I came across an interesting article in the Mar/Apr 2011Bulletin of the Society of Book Writers and Illustrators, SCBWI. (No matter that I got it over a year late - it is still relevant.) The title of the article by Suzanne Morgan Williams is "Supporting Diversity, Supporting All Our Children". She refers to data from the Cooperative Children's Book Centre, University of Wisconsin, Madison which received 3400 children's books out of the estimated 5000 published in the USA in 2010. (See www.education.wisc.edu/ccbc/pcstats.asp )
Williams compared the % of the US population with the % of books received by CCBC in relation to race, authors and content of the books.
% of US population % of authors % of books
African/African-Americans 14% 2% 4.5%
American Indians 1.5% .02% .06%
/Asian Pacific Americans 6% 1.7% 1.8%
Latinos 16% 1.5% 2%
Caucasian and not Hispanic 63% 95% 91%
Willams asked "What does this mean for the almost 40% of US children who come from different backgrounds? Do Caucasian kids come to believe the whole world is like theirs?"
She also quoted the SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver and President Stephen Mooser who are both in favour of diversity in books for children and in those who write for them. I hope SCBWI is now putting some pressure on the powers that be to change the situation.
I think these findings have a great deal of relevance for us here in Jamaica and the Caribbean. Jamaica's population is about 95% of African origin, but most of the books available in our libraries and bookshops are by Caucasion authors, about Caucasian protagonists. This is a situation which Diane Browne, among others, has written and spoken about extenisvely, but their recommendations are not reflected in the available books.
This situation originated in the books supplied for children by Jamaica's colonial masters in England. Children's classics about English children were the recommended fare, not only in Jamaica but in all British colonies in the Caribbean, Africa and India. Amidst all the clamour for getting rid of the last vestiges of colonialisation, it is surprising that more people aren't actively searching for Jamaican and Caribbean books for their children. It would be interesting to have a similar analysis of children's books published in the UK, given the changes in the racial composition of the population there in the last fifty years.
Perhaps these observations also indicate that there is an opportunity for Caribbean authors to break into the North American market. While continuing to make sure that our work is of the highest quality, we need to be persistent in the face of repeated rejections. Maybe one of these days Caribbean stories will be in demand both here and overseas.