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Black and brown children are proportionally represented in children’s literature

I am writing this letter in response to the op-ed article originally published in the Baltimore Sun on Dec. 6 (“Black and brown children not represented in children’s books”) and then republished in the Star-Ledger of New Jersey on Dec. 15. The reason for my letter is that the article, while stating facts, based opinions on those facts that I believe were misleading and potentially damaging to the cause of getting more children to read, which is ultimately the goal of the author.

The third paragraph stated a number of facts regarding the percentage of children’s books featuring a protagonist from a minority population. The purpose was to show how underrepresented minority populations are in children’s books, however, it unfortunately failed to provide proper context. In the article, only 1% of children’s books featured an American Indian/First Nation protagonist, 5% featured Latinx children, 7% featured Asians, and 10% featured African Americans, with wholly 27% featuring animals. If you compare these numbers to the United States population demographics using the data from the United States Census Bureau, it can be seen that these percentages are largely in line with the current population. American Indians make up 1.3% of the population, Latinx are at 18%, African Americans are 13%, and Asians are 6%. The only groups that were significantly underrepresented were the Latinx population and the white population: 50% of all books featured white children despite 60% of the US population being white per the census data.

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In the fourth paragraph of the article, it was considered “an insult” that animals make up such a large percentage of the protagonists in children’s books. If the goal is to ensure that more children are reading, it has often been shown that anthropomorphic animal characters engage children’s interest level more and foster more imaginative stories, so books with non-human characters should be encouraged rather than treated as an insult.

Additionally, the article fails to account for the animal protagonists in its stated facts about the races of the main characters. If we exclude the 27% of children’s books featuring animals, of the 73% of books (2,270 out of 3,134 books published per the article) featuring human protagonists, 7.5% featured Latinx children, 9.6% featured Asian characters, and 13.3% featured African Americans. Looking at that data, the Latinx population was still underrepresented, however, the other groups were represented fairly represented or even over-represented in the case of Asian Americans.

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The article does note that there has been incremental progress over time, which should be championed as a success, but is instead villainized because it’s not enough despite the fact that fairness has been achieved. It’s extremely important to make sure children all have equal opportunities toward education and that the available children’s books relate to the diverse population of the United States, however, the article clearly misrepresented the facts and is, in my opinion, damaging to the cause of childhood literacy.

Dominic Grillo

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