Can diversity in children's books tackle prejudice?

Story highlights

  • Campaigners hope to encourage diversity in children's books
  • Typecasting common in kid's literature, analysts say

(CNN)Marley Dias says she was tired of reading books about "white boys and their dogs" in school.

So at the age of 11, she launched the campaign #1000BlackGirlBooks to identify books featuring people of color as protagonists.
    Over the past three years, Dias has collected more than 11,000 books. She is in the process of donating all the books and has given more than half to what she describes as "predominantly black and underserved" communities in the US, Haiti, Ghana, Jamaica and the UK.
    The young activist from New Jersey has even gone on to author her own book -- "Marley Dias Gets It Done" -- and is currently developing an app so kids can find "black girl books" more easily.
    Marley Dias, the brains behind #1000 Black Girl Books.
    "I hope that my campaign will mean more opportunities for our stories to be told and for books with black girls as the main character to be put on bookshelves worldwide," she tells CNN.
    Yet despite the young writer's best efforts, statistics suggest "black girl books" are still in short supply.
    Just 9% of children's books published in the US in 2017 featured African or African American characters -- according to data from the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) which has been measuring representation in children's books since 1985.
    While that figure appears small, it actually represents an improvement on previous years. In 2014, just 5% of children's books recorded by the CCBC included African or African American characters.
    Moreover, CCBC director Kathleen Horning points out that many of the books about black experiences have not been written by authors from that demographic.
    Africans and African Americans wrote or illustrated just 3% of the books counted by the CCBC in 2017. Horning says this statistic appears to depict how difficult it can be for black authors to break into the publishing industry.
    When children's books about black people do get published, Horning says they often fall into three broad categories: books about slavery, books set during the civil rights movement and books that tell "gritty, contemporary" stories about children growing up in struggling families or teens dealing with violence.
    "All of these are important stories, but young readers also want more variety," says Horning. For example, there aren't traditionally "many fantasies with African American characters, or books showing a middle-class black family."
    However, Horning adds she has seen flickers of change in 2018, highlighting fantasy book "Children of Blood and Bone" by Toni Adeyemi and "Pride" by Ibi Zoboi, a contemporary remix of "Pride and Prejudice," featuring a Haitian-Dominican-American family.