With more parents staying at home as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, shared reading time is more important than ever. Although children do really love consuming the same piece of media over and over (my speciality was a once-a-day viewing of 101 Dalmatians), parents might find their kids running through more repetitions and tiring things out quicker. Variety is the key to keeping everyone sane!
It’s probably not surprising that within children’s literature, however, there isn’t much variety when it comes to the ethnic and racial background of authors and characters. In the early stages of our research, we have discovered that diversity and authorship interact in surprising ways. While nearly 70% of Newbery Medal and Honor authors have been female, only about a third of the protagonists of those books are. We’ve also learned that fewer than 10% of those authors were people of color, and, perhaps most surprising still, just over a quarter of protagonists are. Stayed tuned for more analysis of our findings!
It’s important that, when isolated, we people our inner worlds with an array of backgrounds and voices. We want to see ourselves, but we want to see others too. So, consider an array of authors, from Jacqueline Woodson to Matt de la Peña, and a host of characters, from Wonder’s Auggie Pullman to Meg Medina’s Merci Suarez. Make sure your children see themselves in the books they read and that they see a range of others.
Book awards, like the Newberys, can bring good literature to our attention, but we need to sample from them widely. Here’s a good list from the ALA that includes well-known awards like the low-diversity Newbery and slightly more diverse Caldecotts, but links to other types of awards such as the Pura Belpré Medal which “honors a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose works best portray, affirm, and celebrate the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth” or the Schneider Family Book Award that recognizes “books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience.”
We are looking forward to discovering other surprising trends in our data and discussing its implications with our community of educators, librarians, parents, and others. Check back for updates and make sure to follow our social media accounts. Until then… happy reading!