Tuesday, March 18, 2014

New Data: Less Than 3 Percent of Children's Books Surveyed in 2013 Were About African Americans

A shocking statistic provided by Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education:   Of some 3,200 children’s books surveyed in 2013 by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education, only 93 were about black people.

In a country where African Americans comprise at least 13 percent of the population, less than 3 percent of the new children’s books received by the Center in 2013 were about black people and even fewer were by black authors – about 2 percent. 
In 1994, the center began also tracking books by and about American Indians, Asians, and Latinos and found similarly dispiriting figures: Of the 3,200 children’s books it surveyed in 2013, 93 were about blacks, 34 about American Indians, 69 about Asians and Pacific Americans, and 57 about Latinos.
Perhaps the most troubling trend is how little the numbers have changed since the center began tracking them in 1985 and 1994, for blacks, and other minority groups, respectively.We educators realize that when parts of our society are scarcely represented in the books we read, we’re less inclined to know,relate to, and value those groups.

 Even more troubling, when minority readers, especially children, don’t see themselves represented in the books they read, they don’t receive the validation and affirmation of self that reading provides.
Children’s book author Walter Dean Myers, author of “Monster” and a former Library of CongressNational Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, recently told his story in a poignant op-ed in the Times.
Myers says he grew up in Harlem reading what many kids read – comic books, bible stories, “The Little
Engine That Could,” “Goldilocks,” then Robin Hood, then Shakespeare, Mistral, and Balzac.
As I discovered who I was, a black teenager in a white-dominated world, I saw that these characters, these lives, were not mine,” Myers writes. “I didn’t want to become the 'black' representative, or some shining example of diversity. What I wanted, needed really, was to become an integral and valued part of the mosaic that I saw around me.
With that realization, he stopped reading, stopped going to school, and joined the Army. His post-Army days were “a drunken stumble through life,” rescued, ultimately, by writing and books.
Myers read “Sonny’s Blues,” by James Baldwin, a story about black
people in Harlem. Myers “didn’t love the story,” but it was life-changing nonetheless.
“By humanizing the people who were like me, Baldwin’s story also humanized me. The story gave me a permission that I didn’t know I needed, the permission to write about my own landscape, my own map.”
To fill the void he encountered as a youth, Myers began writing his own children’s books about black kids. Black kids accustomed to stories by white authors about white kids in white environments are often elated by his books, he says.
“They have been struck by the recognition of themselves in the story, a validation of their existence as human beings, an acknowledgment of their value by someone who understands who they are.”

We need to write, promote, and lionize books for African-American kids.  It is pivotal for the good of our society as a whole.

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