They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, for assistant professor Sarah Park Dahlen, the faces in children’s books tell a worrisome story. Last year, she paired up with illustrator David Huyck and author Molly Beth Griffin to show the lack of diversity in literature for the young.
Dahlen’s blog post displaying their infographic attracted over 40,000 views. Her Facebook post about it was shared over 10,000 times, including by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Junot Díaz and New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith. Educators, librarians and students — from K–12 through colleges across the world — continue to download and discuss it. Libraries are displaying it in their children’s rooms.
“We are blown away by the response,” says Dahlen, who teaches in St. Kate’s Master of Library and Information Science program.
The illustration, which uses 2015 data from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, shows that 12.5 percent of characters in U.S. children’s books are non-human, like animals and trucks; 7.6 percent are African/African American; 3.3 percent are Asian Pacific; 2.4 percent are Latino and less than one percent are American Indians.
Surprising? Well, that’s not all. Two winters ago, Dahlen contributed to another significant initiative. She partnered with Lee & Low Books on a Diversity Baseline Survey to gather demographic data from over 3,000 members of the publishing industry. The results showed that population to be primarily white, female, heterosexual and able-bodied.
Dahlen hopes both the survey and infographic will “help push forward important conversations and lead to real change in children’s literature, from the people who create them to the characters in them.”
Illustration by David Huyck, in consultation with Sarah Park Dahlen & Molly Beth Griffin. Released under a Creative Commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0
Percentages of books depicting characters from diverse backgrounds. Based on 2015 statistics by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center: ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp
* About a quarter of children’s books were picture books, and about half of those depict non-human characters. ** The remainder depict white characters.
Did You Know?
• President Becky Roloff ’76 published A Bay Lake Fish Tale in 1996.
• Megan Oldakowski ’17 wrote and illustrated The Emeowment of Felis last fall.
• More than 10 other Katies are children’s book authors, including Kelly Barnhill ’96 who recently landed a movie deal and the 2017 Newbery Medal for outstanding contributions.