By and About Numbers

by Kathleen T. Horning

Last week I posted mid-year statistics about the multicultural landscape in children’s book publishing so far in 2013.  Using the review copies in our Current Collection I counted the number of books we’ve received to date (1509) with human characters (1103) as opposed to animal characters or about non-human topics (326), and found that 78.3% are about human beings.  Of the 1103 books about people, 124 (or 10.4%) of these were about people of color.

When I did the count last week, I didn’t take authorship into account. But one of the things we do keep track of here at the CCBC is just that — the number of books written and/or illustrated by people of color. We first began documenting the number of books by African-American authors and illustrators since 1985 when CCBC Director Ginny Moore Kruse served on the Coretta Scott King Award Committee, and was stunned to see that there were only 18 books by Black authors and illustrators published that year. We decided to keep track and put the statistic into print each year, and by 1994 we were also documenting the numbers for Asian/Asian-American, Latino, and Native American author/illustrators, as well.

No one will be surprised to learn that there are always more books about people of color than there are by people of color. But it may surprise you to know just how many — at least so far in 2013.

book covers
15 of the 47 books received so far in 2013 by and about people of color

Of the 124 books documented in the first half of 2013 that are about human characters who are not white, 47 were written and/or illustrated by people of color. That means that just 37.9% of the books about people of color that we’ve received so far in 2013 were actually written and/or illustrated by people of color.

book coverAnd remember those animal characters who started this discussion? It turns out, people of color create their fair share of books with nonhuman characters, as well. In addition to the 47 books cited above, there were eight more books by authors/illustrators of color that I didn’t count because they were about animal characters, from Monkey King to a frog who sings in Spanish. Most, like Duncan Tonatiuh’s Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote, are culturally specific.

So are authors who choose to portray characters as animals really avoiding race and ethnicity?  And, if they are, what does it say about us as a nation if we assume our children will have an easier time identifying with a dinosaur than they will with a human child of another race?