Race in Children’s Literature

I read an interesting article in Entertainment Weekly the other day. And by interesting, I mean slightly depressing. The article, “Kid Lit’s Primary Color: White” by Nina Terrero, discusses the lack of diversity in children’s literature. According to article, 92.1% of children’s books published last year featured white characters, 2.9% featured African-American/African characters, 2.2% Asian/Pacific characters, 1.8% Latino characters, and 1% American Indian characters. The gap is astounding. 

One quote I found particularly important was from Lori Tharps, an African-Americn journalism professor with three children of her own, who states, “I’m not trying to make my kids read about slaves all the time. A black wizard story would be nice. Flat Stanley could be Asian or Latino. But they’re not there…” While stories of slavery are important for children of all races to understand, it seems slightly detrimental to only present that side of the African experience. Too often, characters of Color are supporting characters, without their own story or arc. Is that the message we want to send to kids? That children of Color’s stories are secondary to those of white children? 

I know discussing this can be controversial, particularly when there are a lot of people who want to believe that racism is something of the past. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t tell stories where white children are front and center. But we need to also tell stories with Latino children, and African-American children, and Japanese children, and Korean children, and Egyptian children. Their stories are just as important. But they are being ignored. And we need to be aware of this. Children’s literature isn’t the only place this is happening. 

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