“Straight Talk on Race” declared the headline of a powerful feature story in School Library Journal (SLJ), written by author Mitali Perkins, with the subhead and subtext of the piece urging librarians and teachers to critically examine the stereotypes in literature for children. That piece ran on our cover back in 2009, yet the issues around representation persist.
The paucity of kids’ books by and about people of color has, in fact, remained relatively unchanged for decades, according to recent reports. This despite the fact that the U.S. has grown increasingly diverse, with the population of young children under age five reaching 49.9 percent minority in 2012.
Beyond “kid lit,” the lack of diversity, not only racial, has broader implications within education and libraries, challenging the core missions at the heart of these institutions: equity of learning opportunities, especially for children, and equal access to information.
If we have, for example, fewer girls and minorities engaging STEM—or seeing themselves represented in those fields—we’ll have educational outcomes like this, contributing to an ever-burgeoning gap in technology industries and our society as a whole.
This May, SLJ will dedicate an entire issue of the magazine to the topic of diversity in various forms. We’re joining an already dynamic discussion.
Consider the following:
- “A Few Observations on Publishing in 2012“
- “Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased In Eighteen Years?”
- “As Demographics Shift, Kids’s Books Stay Stubbornly White” NPR
- Literary Agents Discuss the Diversity Gap in Publishing
- Young dreamers by Christopher Myers– The Horn Book
- “Casual Diversity” and the children’s book
- “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ)-Themed Literature for Teens: Are School Libraries Providing Adequate Collections?”
- NEA – “The need for a diverse teaching staff”
- Race Against Time: Educating Black Boys
- The STEM gender/racial gap | The Boston Globe
Our responsibility as a magazine
SLJ has covered the topic, but we’ve considered carefully how we can help advance the conversation. A dedicated issue, only the second in our history, is a statement in itself and thanks go to the entire team, who supported it.
There is an economic issue at play here. “Multicultural books don’t sell” is a long-held assumption in the publishing industry. Challenges to that notion notwithstanding, the serious consideration of diversity is even more vital when creative content across all media is bound by an increasingly conservative view (and fall-back assumptions, see above) spurred by a tight economy.
There’s evidence that diversity is actually good for business (“Contact With Other Cultures Makes You a Deeper Thinker” by Annie Murphy Paul). But it’s more than that, of course.
For Americans, the very basis of the republic was founded on the premise of diversity as our strength. E pluribus unum: “Out of many, one.” Holding to that has proven a difficult and evolving challenge. But we need to get there, starting with our little corner of society.
If you’d like to share your thoughts, particularly about what we might cover, the challenges you’re seeing, and diversity efforts we should know about, I’d like to hear from you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.