The lack of representation of children of color in children's literature is a topic I have been researching and thinking about for years. This is not due to the fact that authors aren't writing these books, or illustrators aren't drawing children that aren't white, but the books are not being published because as a society, we are not placing enough importance and value on having a representational tome of children's literature.
In 2012, I went to a well known presentation hosted by a professional librarian and professor, she holds an MLS and a PhD in education. Every year, she presents a list of "best of" books for children. I quickly noticed that the only books with major characters of color had to do with the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. After her presentation, I approached her and asked about this. Her response floored me, "Those books aren't published". I pushed back a little, I wanted more of an answer. She then said something that jolted me into action in my library and district, "Well, those children can read books with animal characters, they don't have skin colors."
I went home and dove in. I quickly found the Cooperative Children's Book Center and their chilling data. Books by and about people of color are grossly underrepresented. I then found the work of the amazing Rudine Sims Bishop, who eloquently wrote,
Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.
My library needs to have books that can be windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors, for all of the children I serve. All libraries do.
What finally propelled me to start a blog about this topic was the Op Eds written by Walter Dean Myers and his son, Christopher, in the New York Times this weekend. The amount of emails I received with the links were heartening, a.) because people know this is a near and dear subject to me and b.) because a large audience was reached this weekend. Let's turn our outrage into action! Make your child's library and book shelves reflective of our larger society.