I have a hypothesis that the industry will truly have turned the diversity corner when we start seeing significant quantities of unapologetically commercial books with diverse characters. The industry’s overriding excuse for staying in its safe, white, straight, cis zone is that the buyers simply aren’t there. But how much of a publisher’s bottom line comes from literary books versus straight-up commercial stuff? So if the industry continues to publish nondiverse commercial work while concentrating its efforts at diversity in more literary offerings, how can they really know how well diverse books might sell?
I see our annual Mother’s Day and Father’s Day Roundup as a bellwether of sorts, since it’s dominated by mostly ephemeral, unabashedly commercial books. That’s not to say there aren’t some good ones—there are—but the overwhelming majority are published to be put on display around these Hallmark holidays and then largely to fade. Out of 31 picture books we reviewed last year, just three had protagonists of color. There wasn’t a whole lot to call minority consumers to the cash register.
So how about this year?
We review 10 books about animals, nine books about white families, one picture-book collection of poetry with a truly diverse mix, two books with ambiguously pale-skinned, black-haired families, and four books with child protagonists of color. Of those four, one child is mixed-race with one white parent and one brown-skinned parent (the latter seen in one picture), and one child is noticeably darker in skin than her white mother but no other parent is seen. Of the featured parents (and let’s face it, these holidays are about the parents), only two are people of color: the mom in When I Carried You in My Belly, by Thrity Umrigar and illustrated by Ziyue Chen, and the dad inIt’s Great Being a Dad, by Dan Bar-el and illustrated by Gina Perry. There’s not a single book with an explicitly same-sex couple. Guess we’re not there yet. Vicky Smith is the children’s & teen editor.