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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Demographics of Kids' Books Don't Match the Demographics of Kids

You only have to go to the local mall on a weekend to appreciate what the census data tell us--the younger the population, the more ethnically diverse it is. But, as NPR pointed out in a story today, the ethnicity of characters in books for children has not yet caught up with American demographic trends.
When it comes to diversity, children's books are sorely lacking; instead of presenting a representative range of faces, they're overwhelmingly white. How bad is the disconnect? A report by the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that only 3 percent of children's books are by or about Latinos — even though nearly a quarter of all public school children today are Latino.
Does this really matter to kids? The consensus is that it does matter, although the story does not refer to any studies done on the subject. It just seems common-sensical that children will be more engaged in stories about people who look like they do.
Vaunda Micheaux Nelson wrote Bad News For Outlaws, as well as several other books about African-Americans. She is also a librarian at the public library in Rio Rancho, N.M. She says that young people need to see themselves represented on the page so that they will continue reading.
"If they don't see that then perhaps they lose interest," Nelson says. "They don't think there's anything in books about them or for them."
Nelson adds that it is also important for white children to see characters of different races. "Not only do they learn to appreciate the differences," she explains, "but I think they learn to see the sameness, and so those other cultures are less seen as 'others.' "
The obvious point here is that there is a market for ethnically diverse books that really didn't used to exist, and we can expect authors and publishers to start responding soon to these changing demographics.

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