From 1994 through 2012, only about 10 percent of children’s books featured people of color, according to data compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. The We Need Diverse Books campaign is trying to change that and to get books about underrepresented groups into classrooms.
According to the group’s website, the campaign began in May of 2014 with a social media initiative to raise awareness in response to an all-white, all-male panel lineup at BookCon, a major literature convention held in New York. Under the direction of founder, president, and Young Adult author Ellen Oh, the campaign has expanded to encourage appreciation of diverse books and to offer grants to authors looking to write such books.
The campaign describes several advantages to having a diverse cast of characters in children’s fiction, but the most notable is that students are often more likely to read if they see themselves reflected in literature. In an interview with NEA Today, librarian Amanda Hahn described the remarkable change in several African-American boys’ inclination to read after she suggested books by the late Walter Dean Myers:
It wasn't, Hahn discovered, that the students couldn't or wouldn't read. Rather, they hadn't found books that they wanted to read--books with characters who looked like them and with whom the students felt a connection.
In an essay earlier published earlier this spring, Myers himself noted that the underrepresentation of people of color in children’s books could have serious consequences for children’s understandings of race and perceptions of the world.
WNDB doesn’t just focus on race, however. The campaign is committed to the representation of all people, regardless of their race, gender identity, sexuality, disability status, or religion.
The flow chart at right on selecting diverse books for students (click to expand) is one of the many resources the campaign makes available to teachers and other book-buyers. It also offers book recommendations, links to other websites that maintain lists of similar books, and a Tumblr that includes news about diverse fiction and answers to reader-submitted questions.
In addition, the campaign’s Diversity in the Classroom initiative, a partnership with the NEA and First Book, will bring children’s authors and illustrators into classrooms to talk with students starting in January. Though the program is currently limited to 18 classrooms in the Washington, D.C. area, WDNB is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to expand the program nationwide and develop additional resources for classrooms and individuals.
Flow chart for selecting diverse middle-grade books by Tracy López for We Need Diverse Books.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.