Publishing Statistics on Children's Books about People of Color and First/Native Nations
by People of Color and First/Native Nations
Authors and Illustrators
Documented by the Cooperative Children's Book Center
(Questions about this information? Contact CCBC Director Kathleen T. Horning)
School of Education,
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Last updated: May 14, 2019
In 1985, then-CCBC Director
Ginny Moore Kruse was serving as a member of the Coretta Scott King Award
Committee, and we were appalled to learn that, of the approximately
trade books that
were published in 1985, only 18 were created
African Americans, and thus eligible for the Coretta
Scott King Award. This began our efforts to docoument the numbers of books by Black authors and illlustrators annually. We used the CCBC's collection of review copies received in its role as a statewide book examination center in conjunction
with information from the Coretta Scott King Award Task Force of the American Library
Association to document the number of books by and about African Americans published annually.
Beginning in 1994 we began also keeping track of the numbers of books we were receiving by Asian/Pacific and Asian/Pacific American, First/Native Nation and Latinx book creators as well. We also began documenting not only the number of books created by people of color and First/Native Nations authors 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.
The charts documenting our annual statistics can be found below.
What We Receive
The CCBC receives most, but not all, of the trade books published annually in the United States by large corporate publishers. The CCBC also receives books from some smaller trade publishers in the United States and a limited number of series or formula non-fiction books published here. We also receive books from several trade Canadian publishers that distribute in the United States. More recently, we've begun receiving a small number of books distributed by a few U.S. trade publishers with a U.S. price label, but not in a U.S. edition.We also receive a small number of independently published and self-published books.
We do not include reprints of previously issued books in our count.
What We Document
Prior to 2018, we examined everything that came into the CCBC annually in order to determine books that were by and/or about people of color in order to document and count them for our annual statistics.
Starting in 2018, we've embarked on an intensive effort to document the content of every book coming into the library. This will enable a more complex analysis not only of the content of the books included in these numbers, but also of books that are not by or about people of color and from First/Native Nations. For example, we can identify how many books we received were contemporary versus historical fiction, or picture books versus non-fiction. We can identify how many had main characters who were white, or animals as opposed to people. In addtion to what we are documenting regarding race and ethnicity, we are also documenting content such as LGBTQ, disability, and gender across all the books we receive.
The four broad groupings we use for our statistics here do not represent cultural specificity, although we do document this for individual titles and creators. So a book about a Cuban American child will be reflected in the Latinx numbers, while the information for the specific book will include the fact that the main character is Cuban American. Books with multiracial and multiethnic characters will be noted as such, and included in the numbers for each aspect of identity, so that a single book with an Afro-Latinx character will be reflected in both the African/African American and Latinx "about" numbers. As a result, as an individual book may be counted more than once across the four broad categories.
We count a book as "about" if the main character/subject is a person of color or from a First/Native Nation, or if we are able to determine that a person of color/Indigenous character features significantly in the narrative. So a novel in which the main character is white will be included in these numbers if we are able to determine a secondary character of color is important in the story. We do not count a book if the principal 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.
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.
In recent years, we have seen more paperback series and this 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. So, too, has the fact that we continue to refine our process. We now check Kirkus Reviews, for example, to find out from the review if a longer book we haven't read includes a character of color. We might have missed logging books like this in the past. Similarly we were once likely to count a book with a brown-skinned child, most often as African American, whereas now we track books with brown-skinned characters in which there are no apparent clues of the characters' specific race or ethnicity, but we do not count them as part of these statistics. It is also important to note the number of books we receive can change, so converting these annual numbers to percentages is most telling.
Because our process continues to evolve, comparing the numbers across the years is most useful for a broad picture of change, or lack of change.
Finally, 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.
What Do the Numbers Mean?
Do the numbers of books we document that are about people of color and from First/Native Nations mean the remaining books are all about white people? No. Some of the remaining books are about people, including many with white characters, and, as noted above, an increasing number of brown-skinned characters with no cultural or racial specificity. But every year there are numerous picture books books published featuring animal characters or trucks or other high-interest topics; and nonfiction about aspects of the natural world, animal fantasy in fiction, etc.
As noted above, beginning in 2018, we have begun documenting exactly what every book is about, including whether the main character is white, or non-human. So we or researchers will be able to analyze what is in every book, including those NOT counted in the numbers above.
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, even as we see some numbers rise, what the numbers for multicultural literature still 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.
At the same time, 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. More recently, initiatives such as We Need Diverse Books have had an incredible impact as the voices of authors, illustrators and critics of color and from First/Native Nations continue to lead the call for change.
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 mulitcultural 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. We update these statistis as additional titles trickle in.
See next chart for count of books from U.S publishers only
Last Updated: May 14, 2019
Number of Books
Children's Books By and About People of Color and
Number of Books
By and About People of Color and
Estimated Total Number of
Asian Pacific /
||By||About||By and About||By and About||By and About|
Estimated Number of
Total Number of Books
*As noted in the narrative above, we receive the majority of new books published annually by U.S. trade book publishers. Some of what we receive also comes from educational and small presses. We also receive some books from Canadian publishers distributing in the United States, or from or other countrries outside the U.S. that are distributed by U.S publishers (e.g., Penguin Australia). Beginning with 2015, we are providing a separate chart that looks at U.S.-only publishing (eliminating books from publishers in Canada or other countries. U.S. editions of books published in other countries are included in both counts.)