After last year’s jarring realization, this year I started a list of books with POC (people of color) and another list of books with a person explicitly not white in the role of a main protagonist in order to track my own reading and hopefully improve upon the lack of diversity of characters in 2015’s list of books. This year I read 44 out of 168 books (26%) where any person of color is included, either as a protagonist or a background character, a sort of abysmal quarter but more than 2015’s 23% if only barely. Only 16 of those 44 (36% of all books with any POC or 9% of the all the books I read) have a person of color in a starring role, less than half. In some cases, as in Mike Cuarto’s Little Elliot books, the protagonist’s role is taken by an animal or usually inanimate object, but in most cases the POC play background characters to a white character’s story or share a stage where no one is given a spotlight within the pages (for the most part, the covers of such books feature white characters).
A coworker and I both realized recently that the majority of toddler books feature exclusively animal characters–or characters that are usually inanimate objects, like peas. 64 of 168 books (38%) that I read this year are in this category of books with no human or humanoid characters. That means that in 2016 I read more books with completely non-human casts than ones that include even one POC.
Excluding these books that exclude humans and humanoid characters, the total percentage of books with POC rises to 42% but still does not hit even the half mark.
I have this year more actively sought out books with POC as protagonists, but I have not held–I’m sorry to say–to my November resolution to read books only about POC, women, or other marginalized groups. (There’s a good new year’s resolution for me.)
This is the list of this year’s books that included POC. Books where a POC is a protagonist are bolded. Books where a POC is a secondary character, one with a speaking role, and more than a background character but still not a protagonist are underlined. Books which arguably have no protagonist, where for example, a different character is featured on each page have a + sign beside them. Books first published this year have an asterisk, because those are the ones that could be considered for the most recent round of awards, and because those are the books that were probably in some way effected by the current cultural climate.
Picture Books, Picture Storybooks, and Board Books (Ages 0-8)
- A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young*
- How Do Dinosaurs Stay Friends by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mark Teague*
- The Dragon Prince: A Chinese Beauty & the Beast Tale by Laurence Yep and illustrated by Kam Mak
- Finding Dory Little Golden Book*
- Finding Dory Big Golden Book*
- Good Night Connecticut by Christian Vrba and illustrated by Anne Rosen+
- Dad School by Rebecca van Slyke and illustrated by Priscilla Burris+*
- Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Meg Hunt
- Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman+
- Raven’s Light: A Myth from the People of the Northwest Coast by Susan Hand Shetterly and illustrated by Robert Shetterly
- The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
- Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat*
- Groundhog’s Day Off by Robb Pearlman and illustrated by Brett Helquist
- If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don’t! by Elise Parsley
- If You Ever Want to Bring a Piano to the Beach, Don’t! by Elise Parsley*
- When Dads Don’t Grow Up by Blain Marjorie Parker and illustrated by R. W. Alley+
- The Not So Quiet Library by Zachariah Ohora*
- Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev and illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
- The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson
- Moana and the Ocean by Heather Knowles*
- Santa’s Sleigh Is on Its Way to Virginia: A Christmas Adventure by Eric James and illustrated by Robert Dunn
- Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library by Julie Gassman and illustrated by Andy Elkerton+*
- Step Into Reading, Level 2: Quest for the Heart (Disney’s Moana)*
- Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato
- Little Elliot, Big Family by Mike Curato
- Little Elliot, Big Fun by Mike Curato*
- The Red Prince by Tom Clohosy Cole and illustrated by Charlie Roscoe*
- It Came in the Mail by Ben Clanton*
- The Most Perfect Snowman by Chris Britt*
- Derek Jeter Presents Night at the Stadium by Phil Bildner and illustrated by Tom Booth
- Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner and illustrated by John Parra
- Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and illustated by David Roberts
- Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts*
Middle Grade-Young Readers (Ages 8-12)
- The World That Forgot How to Dance by Olivia Berrier
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J. K. Rowling* (the casting director is responsible for making one of the protagonists a person of color; some POC exist as off-screen background characters in an alternate universe within the text, but Hermione’s and Rose’s races are not specified in the text itself; within the text itself, POC are given a pretty poor treatment)
- The Heroes of Olympus, Book 1: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
- The Heroes of Olympus, Book 2: The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
- The Heroes of Olympus, Book 3: The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan
- The Heroes of Olympus, Book 4: The House of Hades by Rick Riordan
- Demigods & Magicians by Rick Riordan
- The Trials of Apollo, Book 1: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan*
- Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan
Teen (Ages 13-19)
- The Mortal Instruments, Book 5: City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare
- Looking for Alaska by John Green
Riordan as always has done a great deal to bring up the number of books that I’ve read with POC protagonists and characters. The surprise aid has come this year from Disney, which not only set a story in Polynesia with an entirely POC cast of characters, but also even in their story about fish in the Pacific, where few human characters were at all present, they were sure to include POC, and in the books mentioned above, I think POC accounted for at least half but maybe 100% of the human characters present. Santat, Curato, and Beaty should get honorable mentions for always including POC among their casts, and Beaty a shout-out for having this year’s picture book feature an African American girl. Bildner and Parsley both deserve shout-outs as well for multiple books with POC protagonists. I want to give a shout-out to Gassman too for having an African American on the cover of a book with a quite diverse cast where it would have been possible, as several others chose to do, to feature the white characters on the cover.
I also want to give a mention to Maggie Stiefvater. I’ve begun to suspect that in her Raven Cycle many if not all of the people in Blue’s house are African American, but I can’t yet swear to it.
I want to give another shout out here to Elizabeth Bird, who recently published a list of picture, easy, and early chapter books published in 2016 with diverse casts and diverse main characters on The School Library Journal‘s blog. This is a fabulous list, and fabulously organized. Check it out.
Have I misrepresented any books? Feel free to discuss below. Sometimes–particularly in picture books–it can be difficult to determine a character’s race (sometimes probably intentionally so, and I appreciate that too), and sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether a character’s role is large enough to merit a place as a secondary character rather than a supporting or background character.