I write a lot about LGBT representation in children’s media. But as a number of sources have made clear recently (and many of us can attest personally), children’s media needs to do a better job representing families that are diverse in many dimensions.
Publisher Lee & Low shared the annual statistics from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) showing that while 37 percent of the U.S. population consists of people of color, only 10 percent of children’s books in the past 18 years contain content about people of color—a number that hasn’t shifted much over time. Lee & Low asked a number of librarians and editors why this is so and how we might change it. Definitely worth a read. (One of the featured librarians is Kathleen T. Horning, Director of the CCBC and a member of the American Library Association’s Rainbow List committee, which compiles annual recommendations for children’s and young adult books with LGBT content.)
NPR has also taken a look at the matter in a report that you can read or listen to here. It’s part of their longer and worthwhile series about “Media for Kids and Teens.” The report, among other things, cites Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, an author and librarian in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, who stresses that we need multicultural books both for children of the particular cultures, as well as for others. She explained that for children of color, “If they don’t see [themselves] then perhaps they lose interest [in reading]. They don’t think there’s anything in books about them or for them.” For White children, “Not only do they learn to appreciate the differences, but I think they learn to see the sameness, and so those other cultures are less seen as ‘others.'”
At my day job with the National SEED Project, Co-director Emily Style likes to refer to this as giving children “windows and mirrors“: reflections of their own identities and experiences, along with windows onto the lives and experiences of others. (I write here, as always, solely for myself and not for SEED.)
Despite the obstacles, there are some signs of change. At the recent Clinton Global Initiative summit, First Book, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, announced a two-year, $3 million initiative called the Stories for All Project, “to aggressively expand the market for more diverse children’s literature by fall 2015. Disney, which has already donated eight million books to First Book, is a major supporter of the project.”
With an eye to my own cultural heritage, I was glad to see that ABC’s new fall show The Goldberg’s will give us a portrait of a Jewish American family who, according to Rachel Shukert in Tablet magazine, “are simply an American family, with typical American family problems: kids growing up too fast to suit their parents; parents who embarrass their kids.”
You know: kind of like The Fosters.
Of course, both The Fosters and The Goldbergs will have to be careful not to make their eponymous families so “typical” as to bury their cultural distinctiveness and experiences—kind of like the people who insist, “I don’t see color [or gender, or…]” in dealing with people, but who (however well intentioned) thereby dismiss people’s experiences of moving through the world as people of color [or women, or…]. So far, The Fosters has found the right balance; let’s hope The Goldbergs does the same.
We have a long way to go before all of our children will see themselves and their families fairly represented in the media, and before they will see media that represents the true texture of the world around them. I’m happy that NPR, Disney, and other major media entities are showing a growing awareness of the need for this, however (and I have long been glad to see independent sites, like Diversity in YA and Spanglish Baby, offering thoughts and ideas on the subject).
What are some of your favorite children’s books or TV shows that depict family diversity, however you define it?