Diversity in Children’s Books is Critical, but Equity in Access is the Key.
I read to my Treasured One (TO) every night. Yet, sometimes it seems like books TO loves now bore her. I was shopping one morning, and I stopped by my local Barnes and Noble bookstore to pick up a few books.
Now, I know it is unrealistic to expect to walk into a mainstream bookstore and find a wide selection of books with Black characters. I get that. Ever the optimist and such a book lover, I always hope for the best but expect the worst. That morning, I cautiously circled the children’s book area. Finding no books featuring children of color, I approached the desk to ask for help. Normally, I would walk out empty- handed.
I asked to see all of the children’s books in the store that featured a Black lead character. I promised if the books met my needs, I would buy all of them. The customer service rep came back with three books.
Seeing no stories that met my needs. I thanked her for her time. I left feeling determined to find good books with characters that look like me. Since that day, I have learned that mainstream bookstores are only part of the problem. Black and Brown authors struggle to tell their stories for a host of reasons. There are brilliant people like Justina Ireland and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas who write about this topic extensively. My observations stem from my work around racial equity and my experience as a parent.
Institutional Challenges to Accessing Diverse Children’s Books:
- Supply Does Not Meet Demand: Simply put. We need a greater number of diverse books. It’s not just a hashtag. We need more children’s books that reflect the differences in our faces, lived experiences, families and imaginations. In short, we need less painful historical narratives and more engaging, whimsical stories that encourage children to use their imagination and tell their own stories. As an institutional practice, diversity does not just happen. It’s the direct result of an intentional focus + action steps that together change organizational policies and practices. The result of these action steps are outcomes that are diverse, inclusive and equitable, like mainstream bookstores carrying more diverse children’s books.
- Access is a Real Problem: Black children’s books exist, but mostly they are created either by authors self-publishing or through small publishing houses. Clearly, there is an access problem to mainstream publishing venues. Author Ty Allan Jackson writes of being rejected by more than 150 agents before launching his publishing company, Big Head Books. There is also an access problem for consumers. Often, diverse titles have to be sought. More often than not, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr are great online sources to find books. Most parents don’t have time to search hashtags and blogs for titles of good Black children’s books.
- False Belief that No Market Exists: One of the things that I learned at Barnes and Noble that day is that diversity is in the eye of the beholder. When I pointed to the wall of Spanish language books, the customer service representative said that those books were ordered based on the local market. (Of course, that response begs the question — Aren’t black people everywhere?) When given options, Black parents will buy books that feature Black characters. Readers have reported buying more than 2 dozen books from just one of my blog posts. Options matter. In reality, smaller, local bookstores are much more likely to have a more diverse book selection and when you raise the diversity question are more likely to be responsive and work with the needs of the customer.
There are good, Black children’s books available; you just have to find them. That’s the mission of Mocha Parents Awesome Kids – to equip parents in areas that affirm the beauty of blackness as it relates to raising children. So, I encourage you to subscribe to our monthly newsletter. It will include recommendations for good children’s books as well as blog posts that you may have missed.
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