Children’s Books by and about People of Color Published in the United States

Statistics Gathered by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center
School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison

(Questions about this information? Contact CCBC Director Kathleen T. Horning)


In 1985 the Cooperative Children’s Book Center began to document the numbers of books published in the United States for children each year which were written and/or illustrated by African Americans. When then-CCBC Director Ginny Moore Kruse served as a member of the Coretta Scott King Award Committee that year, we were appalled to learn that, of the approximately 2,500 trade books that were published that year for children and teens, only 18 were created by African Americans, and thus eligible for the Coretta Scott King Award. Using the CCBC’s collection and working in conjunction with the Coretta Scott King Award Task Force of the American Library Association, we have continued to document the number of books each year and to publish this statistic in our annual publication CCBC Choices.

Because of the great ongoing interest in these statistics, in 1994 we began keeping track of the numbers of books by American Indians, Asian/Pacifics and Asian/Pacific Americans, and Latinos as well. We also began documenting not only the number of books created by people of color, but the number of books about them, including the many titles that have been created by white authors and/or illustrators.

What We Count

The books represented by these numbers are based on everything that comes into the library annually. This includes picture books, novels, and non-fiction. We receive hardcover and, these days, more and more original paperback trade books typically available for sale to public schools and public libraries, as well as some (but not all) series/formula non-fiction titles (e.g., a “Countries of the World” series including titles such as Kenya and Venezuela). We do not typically receive mass market or gimmick/toy books created for direct-to-consumer sales. Because the CCBC does not receive every trade book published, in 2002 we began providing information on the number of books we do receive each year, on which the statistics are based.

How We Count

The four broad groupings we use do not represent cultural specificity; we track this in the annual records we keep listing the individual titles. Our Latino log, for example, is organized by specific region and then country or heritage group within it, so a book about a Cuban American child, or a book about or set in the Domincan Republic or Mexico, is recorded as such. A book about Aztec people living in Mexico would be recorded in both the American Indian and Latino logs.

We count a book as “about” if the main character/subject is a person of color, or if we are able to determine based on examining a book that a person of color features significantly in the narrative. So a novel in which the main character is white will be included if we are able to determine a secondary character of color is important in the story. We do not count a book if the principle 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 talk about the 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.

The multicultural content across the books about people of color represented by the numbers we document varies widely with regard to accuracy and authenticity. Additionally, the number of books we document each year created by authors and illustrators of color does not represent the number of individual book creators of color—often a single individual has written or illustrated more than one book published in a given year. And not every book created by an author or illustrator of color, counted in the “by” cateogry, contains cultural content. If it doesn’t, it is not included in the “about” number. Likewise, if a book about an African American family is illustrated by a Chinese American illustrator, it would be counted as “by” in the Asian Pacific category, and “about” in the African American category. If the author of the book is Black, then the book would also be counted in the “by” category for Africans and African Americans.

What Do the Numbers Mean?

Does that mean the remaining books are all about white people? No. Even though we don’t document the number of books about white people, we know there are certainly picture books books published every year featuring animal characters or trucks or other high-interest topics; and nonfiction about aspects of the natural world, etc. But what we know from being immersed in children’s and young adult literature each and every day is that white people are not notably, or even noticably, lacking in books for children and teens. However, CCBC Director Kathleen Horning did do a mid-year check in 2013. You can read what she found on the CCBC blog.

More important, what the low numbers for multicultural literature mean is that publishing for children and teens has a long way to go before reflecting the rich diversity of perspectives and experiences within and across race and culture.

The numbers are far from the only important thing to consider when it comes to multicultural publishing for children and teens, of course. The books themselves matter. And every year we see amazing books by and about people of color published. There just aren’t enough of them. The more books there are, especially books created by authors and Illustrators of color, the more opportunities librarians, teachers, and 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.
Making a Difference

Across the years, we’ve seen evidence of the importance of small, independently owned publishers as contributors to a significant 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.

We have also noted the importance of children’s book awards in calling attention to outstanding work created by and about people of color. We enourage you to visit our multicultural literature page for links to mulitulcultural literarture awards and other resources.

And we know the difference we all can make in purchasing and sharing books by people of color in our professional and personal lives. Sales matter to publishing. 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.

Note: in addition to compiling annual statistics, we also include an essay sharing our observations about the publishing year in the introduction to each edition of CCBC Choices, our annual best of the year list, and this always includes comments on multicultural publishing. (Recent essays.) The statistics below may not always correspond to those in the Choices commentary for that publishing year. Discrepancies occur when we receive books after the deadline for including the numbers in the print publication. The table below represents the most accurate accounting.

Children’s Books By and About People of Color Published in the U.S.
2002-

Year

Total Number
of Books
Published (Est.)

Number of Books
Received
at CCBC

African /
African Americans

American Indians

Asian Pacifics/
Asian Pacific Americans

Latinos
By About By About By About By About
2013 5,000 3,200 67 93 18 34 90 69 48 57
2012 5,000 3,600 68 119 6 22 83 76 59 54
2011 5,000 3,400 79 123 12 28 76 91 52 58
2010 5,000 3,400 102 156 9 22 60 64 55 66
2009 5,000 3,000 83 157 12 33 67 80 60 61
2008 5,000 3,000 83 172 9 40 77 98 48 79
2007 5,000 3,000 77 150 6 44 56 68 42 59
2006 5,000 3,000 87 153 14 41 72 74 42 63
2005 5,000 2,800 75 149 4 34 60 64 50 76
2004 5,000 2,800 99 143 7 33 61 65 37 61
2003 5,000 3,200 79 171 11 95 43 78 41 63
2002 5,000 3,150 69 166 6 64 46 91 48 94

 

Children’s Books By and About People of Color Published in the U.S.
1994-2001

Year

Total Number of
Books Published

African /
African-Americans

Asian Pacific /
Asian Pacific Americans

American Indian

Latinos

By About By and About By and About By and About
2001 5,000-5,500 99 201 96 60 77
2000 5,000-5,500 96 147 57 40 54
1999 5,000 81 150 61 41 64
1998 5,000 96 188 52 55 73
1997 4,500-5000 88 216 66 64 88
1996 4,500 92 172 49 50 103
1995 4,500 100 167 91 83 70
1994 4,500 82 166 65 70 90

Children’s Books By Black Authors and Illustrators Published in the U.S.
1985-1993

Year

Total Number of
Books Published

Total Number of Books
by Black Authors and Illustrators

1993 4,500 74
1992 4,500 94
1991 4,000 70
1990 5,000 51
1989 4,000 48
1988 3,000 39
1987 3,000 30
1986 3,000 18
1985 2,500 18

Source http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp#black

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