Celebrated children’s and young adult book author Walter Dean Myers has a great essay asking “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” in this past Sunday’s New York Times. In his essay, found here, Myers responds to a recent report that only 93 of the 3,200 children’s books published in 2013 were about African Americans. He describes how important it is for children’s books to feature people of color, not only to inspire young boys and girls of color, but to help all readers understand and appreciate that moms and dads and doctors and lawyers and engineers and teachers and neighbors can come in all colors.
Myers tells the story of working in a personnel office under a boss who tried to eliminate a black chemist applicant for a position because as he told Myers, “That black guy’s no chemist”, even as he looked at the candidate’s resume filled with chemist training and experience. Myers understood that this was a more complicated brand of racism. He explains, “I realized that we hired people not so much on their résumés, but rather on our preconceived notions of what the successful candidate should be like. And where was my boss going to get the notion that a chemist should be black?” If Black people, including Black professionals lived in more children’s books on a regular basis, all children would have a chance at having a more realistic (and less biased) perception of the real world.
We’ve got a long way to go, with our boys in hoodies getting profiled in stores, stopped and frisked and even shot and killed because the way they look is what people know from TV, hip hop and publicized perp walks to be the look of someone up to no good. We’ve got to do all we can to find books for our children, and for their friends of all colors, that show the world the way it multiculturally is, not the way it looks so often on TV, and as we now know, in children’s books as well.
How do we find these books? We can start with the Brown Sugar and Spice Book Service, found here, which features “True Stories about People of Color”. But we need as many resources as we can find. GCP readers, send us your favorite children’s books featuring people of color! We’ll keep looking for recommendations as well.