Lee and Low books, an independent publisher focused on diversity, recently shared some discouraging statistics: in the past 18 years, the publication of children’s books by and/or about people of color has plateaued, remaining at about 10%, even though 37% of the U.S. population are people of color. They went on to ask professionals in the field–authors, librarians, educators, reviewers–why they think this is the case. Their answers are interesting: the decline of school and library budgets, the buying habits of big box bookstores, a failure of children’s literature to embrace social movements (feminism, multiculturalism) in the way the grown-up literature has, and the reluctance of publishers to take on new authors (particularly authors of color). The full article can be found here.
My experience on this front is limited, but relevant as the author of a book set in East Africa with a Tanzanian protagonist. When my agent started pitching A Girl Called Problem to editors at big publishing houses, many of them said this was a book that would sell in schools and libraries, but not in big chain bookstores, and these days just selling to schools and libraries involves too much financial risk. My response: thank goodness for small, independent publishers like Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, and Lee and Low, and for independent booksellers and librarians, like my town’s children’s librarian, who stock their shelves with books that truly reflect our diverse country and world.