Frequently Asked Questions
about the CCBC's Statistics on
Diversity in Publishing
Last updated: November 21, 2019
The information in our responses to these frequently asked questions about the CCBC's statistics on diversity in publishing provides critical context for knowing what we count and how we analyze and document the content of the books we receive.
Questions about this information? Contact CCBC Director Kathleen T. Horning
- When do your statistics come out every year?
- What criteria do you use to count a book as “by” or “about”?
- Do the “by” numbers represent the number of individual book creators of color and from First/Native Nations?
- Do the “about” numbers include all the books “by”?
- How do you determine the race or ethnicity of an author or illustrator?
- Your racial categories are broad--why don’t you document specific identities, such as Japanese American, Mexican American, etc?
- Can I calculate the number of #OwnVoices books from your statistics?
- Are all of the books you count accurate and authentic regarding the experiences they portray about people of color and from First/Native Nations?
- Do the numbers of books you document that are about people of color and from First/Native Nations mean the remaining books are all about White people?
- Do you receive everything published for children and teens each year?
- What factors should I consider in comparing numbers from year to year?
- Why isn’t Arab/Arab American its own category?
- What about other aspects of identity beyond race and ethnicity--are you documenting those?
- How do you categorize books by and about Muslims?
- How long have you been documenting diversity in children’s and young adult literature?
- Are there others doing this kind of work?
- What are your takeaways from doing this across the years?
- Can I get the list of books you have counted and based the statistics on?
- How do people and organizations use the data you compile?
- Can I suggest a change?
When do your statistics come out every year?
What criteria do you use to count a book as “by” or “about”?
We count a book as "about" if the main character or subject is a person of color or from a First/Native Nation. If we are able to determine that a person of color or Indigenous character is featured significantly in the book, we also count it as "about," even if the main character is White. 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 discuss as a staff 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.
We count a book as “by” if at least one of the creators (e.g, author, illustrator) is a person of color or from a First/Native Nation. (Back to list.)
Do the “by” numbers represent the number of individual book creators of color and from First/Native Nations?
No, the number of books we document each year created by authors and illustrators of color and from First/Native Nations does not represent the number of individual book creators in those categories—often a single individual has written or illustrated more than one book published in a given year. (Back to list.)
Do the “about” numbers include all the books “by”?
No. Not every book created by an author or illustrator of color, counted in the "by" category, contains cultural content. An illustrator or author/illustrator may have done a book featuring animal characters, for example.
Additionally, 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.
It’s also important to note that books in the “about” category may have been created by White authors and/or illustrators. (Back to list.)
How do you determine the race or ethnicity of an author or illustrator?
We use many methods for determining this information, including author/illustrator bios; publisher and author/illustrator websites; interviews; eligibility for awards such as Coretta Scott King, Pura Belpre, American Indian Library Association (AILA), and Asian/Pacific American Library Association (APALA); and by asking publishers, professional colleagues, and the authors or illustrators themselves how they identify. (Back to list.)
Your racial categories are broad--why don’t you document specific identities, such as Japanese American, Mexican American, etc?
We do also document cultural specificity for individual books and creators, but it’s not possible for us to summarize it succinctly in this format, which is meant to provide a broad overview of our numbers. So a book about a Cuban American child will be reflected in the Latinx numbers, while the information we capture 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, an individual book may be counted more than once across the four broad categories. (Back to list.)
Can I calculate the number of #OwnVoices books from your statistics?
No, it is not possible to calculate the number of #OwnVoices books from these numbers alone. As noted above, the “by” and “about” relationship is too variable to make direct correlations from these numbers to #OwnVoices. Additionally, #OwnVoices is a term whose meaning is tied to culturally specific identity and experience, which is not captured in these broad categorizations. The information we document for each book regarding culturally specific content, and for book creators documenting their culturally specific identities, is necessary to determine if that book might be categorized as #OwnVoices. It is also important to note that the way in which individuals interpret the meaning of #OwnVoices may vary.
Are all of the books you count accurate and authentic regarding the experiences they portray about people of color and from First/Native Nations?
