We Need Diverse Books, and How!

Last night, inspired by Sarah Park’s piece on diversity in children’s books, I looked through the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s reports on diversity. It was an interesting read (I learned about the history of the report which I had heretofore taken for granted) and it left me wanting to see how the numbers looked on paper (screen) so plotted them in a google spreadsheet, built a graph and thought I’d share it with you.

A couple notes: The “Animals etc” category doesn’t exist in the CCBC data set. Sarah Park’s infographic does break that down but her numbers came from books produced by US publishers only. The CCBC numbers for 2002-2014 include books from Canada and the UK (presumably) and for all I know they publish a ton of books about moose and hedgehogs. Nonetheless, to adjust for the animal factor I took the ratios from the 2015 report (where “Animals, Trucks, etc” make up about 14.6% of all books not about people of color), and applied it to the 2002-2014 numbers using these formulas:


Finally, I should point out that these graphs represent books about people of color and not necessarily books by people of color. There’s a whole other discussion concerning books by versus books about as well as whether or not casual or incidental diversity counts as truly diverse books (to catch up you could start here and here) but for the purposes of this post I can only claim that these are books that depict people of color and offer no judgement or guarantee about those depictions. Let’s go!

Here’s the graph:


Even looking at it as a chart, I still didn’t know exactly what to make of the statistics until I made a mental shift and stopped thinking about the numbers as percentages but as actual books. For example, books depicting African Americans went down 0.4% between 2012 and 2013, and books depicting First Nations went down 0.2% between 2011 and 2012. That’s 26 books about black kids and 7 books about Native American kids that didn’t get published and never made it to bookstores and libraries. Realizing that was disheartening.

But looking at the chart as a whole, I see that diversity has improved over the last three years*. Since 2013, representations have gone up for every minority group (translated to number of books, that’s about 223 more books in the world representing people of color). I like that but I wanted to know how far the numbers would have to go to be an accurate representation of US diversity. That is, how many books are we talking about when we say #weneeddiversebooks? I’m not looking for “as many as possible”, I want an exact number. And not because I’m planning to make exactly that many diverse books and not because I’m looking to indict any one who doesn’t. It’s just an academic exercise.

Here we go! Time for more charts. This first pie chart depicts where we’re at in 2015:


This second chart shows what the percentages would be if the number of books were a direct representation of the 2015 US Census (again, assuming Animals etc as a 14.6% subset of all non-POC books):


That’s a good goal to shoot for. It wouldn’t be impossible, but in five years those number are going to be out of date. I figured it would be smarter to look ahead and use a 2020 population forecast to figure out the book breakdown (turns out, by that time we’ll have to consider a new category of reader, Mixed Race at 2.5% of the US population):


At this point (and I will admit I was getting punchy) I started wondering if I should abandon the whole pretense of fair representation (what’s fair anyway?) and just split all books evenly between everybody. I was also starting to think about the gender divide and LGBTQ representation (side note: is the CCBC keeping track of those books?). I was close to opening a new spreadsheet but I thought I would see this one through first. Here’s the equal shares graph (at 3400 books total that would be 486 books in each category):


That’s a nice looking pie chart (even if 8 wedges would have had better symmetry) but it felt too optimistic (and I really didn’t like admitting I felt that). So here’s where I landed: splitting the difference between the 2020 census and a world where everyone gets an equal number of books. That gives us this last pie chart and, I think, something reasonable to aim for:


Here are those numbers set against the 2015 report and laid out with numbers of books. This is the number of books we have to get in the pipeline so our 2020 numbers look better than our 2015 ones and so that we have a starting place where the equal shares doesn’t seem out of reach. I’m calling this a Reasonable Five Year Plan.


And, finally, a visualization of that goal.


I like those colors. And as much as I look forward to seeing that representation of books on the shelves, I’d be more excited to see 20 years past that and at the kids who enjoyed those books growing up.


I wanted to go further into the upward trend I mentioned earlier lest it breeds feelgoodism and complacency. Projecting the average annual rate of change between 2013 and 2015 across the next five years gives us this:


I placed the 5 Year Plan/2020 Goal and Ideal World graphs alongside for comparison. Thoughts?