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A more diverse society emerges in children's books in the USA

Alexa Patrick, programs director at Shout Mouse Press. The nonprofit writing program and publishing house promotes diversity in literature by empowering unheard voices.   -  
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A diverse network of US authors, publishers and independent book store owners is fighting for more representation in literature for children and young adults, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and amid a recent rise of anti-Asian hate crimes.

When author Carolyn Hunter reads her latest book “Mean, Mean Covid”, her young audience listens carefully.

Spectators come across very varied characters as Hunter leafs through the book. In order to promote positive self-image, the illustrator has chosen to represent protagonists who are disabled, Black, Caucasian or suffer from alopecia a condition that causes hair loss: "I wanted to bring all the children, as much as I could, represent everybody in the book, so that they can feel included. And just to teach children that we're all human, we're all human, and we all deserve to be treated well, be treated with kindness."

A diversity which has attracted different families at a Washington reading session: "I read to my children every single day, and it's great for them to take a look at the pictures and see someone that looks just like them, Barbara Choice, a federal government contractor and mother of two shares. So I think this (diverse children's literature, ed) is a wonderful idea."

Across the United States, a diverse network of authors, publishers and independent bookstore owners is fighting for more representation in literature for children and young adults.

"We have, I think, 30% people of color represented as protagonists in children's books, yet that is still surpassed by protagonists who are animals, Alexa Patrick, programs director at Shout Mouse Press reveals.Of course, we're seeing the growth happen, but I would love to see it happen quicker."

The growth in representation is indeed happening at a faster pace. In the MahoganyBooks library, which first opened in 2017, co-owner Ramunda Young notices that meeting the literary needs of readers in search of books written for, by, or about people of the African Diaspora is becoming increasingly popular.

"We definitely saw an increase of books, Black books being sold when George Floyd was murdered, Young says. And our target audience, which has always been African Americans, and people from the entire African diaspora, they were our target customer. They were always the ones supporting us in buying books. But then that net widened when George Floyd was murdered. And so we have all types of backgrounds coming."

Despite growing awareness the fight for more representation continues. NGOs like Everybody Wins DC, distributes thousands of free diverse children's books in 21 Little Free Library boxes across Washington, DC and Northern Virginia.

According to a 2021 Becker Friedman Institute research on the depiction in Images and Text of Children's Books, representations in books can offer a key means to address, perpetuate, or entrench core societal inequalities.

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