No! We are simply documenting the books we receive, and they have not been evaluated for quality.The content of all of the books we receive and count each year varies widely with regard to accuracy and authenticity. If you are looking for recommended books by and about people of color and from First/Native Nations, we encourage you to start with the children’s literature awards and recommended lists created by organizations and individuals who work to educate and promote accurate, authentic portrayals of these experiences. There are many identity-based organizations, as well as culturally informed critics, evaluating and recommending books by and about people of color and from First/Native Nations. (Back to list.)
Do the numbers of books you document that are about people of color and from First/Native Nations mean the remaining books are all about White people?
No. Many of the remaining books are about White people, and a few of them are about brown-skinned characters with no cultural or racial specificity. But every year there are also numerous books with anthropomorphized animal characters, as well as picture books with characters who are trucks, crayons, dragons, etc.What we know from being immersed in children's and young adult literature each and every day is that White characters are not--and never have been--lacking in books for children and teens. (Back to list.)
Do you receive everything published for children and teens each year?
We receive most but not all trade books published by the "Big 5," as well as books from some smaller trade houses, smaller independent presses, and self-published books. In addition, we get some books from Canada and other English-speaking nations. We count all of them, but since 2015, we began to keep a second set of statistics related to U.S.-published books. Both sets of stats are in our graph.
We do not include reprints, including paperback reprints, of previously issued books in our count. We do include new editions of previously published books (e.g., new illustrations or added content, such as an anniversary edition essay, etc.) (Back to list.)
What factors should I consider in comparing numbers from year to year?
First, it is important to note the number of books we receive can change from year to year, so converting these annual numbers to percentages is most telling.
Second, as our work continues to gain greater visibility, we may be sent books we might not have received in the past. For example, in recent years 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.
Third, publishing trends have an impact. For example, in recent years we have seen more original paperback series coming into the CCBC featuring diverse characters.
Finally, our analysis continues to evolve, thanks largely to the feedback we receive from people using the statistics, and other experts. Additionally, we now check Kirkus Reviews 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 in one of the four categories, most often as African American, whereas now we track books with brown-skinned characters in which there is no apparent indication of the characters' specific race or ethnicity separately and do not count them as part of these statistics. Beginning with the 2019 publishing year, we are counting Pacific Islander as a category separate from Asian (which was Asian/Pacific prior to 2019). (Back to list.)
Why isn’t Arab/Arab American its own category?
Right now, we pay attention to the specifics of the book’s content and creators, with some countries, such as Iraq, counted as western Asian, (and so reflected in the “Asian” numbers), while Somalia would be counted in “African.” However, we are continuing to assess this, seeking input and getting feedback on how to categorize books by and about the Arab world in order to assess the question of whether to make Arabs and Arab Americans a separate race/ethnicity category. In the meantime, since we do keep records of geographical settings and various cultural ethnicities within the United States, it’s possible for us to cull out the statistics (as well as titles and authors) for books set in Iraq or books about Somali Americans, for instance, upon request. (Back to list.)
What about other aspects of identity beyond race and ethnicity--are you documenting those?
Beginning with the 2018 publishing year, we embarked on an intensive effort to document the content of every book coming into the library (Prior to 2018, we only documented the books by or about people of color and from First/Native Nations) and to include an analysis of (dis)ability, religion, LGBTQ+ and gender as well as race/ethnicity.
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 had gay or lesbian main characters; how many 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, and much more. (Back to list.)
How do you categorize books by and about Muslims?
As noted above, since 2018 we have been including religion as one of the categories we document. Since Muslim people cross all racial/ethnic categories, for the purposes of these race/ethnicity statistics, books are assessed individually and counted accordingly. So a book by/about Pakistani Muslims is counted in Asian, Somali Muslim counted as African, as is a Black Muslim in the United States, and so on. (Back to list.)
How long have you been documenting diversity in children’s and young adult literature?
