In my first school district, there was an over 40% Hispanic population in our schools with the majority still being Caucasian. I will admit that being new to classroom libraries, I was more concerned with quantity of books available to my students than really specializing in titles. Maybe I should have tried to do both but ultimately, I just wanted books readily available to my students every day.
My second district had an over 30% African-American population with the majority again being Caucasian. I started to pay a little more attention to the race and culture of the main characters in the books I was buying. I added some typical titles from Draper and Myers. When I started looking for more titles with people of minority backgrounds on the cover, I came up short.
Now, in my third district, I have an over 50% African-American population with Hispanic coming in second. My Caucasian population has dwindled to around 15%. So as I’m scouring the regular shelves, bargain-bins, garage sales, and GoodWill bookstore, I’m paying even more attention to cover art and main characters’ race.
I was lucky enough to meet Ari from Reading in Color at ALAN last year. Her blog is dedicated to contemporary YA books about students of color. When I first met her and looked at her blog, I naively decided that she was blogging about books with characters of color because she herself is a person of color. I’m ashamed to admit that but it’s the truth. But now that this is a real concern for me (isn’t that when things usually become glaring in their absence or “wrongness”?), I am flabbergasted by the lack of people of color in YA; specifically cover art.
There are some “go-to” authors writing about main characters of color: Draper, Myers, Volpani, Woodson; but honestly, these are the only authors I can think of off the top of my head. In addition, there are even less authors out there writing about Latinos. The only authors that come to mind are authors who have just recently stepped onto the scene: Nancy Osa, Matthew Quick, Matt de la Pena.
But even if we’re not talking about main characters of color, what about just putting some kids of color on the covers of books?! Probably 80% of the titles I browsed yesterday had NO people of color on the cover. All the cover art depicted white kids. Pale girls in gauzy dresses. White boys in sports uniforms. Kids on tire swings. There even seems to be more LGBTQ characters represented on covers than teens of color.
But in true educator fashion, I sent out some pleas for help to my Twitter educator friends. I thought I’d share what I got with you. Check out Ari’s blog which is linked above and Take a look at Crazy Quilts Edi. She’s got a great list of authors and titles. Then please keep looking and sharing what you find so that we can all help our students see themselves in books.
Here is a list of authors to help you get started:
Simone Elkeles, Alex Sanchez, Nancy Osa, Matt de la Pena, Matthew Quick, Sharon Draper, Walter Dean Myers, Ni-Ni Simone, Pam Munoz Ryan, Laurie Stolarz, Paul Volpani, and Jacqueline Woodson.
I’m sure I’ve missed a few so feel free to add to the list in the comments for this post.