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Diversity Up in Children's Books, By Not By Much

2014 was a better year than 2013 for books that told stories of black, Asian, Latino, Native American, and queer youth. The number of children’s books featuring African-Americans and Asians almost doubled last year to 179 and 112 books, respectively, along with a small uptick in titles about Latino and Native American subjects, according to the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover took the top prize in children’s literature, The 2015 Newbery Medal, the fourth African-American to earn the honor since the prize was established in 1922. And Jacqueline Woodson won the National Book Award for her book Brown Girl Dreaming (though a tasteless watermelon joke almost stole the moment from her).

This said, the Wisconsin State Journal points out that compared to 2013, when less than 3% of books for children featured black characters, the numbers still aren’t good:

“The numbers of African-American books don’t show steady growth, for one thing. 2013 was a very low year. So 2014 looks better, but it actually recorded only 7 more books than in 2008. And in 2001, there were more books about African-Americans: 201.”

Initiatives like #WeNeedDiverseBooks are committed to reversing the trend. The grassroots group’s stated mission is to “recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. …[And] to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.” And they have been working with publishers and the National Education Association to promote writers of color and get diverse books into classrooms, even as their social media and PR campaign has stressed the importance of a diversity of stories across outlets like Teen Vogue and Buzzfeed.

Here’s how you can help: actively seek out and buy a diversity of books for your children and/or for yourself.

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