It turns out, representation across cultures in children’s books isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
That’s what St. Catherine University’s Sarah Park Dahlen, PhD, associate professor of the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program, wanted to communicate when she and Minnesota illustrator David Huyck released a “Diversity in Children’s Books 2018” infographic.
The image, showing updated data from their 2015 infographic, showed little change. As Dahlen explained in her blog post, she suggested to Huyck that he draw cracks in the mirrors because “Children’s literature continues to misrepresent underrepresented communities, and we wanted this infographic to show not just the low quantity of existing literature, but also the inaccuracy and uneven quality of some of those books.”
The infographic was created using the multicultural publishing statistics compiled by the librarians at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) that were “about” particular populations: American Indian/First Nation, Latinx, African/African American, and Asian Pacific Islander/Asian Pacific American.
“As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop argues, books should both reflect the world in which we live, and show us windows onto other people’s experiences. Currently, we have too many mirrors for White children and not enough mirrors for Indigenous children and children of color. "
“This research matters because what our children read matters,” said Dahlen. “As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop argues, books should both reflect the world in which we live, and show us windows onto other people’s experiences. Currently, we have too many mirrors for White children and not enough mirrors for Indigenous children and children of color. What’s more, some of the existing mirrors reflect distorted images, especially if they are not written by #OwnVoices (insider) writers. Though we have been activating for #OwnVoices diverse books for decades, the publishing industry has been slow to change.”
The infographic is also a hot discussion topic at the American Library Association’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., which continues through June 25, 2019; it has been presented by at least two people at conference workshops.
“I hope this infographic will inspire conversations here on campus in all classrooms and among students, faculty, and staff,” said Dahlen. “We probably all have young people in our lives, and we can all play a role in supporting diverse books and sharing them with young people.”
There are more dimensions of the same data that could be explored and supported. After releasing the infographic, Dahlen and Huyck began receiving questions about other cultural depictions, such as Arab and Muslim, as well as LGBTQIA+ depictions, and also depictions of people with disabilities. “There is so much more we need to examine, and we support other people who want to continue that work,” Dahlen explained.
Both JPEG and PDF versions of the infographic are available for download using the link below. Users may insert this infographic in their work, including presentations and published work, so long as the full citation is included.
Full citation: Huyck, David and Sarah Park Dahlen. (2019 June 19). Diversity in Children’s Books 2018. sarahpark.com blog. Created in consultation with Edith Campbell, Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: https://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/literature-resources/ccbc-diversity-statistics/books-by-about-poc-fnn/. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/picture-this-diversity-in-childrens-books-2018-infographic/.
Sarah Park Dahlen pens column for American Libraries magazine