Spike Lee and Toni Morrison are two of my students’ favorite authors. Of course, their inclusion on our syllabus is not without controversy. For instance, Morrison’s beloved “Peeny Butter Fudge,” a collaboration with her son Slade, includes a recipe on the last page, and my students really want to make it. While there are no peanut allergies in my class this year, the recipe is much too sugary.
My students are 4 and 5 years old, and finding excellent books for them featuring people of color, kids with two dads, kids with no dad, or girls who slay dragons is a persistent challenge. Like many educators, I find myself returning to a handful of treasured titles, including “Peeny Butter Fudge” and Lee’s “Please, Baby, Please.”
Annual statistics from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center bear out what I know from visits to my local library. For three decades, the librarians at the center, a modest outfit at the University of Wisconsin, have tracked one dimension of diversity in books for children and young adults: racial diversity. Children’s and young adult literature (“kid lit”) represent a stubbornly white world even as U.S. children are increasingly people of color.
Since the center began tracking data in 1985, it has found underrepresentation of people of color both as authors and characters. Originally, it only tracked African-American authorship and content, finding just 18 new titles by African-American authors that first year.