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When do your statistics come out every year?
The statistics for the previous year are released in early March.
What criteria do you use to count a book as “by” or “about” when you document "Black, Indigenous and People of Color?
We count a book as “about” if the main character or subject is Black, Indigenous and/or a Person of Color (BIPOC). If we are able to determine that a BIPOC character or real person 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 Black, Indigenous and/or a Person of Color.
Do those “by” numbers represent the number of individual BIPOC book creators?
No, the number of books we document each year created by authors and illustrators who are Black, Indigenous and/or or People of Color 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.
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 category, and “about” in the Black/African category. If the author of the book is Black, then the book would also be counted in the “by” category for Black/African.
It’s also important to note that books in the “about” category may have been created by white authors and/or illustrators.
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. Sometimes we consult with committee chairs regarding a book’s eligibility for awards such as Coretta Scott King, Pura Belpré, American Indian Library Association (AILA), and Asian/Pacific American Library Association (APALA). We also sometimes ask publishers, or the authors or illustrators themselves how they identify.
It seems like your caetgories vary from identity to geography, especially when moving beyond your annual statistics to the categories in your searchable databases. Can you explain?
That’s a great question, and the answer is complicated. First and foremost, in terms of our annual diversity statistics, how people identify themselves is most important to us. And we continue to learn what that means in terms of this work as we try to document what is happening in terms of books and creators reflecting the diversity of our communities and country.
Case in point: We have added two additional distinct broad categories in the past two years, Arab (2020) and Pacific Islander (2019) (formerly captured in a broader “Asian/Pacific” category). (We have subsequently updated numbers from 2018 onward to capture these two categories.) This was a direct result of being educated by people from those groups. “Arab” is a label that applies to people across several geographic regions, including the Arab diaspora; Pacific Islander is grounded in a single geographic region and its diaspora. But we have learned these are distinct broad heritage identities that it’s disrespectful to ignore.
At the same, time, in terms of our searchable databases, we also want to capture information that will be helpful for those looking to identify and perhaps conduct their own analysis of books that are, say, set in the Middle East. So in terms of the searchable databases, we are thinking in terms of Heritage/Region.
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 broad categories.
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.
If you are looking for information to do your own #OwnVoices analysis of our data, contact us.
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 Black, Indigenous and/or People of Color, 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.
Do the numbers of books you document that are about BIPOC characters/people 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.
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 Black/African, 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).
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 Blacks, Indigenous and People of Color) and to include an analysis of disability, 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 Black, Indigenous and/or People of Color. 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.
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, a book about a Black Muslim in the United States as Black/African, a book about a Somali Muslim as Black/African and Arab, and so on.
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, Indigenous and Latinx book creators as well. We also began documenting not only the number of books created by Black, Indigenous and People of Color, but the number of books about Black, Indigenous and People of Color, including the many titles that have been created by white authors and/or illustrators.
Some of the terminology we use has changed across the years in our continuing effort to reflect the changing terminology and preferences of the those whose identities we are documenting, especially as reflected in the current discourse and opinions of content experts from those identity groups in our field, but our overall goal of providing an eye-opening look at books for children teens through the critical lens of diversity has not.
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 Black, Indigenous and People of Color 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.
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 BIPOC authors and illustrators, 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, 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 BIPOC authors, illustrators and critics of color 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 of the Black, Indigenous and People of Color who continue to advocate for change.
- Children’s book awards that recognize excellence in books created by and about BIPOC are also important. Visit our Awards and Best-of-the-Year Lists for links to multicultural literature awards and other resources.
- We can all make a difference by purchasing and sharing books by BIPOC creators 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 Black, Indigenous and People of Color published. There just aren’t enough of them.
Can I get the list of books you have counted and based the statistics on?
You can use the Diversity Statistics Book Search here on our web site to search books we counted beginning with the 2018 publishing year. Your search can be exported in .xml format (can be opened with Excel, or Numbers for Mac).
For years before 2018, we have Word documents listing the books we have have documented and we are happy to share them with researchers.
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.
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.