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#we need diverse (picture) books

little melbaOf course we do. Last year’s amazing crop of picture books included those illustrated by artists of color such as Yuyi Morales, Brian Pinkney, Jerry Pinkney, Angela Dominguez, Bryan Collier, Don Tate, and Kadir Nelson. This year we will see picture books illustrated by Christian Robinson (two of ’em), Yuyi Morales, Raul Colon, Duncan Tonatiuh, Jason Chin, Susan Guevara, E.B. Lewis, Kadir Nelson, John Holyfield, Pat Cummings, James Ransome….and Christopher Myers and Frank Morrison….and more? I’m not even counting the many international artists who aren’t eligible for the Caldecott. (And my off-the-cuff list also doesn’t take into consideration books like Grandfather Gandhi, not illustrated by a person of color, but featuring diverse characters.)

I don’t know if it’s the raised awareness surrounding last spring’s #weneeddiversebooks campaign or whether in truth the numbers are growing, but it feels like there is a tiny bit more representation this year, at least among the books I’ve seen, and certainly among the ones that are currently rising toward the top of my admire-it pile: Josephine; Draw!; Viva Frida; Separate Is Never Equal; Little Roja Riding Hood. More women, more illustrators of color — although the numbers for that particular overlap are still insupportably low. And although, of course, we still have a lonnnng way to go.

It somehow feels too tentative to make any pronouncements. I think Sam Bloom summed up my cautious optimism in his comment on Robin’s Monday post:

“Of course, this brings me to the single biggest issue I see in the picture book world, which has definitely been publicized well of late: the need for more diverse characters. Of course, there are comparatively few authors/illustrators of color to begin with, another well-known fact. It seems to be getting a bit better – I’ve noticed quite a few REALLY strong books by or about people of color this year – but I wonder if it truly IS better, or maybe it’s just the fact that I’m paying close attention to the situation so it seems like more.”

What are you seeing? Are you sensing some movement toward more diversity in this year’s picture books? Does anyone have any numbers to back up (or refute) my admittedly highly anecdotal experience? Equally crucially — is the actual Caldecott committee noticing the strength and award-worthiness of these titles?


Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.



  1. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    It’s probably weird to be the first one to comment on my own post, but I need to say that I just this moment saw Christopher Myers’s FIREBIRD (written by ballerina Misty Copeland), and it is absolutely stunning. Adding it to the must-discuss pile NOW.

  2. Here are a couple more illustrators of color with books coming out (or already out) this year:
    ** Floyd Cooper – A DANCE LIKE STARLIGHT
    ** Bryan Collier – MY COUNTRY, ‘TIS OF THEE
    ** Matt Tavares – JUBILEE!
    ** Catia Chien – A BOY AND A JAGUAR

    Do I really write “of course” that often when I’m commenting?! Of course I do. Of course.

  3. I think we’re paying more attention, which is good.

    I did a little digging recently and found that while there is a good bit of overlap between the Coretta Scott King canon and the Caldecott canon there is no overlap at all between the Pura Belpre and the Caldecott. This is probably partially because the Belpre is a newer award, but I still found it interesting. The only Caldecott books I found with Hispanic protagonists were NINE DAYS TO CHRISTMAS back in 1960 and Leo Politi’s titles from the 40’s. Would love to see that change!

  4. I really love A DANCE LIKE STARLIGHT, FIREBIRD, FRIDA and GREEN IS A CHILI PEPPER (John Parra, ill.) But am very excited about some of still unreleased book Sam Bloom points to. 🙂

  5. BarbOutsideBoston says:

    Matt Tavares is an illustrator of color? I didn’t know that.

  6. I too was going to throw out praise for “A Dance Like Starlight,” which is a quiet but truly lovely book with wonderful lyrical language. (I can’t wait to check out “Firebird.”) What struck me about “Starlight,” the first time I read it, is that, if taken at face value, it is simply a story about a girl’s dream of dancing–and her awe at watching her first professional ballet. Of course, there is loads to discuss regarding racism, black women’s entree into professional dance, single motherhood, poverty–it’s all there, but it’s very subtle, it has to be drawn out (much is not even mentioned until the afterward). By resisting being an “issues book” (not that we don’t need lots of hit-you-on-the-head “issue” books, but here me out), it sets itself up for a wider, cross-racial, beyond-the-classroom appeal. Any little girl who loves dancing, regardless of race, will connect with this story–and will, in the process, hopefully also learn a little more about the injustices of our past and the continued crusade to break down barriers.

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