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Online Campaign Calls for More Diversity in Books

Education books 300x219 Online Campaign Calls for More Diversity in BooksCHICAGO — Less than 24 hours after a group of authors, publishers and writers launched an online campaign calling for more diversity in publishing, the #weneeddiversebooks effort has already gone viral around the world.

Everyone from librarians in California to school kids in Africa are taking to Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and Instagram to share their reasons for why the publishing world needs to more diversity.

“Library is the first place kids can assert themselves as individuals and make their own choices,” Starr LaTronica, president of the Association for Library Service to Children — a division of the Chicago-based American Library Association — told HuffPost.

“If you only stick to what you know, you’re creating this poverty of experience for kids and funneling them into that.”

According to a 2012 study from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, in a survey of 3,600 books for children:

  • 3.3 percent of them were about African-Americans
  • 2.1 percent of them were about Asian-Pacific Americans
  • 1.5 percent were about Latinos
  • 0.6 percent were about American Indians

“You don’t feel invited to the party if you don’t see yourself reflected in the literature,” LaTronica said. “Why would you be drawn in something you don’t see yourself in at all? It’s so important to those kids who don’t have the exposure to a bigger world. It helps them build that respect and empathy and understanding.”
Sarah Park Dahlen, an assistant professor of library information science at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn. told HuffPost the lack of diversity in publishing has persisted for decades, noting “There’s a lot of criticism that editors are relying on just the old standards instead of cultivating new talent.”

“Diverse readers grow up to be more empathetic,” Dahlen added, citing American Indian blogger Debbie Reese who has long called for modern depictions of Native Americans in literature. “Then maybe [kids] won’t grow up to be the kinds of people who throw racist sorority parties and dress in red face.”

In a survey of 2,000 educations by the literacy non-profit, First Book, 90 percent “agreed that the children in their programs would be more enthusiastic readers if they had access to books with characters, stories and images that reflect their lives and their neighborhoods.”

“We all want to read about ourselves, and we want to read about people other than ourselves. We live in such a great, deep world, we want to expose children to that rich, textured storied,” LaTronica said. “I think we’re all going to be better for it.”

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