In this era of #weneeddiversebooks, I have spent considerable time of late on a related deficiency: #weneeddiversereviewers. I'm not the only one. Partly because we are all conscious of the fact that America's public schools are now majority-brown, partly because we wonder whether having greater diversity in the workplace will help us find, create, and publicize those necessary diverse books, and partly because it's just the right thing to do, many in the children's-book industry have been looking at our workforces and wondering just how diverse we really are. As part of an industrywide initiative spearheaded by Jason Low of Lee & Low Books, Kirkus recently surveyed its roster of children's reviewers to find out.
We asked our 110 reviewers to answer four questions: What race do you identify as? What gender? What sexual orientation? Do you have a disability? In just three days, I received 79 responses, and I can't say I'm terribly surprised by the overall results. We are mostly white: 77 percent. We are mostly straight: 76 percent. We are mostly able-bodied and -minded: 81 percent. And—only in children's books, folks—we are overwhelmingly female: 86 percent.
While I will be very interested to see how we stack up against the industry as a whole, I find myself frustrated by the lack of nuance in these numbers, though. Identity is more complicated than statistics can ever capture adequately.
I may know how many nonwhite reviewers I have, but I have no clue how many of any color are new Americans or whose families have been in the country for generations—or are not U.S. citizens at all. I don't know what religions they practice, if any. I don't know who among my reviewers with disabilities is in a wheelchair and who might be contending with bipolar disorder. Many reviewers expressed their frustration with the blunt-instrument nature of the survey. What about straight white women who have spouses who are not white or who are raising nonwhite children? I don't know. But I know more now than I did a week ago. And that's a start. —V.S.
Vicky Smith is the children's & teen editor.