This is an update to this post, which as written in mid 2011 because it shows statistics for children’s books published in 2011.
This Census article from March 2011, states that
More than half of the growth in the total U.S. population between 2000 and 2010 was because of the increase in the Hispanic population. Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population grew by 43 percent, rising from 35.3 million in 2000 to 50.5 million in 2010. The rise in the Hispanic population accounted for more than half of the 27.3 million increase in the total U.S. population. By 2010, Hispanics comprised 16 percent of the total U.S. population of 308.7 million.
The non-Hispanic population grew relatively slower over the decade at about 5 percent. Within the non-Hispanic population, the number of people who reported their race as white alone grew even slower (1 percent). While the non-Hispanic white alone population increased numerically from 194.6 million to 196.8 million over the 10-year period, its proportion of the total population declined from 69 percent to 64 percent.
Interesting facts on their own, but then compare it to statistics like these that are independently run by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Click HERE to see their ongoing research on children’s book on and by people of color since 2002.
2011 saw a decline in books by and about African Americans and Latino/Hispanics, but saw a small increase in books by and about Native Americans and the breadth of Asian Americans.
If the Census is clearly showing us that Hispanics are becoming an ever present majority along with other minorities…why are they such a small percentage of these books published dedicated for minorities?
It works out so that roughly out of these 5,000 or so books published each year, only 5% of that 5,000 will be for all minorities. 16% (that means 1 in 6) of the population in the US is of Hispanic/Latino descent,. But the book statistics from show that roughly 1 in 75 books are by or about Latinos.
What about Asians? African Americans? American Indians? The numbers are equally appalling. Even more so when you realize that you have to take into consideration that there are many different nationalities that cannot be lumped up into one book. Of those yearly books on Hispanics, how many are about Mexico in comparison to Guatemala or Chile?
It is a lot to take in. It’s quite scary too. So I will be showing books that beat the odds, publishers that are making an effort, and what you can do (we can all do something!).
The most important and easiest thing to do right now, is contact your school and public libraries and demand more books that represent a diverse group of children. Contact publishing houses and ask them what they are doing to close the gap? Encourage authors and illustrators with diverse backgrounds to make books for children. The more voices they hear from, the more pressure they will have to do something. Make your voice heard, stand up for your kids and your families now.
Most of the time when people think of Babar, they immediately sometimes have a fond memory of an elephant. But the newer versions have been cleaned up - and if you’re able to get your hands on a very old copy of some of the books (as I did), you will see the racist undertones and subtleties that would make your jaw drop now.
I was able to find this copy of Babar’s Picnic where I work, and had two copies immediately removed. Still trying to figure out why they were still there after so many years. Looks fairly innocent on the cover…
The premise of this story is of how two of Babar’s children leave the picnic area to explore, they dress as “Indians” (first warning sign). They see a boy, who runs away for help after being spotted and the two elephants decide to go after him to his village.
What you see in the coming pages are pretty much vile depictions of natives in grotesque stereotypical native illustrations.
One of the pages had this, I don’t blame the child for wanting to do it either.
I tried to see if there was any information on the racism of these books, and was able to find this tidbit from the author (HERE) about how in the time he wrote them, it was okay and the norm for this to happen. That however, does not make it okay now nor justify what the book represents now or ever.
The concept of the story of Babar is of an elephant orphaned after his mother is shot by poachers, in grief, Babar runs away to the city and is picked up by a wealthy woman who educates him and turns him into a gentleman. But Babar is sad and eventually returns to his village of elephants, he finds a wife and becomes king of the elephants because he is wise now, and he can teach them his civilized ways. On the surface the story seems fairly harmless, but it stands for the corruption and rape of society done by colonialism. You could easily replace Babar with a human and the story would be depressing and inhumane, but something done to millions of people during the periods that Europe was colonizing other places.
This book is just one of hundreds, thousands of books that still exist that are in similar vein, it is just scratching the surface.
"The skin I’m in is just a covering. It cannot tell my story."
I have not had a quote impact me like the one above, in quite some time. It has left me pondering about all sorts of things. Like a punch in the stomach. Then I wonder what it feels like for a child to read it.
Skin Again by bell hooks is a really special book. It reads very simply, it isn’t very long, like a piece of prose. The words/phrases are completed as you turn the pages (think Eric Carle style). The message is simple. It is just skin, it is not me, not the person I am on the inside.
The illustrations are simple, like dabs and strokes of paint to show many different children.
The main points it makes is like when the book says
If you want to know who I am
you have got to come inside
and open your heart way wide.
This is not the first book I have encountered by bell hooks, I’ve read Be Boy Buzz (a poem about all things boy) and then there is the more well known Happy to be Nappy. Bell hooks is actually just a pen name for the author. She is an amazing educator on feminism, race, gender, and a social activist.
If you would like to know more about bell, go ahead and go on Youtube and punch in her name. You will see all kinds of videos on the subjects she focuses on. This particular one on Cultural Criticism and Transformation really moved me. It is part of a series (beware that there are some clips in this video that might make it NSFW). This video and the accompanying ones speak more to adults and university students than to children, but I think it is still relevant since I believe that what we see are the results of discrepancies in childhood.
It makes me wonder who is this book written for? Is it a black book? A white book? Does it even matter? I think it is for everyone.