Monday, June 2, 2014

First Book Offers Incentive to Promote Diversity in Children’s Publishing

Browsing the shelves of a children’s bookstore can be a delightful experience. But just a few minutes in nearly any store or library reveals a disturbing disparity: Though young readers are increasingly diverse, the vast majority of children’s books feature characters that seem cast from the same mold. Most are about white kids from white families. Few characters with disabilities or different sexual orientations appear even as supporting characters, let alone as featured protagonists. According to Kyle Zimmer, CEO of an organization that distributes free books to needy kids called First Book, this is a big problem. It’s harder for children to be enthusiastic about reading when the books available don’t feel relevant to their lives, and this puts millions of kids at risk for lowered reading achievement.

In an interview with NPR, Zimmer pointed out some troubling statistics: In a survey of 3,600 children’s books, only 3.3% starred African American kids and 1.5% featured Latino children. According to Zimmer, research by First Book indicates that kids are far more likely to become enthusiastic readers when they “see themselves” in books. And she adds, importantly, that the benefit of diversity in books extends beyond groups outside the majority; all kids can benefit from reading about the experiences and perspectives of different groups.

Ezra Jack Keat's wonderful books
 feature African American children
To promote diversity in publishing, First Book has launched a new project. Stories For All  offers an incentive to publishers by offering them a guaranteed market for books about characters from under-represented communities and groups. Publishers can present books by unpublished authors that promote diversity to First Book and they will buy 10,000 copies of each of the best ones.

First Book, by the way, is an incredibly worthy organization worth checking out. To date, almost 90,000 classrooms and non-profits have signed up with First Book, meaning that millions of children now have books to call their own. And their programs have been so successful that school personnel report elevated test scores, more literacy activity at home, and tripled interest in reading among kids who get books from First Book. Their call to promote diversity in publishing is just one more expression of the group’s innovative thinking; First Book has dreamed up some very inventive ways to get books into the hands of deserving kids. Their Marketplace sells heavily discounted books to community programs and schools that serve children in need. And their Book Bank is a clearinghouse for publishers’ unsold inventory, allowing excess books to be donated to millions of kids.

If this has got you interested in books about diverse characters, check out our post “Girls of Color Star in Three OutstandingTransitional Book Series” for some suggested titles. We hope these titles will tide you over until Stories for All bears fruit and launches fresh offerings into the market. 

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