School of Education News

Tolerance magazine highlights research on diversity in children's books from UW-Madison’s CCBC

October 04, 2019

A recent report from Tolerance magazine utilizes research from UW-Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)

The magazine report shares the experiences of elementary students and teachers at Tapestry Charter School in Buffalo, New York, as part of the school’s project “I am the author of my own story.”

Reading specialist Kaylan Lelito noticed that students of different backgrounds didn’t find most of the books they read in class interesting or impactful. Working with Tapestry librarian Jennifer Chapman, they developed this project to address the lack of diversity in children’s books. 

The project included having children write their own stories, as well as writing persuasive letters to major children’s book publishers, articulating their need for characters and stories that better reflected diverse experiences. One student wrote, “I’m Muslim, and I don’t get a chance to read about people like me. Other people should get a chance to read about different people, too. To me, learning something new about others makes me feel like I can connect with them and understand them.” 

Though this article focuses on Tapestry Charter School, the CCBC’s research reveals that diversity in children’s books is a widespread issue. According to a 2018 study conducted by the CCBC, more than 50 percent of students in the U.S. are children of color, while only 13 percent of children’s books from the last 20 years contain multicultural characters, storylines, and/or settings. 

These numbers only measure the presence or absence of representation — they don't evaluate the quality of books the feature characters with underrepresented identities. "Just because you have 300 books about African Americans," CCBC Director KT Horning says, "doesn't mean all 300 of those are books you would recommend."

Horning also shared strategies for honoring a diversity of student experiences in children's books with Tolerance magazine. She suggests considering quality before quantity, purchasing second copies of popular books featuring underrepresented characters before searching for a new title. 

"Just because a book has been on your shelf for 10 years doesn't mean you have to keep it there," Horning explains. "You should really go by quality as much as possible."

Horning also recommends that teachers work closely with their school librarians, as they often have book budgets while teachers don't. She suggests that teachers ask their librarians to purchase multiple copies of a particular book or to help with diversifying the collection. 

Read the complete Tolerance magazine article here.

The CCBC is housed within UW-Madison’s School of Education. It publishes an annual report tracking the number of children’s books by and about people of color and from First/Native Nations. The center start tracking these numbers in 1985, documenting them in their annual best books listing, “CCBC Choices” publication. Today, the CCBC also maintains a web page devoted to multicultural literature, including lists of recommended titles by age group. 

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