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Friday, May 24, 2024

Black authors, characters scarce in children’s books

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Since 1985, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has tracked picture books, novels and other literary works by African-American authors and those about African-American characters.

Since 2008, the number of works about African-Americans and by African-Americans has steadily decreased, according to the center.

“I think the overriding issue is institutional racism. There is a notion among many that there isn’t a need for African-American books which make it hard to create a market,” said Kathleen Horning, director of the CCBC. “We often hear book buyers, for example Barnes & Noble, say ‘Black books don’t sell’ so it goes back to that self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Nationally-known African-American author Sharon Flake, who is best known for her books The Skin I’m In and Money Hungry, said the disappointing numbers are the result of three factors.

“The dip happened because people were lazy and decided African-Americans in books weren’t as important. In 2008 there was a colorless society where many said they didn’t see race or color. It is also due to the fact that African-American children aren’t valued or appreciated in this culture as they should be and that’s everyone’s fault.”

Flake adds that the publishing industry is dominated by white critics and publishers.

“When you’re outside of a culture you don’t always see the significance of a culture,” she said.

Flake, who now writes for Disney and Scholastic, has over 2 million copies of her books in print.

Horning said often when stories about African-Americans are published, those works center around the civil rights era or slavery.

“You don’t see much about contemporary kids. It’s difficult to find a picture book about an African-American boy,” said Horning. “Children can began to feel invisible, powerless and as if they don’t belong.”

5 books about African-American children written by African-Americans

  • You Can Do It! by Tony Dungy
  • Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee
  • Nappy Hair by Carolivia Herron
  • Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs
  • Princess Cupcake Jones and the Missing Tutu by Ylleya Fields
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