Diversity in Literature

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Photo CC- By Ron Mader

As I attempt to begin writing this blog post, I will admit that I am struggling. I just read four articles based on diversity in books, and I’m not exactly sure what I think/feel/etc. I may still be processing the information I read. In case you want to check them out. Here are the articles:

“Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” by Professor Rudine Sims Bishop

“The Apartheid of Children’s Literature” by Christopher Myers

“Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” by Walter Dean Myers

“Open Letter to Children’s Book Industry” by Zetta Elliot

What’s the Info/Problem?

What is boils down to is the lack of diversity in today’s books. Thousands and thousands of books are published every year, but only a small fraction of them are about or written by those of minority groups. “The Market” is dominated by books that are written by Caucasians and almost always the characters are also white. This is an issue because of the fact that minority groups make up a large percentage of the population and all should be represented.

According to the info I gathered from the articles, it seems the publishing industry does not see a need for books based on African Americans, Latinos, etc. Major publishers will say that diversity is always a goal and is sought out for, yet things don’t seem to be that way. According to Christopher Myers, “The business of children’s literature enjoys ever more success, sparking multiple movie franchises and crossover readership, even as representations of young people of color are harder and harder to find.”

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Why is Diversity Important?

Diversity in literature is vital. Why? Well, I’ll try to answer that to the best of my ability because I am the first to admit, this is new information for me. Children and teens need to see the characters as themselves. They should be able to relate, hence the idea of a book being like a mirror. It’s also important for a book to be able to open up new doors into the unknown for its readers. A teen should be able to explore the possibilities of a world they’ve only ever imagined through the window the book creates.

In Walter Dean Myer’s article, he describes how much he loved to read as a child and young teen, but that there came a point when he turned away from books. When he looks back on his life, he wonders if things would have been different if he would have explored a book that he could relate to at such a vulnerable age when he was being shaped into the person he would become. Myer isn’t the only person to have those thoughts; it happens every day, which is why diversity in literature needs to be encouraged and fought for. All children and teens ought to be able to find a book that can serve as a window or mirror for them.

I did find a list of books that have minority groups as main characters. I’ll be saving it.

My Thoughts

I found it surprising or troubling that there are so few books published every year that are diverse. I just didn’t realize this, but then again have I ever sought out this information myself? No. I guess it’s like a lot of problems in our society. If you don’t have a need or desire to know something, you usually don’t have a clue about it.

In my English classroom, all freshmen read two different books that are based on African American families, but my sophomores are not exposed to this same diversity. That’s something I need to work on.

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Photo CC- By Sergei Tereschenko

 

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7 thoughts on “Diversity in Literature

  1. I also had no idea how few books are published each year from or about people of color. It is sad really. The schools that I teach in have students that are black, Chinese, Mexican and white. So why is it that most of the literature only represents white people? As a society we really need to look at this issue closer as it is believed that whites will eventually be in the minority. So why doesn’t our literature reflect the needs of all learners?

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  2. I think the statistics were shocking to all of us; at least they should be! It’s worse that we’re just now learning about his issue, but we can always take steps to fix it! Love the book collage image you put in this–I might check out some of them, thanks for the ideas!

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  3. I’m kind of struggling with all of this as well. I think as teachers, we all understand that this is an issue that needs to be fixed. That however, is much easier said than done. The idea of shifting to a more diverse selection of books seems equally important and intimidating. I don’t even know where to begin. I think you are smart to work diversity in where you can. Changing the format of publishing companies is going to take an army, but infusing more diversity into your own class’s lives is a great way to make change. 🙂

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  4. I just lost my comment, so I hope a second one doesn’t appear. As a Hispanic person, this week’s readings didn’t surprise me, but they did make me sad. I’ve been looking for minorities in books my entire life, and now on behalf of my kids. I think the tides will turn when employing diverse writers and selling books about diverse characters positively affect the bottom line for major publishing houses. So we as teachers, future teachers, librarians, readers, consumers, parents, people, etc. need to seek them out and incorporate them into our reading and our students’ reading life.

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