerance and empathy for our fellow man. So when diverse books are not available in our society, everyone suffers, not just the folks who are “different.” Books reveal not only our differences, but more importantly our commonalities as humans. After all, we all have families and friends we care about, we all have challenges and struggles in our lives, we all have dreams. And we all have stories to tell.