We began documenting books by and about African Americans in 1985. That year, 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 2,500 trade books that were published in 1985, only 18 were created by African Americans and thus eligible for the Coretta Scott King Award. This began our efforts to document the numbers of books by Black authors and illustrators 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 also began keeping track of the numbers of books we were receiving by Asian/Pacific and Asian/Pacific American, First/Native Nations 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 illustrators, but the number of books about people of color and from First/Native Nations, including the many titles that have been created by White authors and/or illustrators. (Back to list.)
Are there others doing this kind of work?
The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education in Great Britain began to keep diversity statistics for the U.K. in 2017, modeled on the CCBC’s statistics.
In the United States, our work quantifying the content of books published each year is, to our knowledge, unique. It's critical to understand, however, that people of color and from First/Native Nations have been leading efforts to call for more diverse voices, and authentic representation, in literature for youth for decades. Their work has educated us, and continues to inform us. Their work is how the Coretta Scott King Award, and other identity-based book awards, were established. It’s why the seminal Interracial Books for Children’ Bulletin began. It’s the reason librarian Pura Belpré became an author and, later, an award was established in her name. Today, the activism and advocacy continues through the work of individuals such as Edith Campbell, Sarah Park Dahlen, Zetta Elliott, Laura Jiménez, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and many others, as well as organizations like Teaching for Change, We Need Diverse Books and others. (Back to list.)
What are your takeaways from doing this across the years?
Among the key things we have noted:
- After a long period of stagnancy, we began to see signs of positive change in in 2014/2015, but the growth was uneven, and there is still a long way to go before publishing for children and teens reflects the rich diversity of perspectives and experiences within and across race and culture.
- The more books there are, especially books created by authors and Illustrators of color and from First/Native Nations, the more opportunities librarians, teachers, 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.
- We are seeing more books that reflect the multifaceted complexity of individual lives when it comes to identity; for example, books in which characters are not a single race or ethnicity, or even biracial, but multiracial/multiethnic; and more complex and nuanced portrayals that reveal intersectional identites, as well many other aspects of identity, interest and experience beyond race and ethnicity. It should be noted this has always been present in authentic literature, but the recent rise in numbers means we are seeing more books, and therefore greater diversity within and across specific groups.
- Small, independently owned publishers, such as Lee & Low and Just Us Books, and Groundwood contribute significantly to the 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. Social media has also been a major change agent, allowing the discussion to remain at the forefront of our collective attention in the fields of children’s and young adult literature, because the voices of people of color and Indigenous people are keeping it there.
- Children's book awards that recognize excellence in books created by and about people of color and First/Native Nations people are also important. Visit our Diversity: Multicultural Literature page for links to multicultural literature awards and other resources.
- We can all make a difference by purchasing and sharing books by people of color and from First/Native Nations in our professional and personal lives. Publishing is a business, and sales matter. 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.
- While numbers are important, they are far from the only important thing to consider when it comes to multicultural publishing for children and teens. 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.
Can I get the list of books you have counted and based the statistics on?
We have Word documents listing the books we have have documented every year until 2018, and we are happy to share them with researchers. Beginning in 2018 we began to use a newly created database, and we can provide the information as an Excel document. Please write to ccbcinfo to request more information. Additionally, we are working on developing a means for end-user searching of the data we are collecting from 2018 onward; this will launch sometime in 2020. (Back to list.)
How do people and organizations use the data you compile?
The data has been cited in numerous articles about diversity--and lack of diversity--in publishing for children and teens; it has also been cited in the work of researchers and activists working for greater diversity and authenticity in books for young people. (Back to list.)
Can I suggest a change?
We are always open to new information and ideas, and many of the changes we have made over the years have started with an email from someone with a question or suggestion. When we are contacted, we seek additional input and feedback from other cultural insiders, as we know there are often varied and sometimes differing opinions. As a general rule we don’t make changes quickly, as we want to consider as much input as possible, along with its impact on past and future data. Ultimately, our goal is to be as respectful as possible. Please contact the CCBC Director at kt.horning (at) wisc.edu if you have a suggestion or feedback you’d like us to consider. (Back to list.)