Are We Facing a Future Without Diverse Stories?

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We step into other people’s experiences through literature, use our imaginations, exercise critical thinking, enhance language skills, and better understand cultures and communities. Children’s literature works the same way. A child’s perspective in books and stories takes things beyond their experience and makes them approachable. Literature is an essential part of the ways that humans connect.

“‘Diversity’ should just be called ‘reality.’ Your books, TV shows, movies, articles, and curricula must reflect reality.”

— Tananarive Due, author, and American Book Award winner

The question we are exploring today is not the importance of literature. Instead, we are exploring why diversity is critical in children’s books.

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What is Diverse Literature?

Books that represent and tell stories from the perspective of many abilities, cultures, beliefs, and skin colors are diverse. When most accessible literature is written by and representative of a dominant population, it can be isolating for other communities. Those who do not identify with that point of view, character, or setting can feel insignificant. As book bans become increasingly prevalent, diverse books disappear from library shelves across the United States.

A Positive Trend in Jeopardy

Children’s literature has made strides in the right direction but still doesn’t seem to be moving fast enough. In 2012, diverse main characters made up only 7% of children’s books, with about 93% of all books published containing caucasian characters. In 2018, 50% of the main characters in new children’s books were caucasian.

Other main characters were animals (23%), African American (10%), Asian Pacific (7%), Latinx (5%), and Native American (1%). In 2020, caucasian main characters in children’s books were down to 41%. Even with these trends, there still is not enough diverse representation in children’s books. Additionally, aggressive book bans across the United States discourage the publication and purchase of diverse books for children.

Will this cost us the progress we have made and hinder future progress?

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Why is Diversity Important?

Access to literature positively reflects a sense of self that is validating and self-affirming. Lacking access to stories that mirror our lives can be discouraging. Thus, the lack of diversity in children’s books is not only a disservice to children but a disservice to everyone. Literature helps readers see a different perspective. Empathy, community, and unity, in other words, diverse books, are critical for everyone.

Importance Magnified

Recent years have magnified the importance and need for diversity in children’s books. The benefits of diverse children’s books include helping people understand current world issues. Other benefits are increased awareness of multicultural social experiences, values, and belief systems. Positively and inclusively presenting stories about different communities promotes empathy and unity. Finally, diversity in literature builds communities by fostering understanding, interaction, and connection.

Your donations help support libraries across the country. 

How Can You Help?

One way to improve access to diverse children’s books is by purposefully seeking out diverse books to read. Referencing lists like The 2022 Ultimate List of Diverse Children’s Books can help if you don’t know where to start. Another way to promote diversity in children’s literature is by visiting We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) and Build a Better Book Project, two organizations focused on improving the availability and accessibility of diverse children’s books. Support authors who write diverse children’s books. Purchasing their work and promoting them to your community can increase awareness and interest in their literature.

And most importantly, support librarians who defend your access to diverse books. Visit our website to learn how.