Children's Books by and about People of Color and First/Native Nations Published in the United States
Statistics Gathered by the Cooperative Children's Book Center
(Questions about this information? Contact CCBC Director Kathleen T. Horning)
School of Education,
University of Wisconsin-Madison
In 1985 the Cooperative Children's Book Center began to document the numbers of books published in the United States for children each year which were written and/or illustrated by African Americans. When then-CCBC Director Ginny Moore Kruse served as a member of the Coretta Scott King Award Committee that year, we were appalled to learn that, of the approximately 2,500 trade books that were published that year for children and teens, only 18 were created by African Americans, and thus eligible for the Coretta Scott King Award. Using the CCBC's collection and working in conjunction with the Coretta Scott King Award Task Force of the American Library Association, we have continued to document the number of books each year and to publish this statistic in our annual publication CCBC Choices.
Because of the great ongoing interest in these statistics, in 1994 we began keeping track of the numbers of books by American Indians, Asian/Pacifics and Asian/Pacific Americans, and Latinos as well. We also began documenting not only the number of books created by people of color and First/Native Nations athors and illstrators, but the number of books about people of color and First/Native Nations, including the many titles that have been created by white authors and/or illustrators.
What We Count
The books represented by these numbers are based on everything that comes into the library annually. This includes picture books, novels, and non-fiction. We receive hardcover and, these days, more and more original paperback trade books typically available for sale to public schools and public libraries, as well as some (but not all) series/formula non-fiction titles (e.g., a "Countries of the World" series including titles such as Kenya and Venezuela). We do not typically receive mass market or gimmick/toy books created for direct-to-consumer sales. We do not include reprints of previously issued books in our count.
Because the CCBC does not receive every trade book published, in 2002 we began providing information on the number of books we do receive each year, on which the statistics are based. The titles the CCBC receives also include a limited number of books from several smaller Canadian publishers that distribute in the United States, and these have also been included in our multicultural counts when applicable.
How We Count
The four broad groupings we use do not represent cultural specificity; we track this in the annual records we keep listing the individual titles. Our Latino log, for example, is organized by specific region and then country or heritage group within it, so a book about a Cuban American child, or a book about or set in the Domincan Republic or Mexico, is recorded as such. A book about Aztec people living in Mexico would be recorded in both the American Indian and Latino logs.
We count a book as "about" if the main character/subject is a person of color, or if we are able to determine based on examining a book that a person of color features significantly in the narrative. So a novel in which the main character is white will be included if we are able to determine a secondary character of color is important in the story. We do not count a book if the principle character is white and there are a range of secondary characters, including characters of color, but none of the characters of color seem to play a significant role. This is, of course, somewhat subjective; we talk about the books that we can't easily discern. We do not want to misrepresent a book as having multicultural content; likewise, we make every effort not to miss those that do.
In recent years, we have seen more fiction with diverse casts of characters, or picture books with no specific cultural content but featuring a character of color, and this has impacted our numbers. Likewise, paperback series publishing has had an impact on the numbers, as had the fact that some publishers outside the realm of traditional trade books are now sending us their titles because they are aware that we are maintaining these statistics.
The multicultural content across the books about people of color and First/Native Nations represented by the numbers we document varies widely with regard to accuracy and authenticity. Additionally, the number of books we document each year created by authors and illustrators of color does not represent the number of individual book creators of color—often a single individual has written or illustrated more than one book published in a given year. And not every book created by an author or illustrator of color, counted in the "by" cateogry, contains cultural content. If it doesn't, it is not included in the "about" number. Likewise, if a book about an African American family is illustrated by a Chinese American illustrator, it would be counted as "by" in the Asian Pacific category, and "about" in the African American category. If the author of the book is Black, then the book would also be counted in the "by" category for Africans and African Americans.
What Do the Numbers Mean?
Does that mean the remaining books are all about white people? No. Even though we don't document the number of books about white people, we know there are certainly picture books books published every year featuring animal characters or trucks or other high-interest topics; and nonfiction about aspects of the natural world, etc. But what we know from being immersed in children's and young adult literature each and every day is that white people are not notably, or even noticably, lacking in books for children and teens. However, CCBC Director Kathleen Horning did do a mid-year check in 2013. You can read what she found on the CCBC blog.
More important, what the low numbers for multicultural literature mean is that publishing for children and teens has a long way to go before reflecting the rich diversity of perspectives and experiences within and across race and culture.
The numbers are far from the only important thing to consider when it comes to multicultural publishing for children and teens, of course. The books themselves matter. And every year we see amazing books by and about people of color and First/Native Nations people published. There just aren't enough of them. The more books there are, especially books created by authors and Illustrators of color, the more opportunities librarians, teachers, and parents and other adults have of finding outstanding books for young readers and listeners that reflect dimensions of their lives, and give a broader understanding of who we are as a nation.
Making a Difference
Across the years, we've seen evidence of the importance
of small, independently owned publishers as contributors to a significant body
of authentic multicultural literature for children in the United States and
Canada. The commitment of individual editors at both large and small publishing houses also has made an impact.
We have also noted the importance of children's book awards in calling attention to outstanding work created by and about people of color and First/Native Nations people. We enourage you to visit our multicultural literature page for links to mulitulcultural literarture awards and other resources.
And we know the difference we all can make in purchasing and sharing books by people of color and FIrst/Native Nations individuals in our professional and personal lives. Sales matter to publishing. The books themselves matter to children and teens, who deserve to see the rich diversity of their lives and the world in which they live reflected in the books around them each and every day.
Note: in addition to compiling annual statistics, we also include an essay sharing our observations about the publishing year in the introduction to each edition of CCBC Choices, our annual best of the year list, and this always includes comments on multicultural publishing. (Recent essays.) The statistics below may not always correspond to those in the Choices commentary for that publishing year. Discrepancies occur when we receive books after the deadline for including the numbers in the print publication. The table below represents the most accurate accounting.
Children's Books By and About People of Color and
Number of Books
By and About People of Color and
Total Number of
Asian Pacific /
||By||About||By and About||By and About||By and About|
Total Number of
Total Number of Books