People of Color in My Books from 2016

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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)

Middle Grade-Young Readers (Ages 8-12)

Teen (Ages 13-19)

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.

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About Kathryn

My love of books has been carefully cultivated by the adults who raised me and also by the friends who love to share. My life has led me down long library shelves, to online forums, fanfiction sites, the front of a lecture hall, and into the desks of college classrooms. With an English degree and a couple master’s classes in Children’s Literature, I am now a bookseller for Barnes & Noble. I have been an editor for Wizarding Life Networks (the people who brought you Wizarding Life, Panem October, and MyHogwarts now HogwartsIsHere).

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