Updated: May 25, 2020
There’s a constant need to address diversity in literature, specifically in children’s books. During their most impressionable years, it’s important that children are able to see reflections of themselves throughout their environments, which, when taking a holistic approach, includes the literature they consume. However, until recently, there has been a stark contrast in the representation of marginalized characters in stories compared to the demographics of their readers. Not only does this lack of inclusivity negatively affect the worldview of young readers, it systematically catapults them into reducing their self worth, as their mere existence is deemed “unimportant” enough for adequate representation.
According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), only 9% of children’s books published in 2017 contained African or African American characters. While this is an improvement from the 5% in 2014, the numbers remain disproportionately low. Not only is the representation lacking, but there is another pressing issue equally as important: the vast majority of books containing marginalized characters are not written by marginalized authors.
Regardless of genre, when referencing diversity, we rely on the validity of children’s books to accurately represent the characters they contain, as a means of creating authentic, genuine stories. However, this is an exceptionally difficult task when the authors of said books do not share the experiences of their characters. When addressing diversity in literature, the need for genuine experiences is at an all time high. Children should be accurately represented in literature through the lenses of their own experiences, and not through the perceptions of others on how those experiences affect said communities. This is why the newly-formed partnership between Young Authors Publishing and BookNook, two organizations focused on diversifying children’s literature, as well as making it accessible for children everywhere, is yet another step in the right direction.
Young Authors Publishing is a not-for-profit children’s book publisher in Atlanta, GA that exists to share the stories of children, by children, many of who live in underserved communities. For their 2019 cohort, Young Authors published 13 children’s books that not only accurately depicted the experiences of young African American men, but were also written by them as well. Their books include a range of topics from science and bullying to politics and grief, gifting children the ability to choose literature that best interests them, outside of the most generalized topics many, if not all, black books contain. Young Authors Publishings’ partnership with BookNook makes diverse literature accessible to thousands of children.
Based in Oakland, California, BookNook helps students dramatically accelerate their reading progress with a collaborative and adaptive digital platform for K-8 reading and language. Through this partnership, BookNook will digitize all 13 books and use them to develop rigorous comprehension and vocabulary curriculum for thousands of students who use the platform both during and after school each day. The diversity of this literature will not only provide students with a peak into the lives of others, but will also broaden their exposure to experiences outside of their own. This inclusivity is a large step in broadening the literary canon of children’s literature.
“This new partnership allows us to live deeper into our core vision of believing that all kids are story-worthy,” said Leah Hernandez, founder of Young Authors Publishing. “We want students across the country to see more students who are like them and know that they too can be storytellers.”
“There is a dearth of good books that reflect the diverse communities in America. One of our values as a company is ‘We are Our Community’ - where our technology and our curriculum reflect the communities in which we serve. This partnership allows us to further our reach into our communities because these stories actually reflect many of the populations we serve, and we couldn’t be more excited about the potential of distributing these books to the thousands of students who read BookNook daily.” said Michael Lombardo, Founder and CEO of BookNook.
Read the full press release about our new partnership here.