Ten Groundbreaking Books: 1920 – 1969
The debate about lack of diversity in children’s literature sparked my interest in a very personal way. Confessions of a white author – well, not really – anyone can see I’m not a person of color. Okay, that’s out of the way. So, why am I responding curiously to the diversity dearth facts? Because maybe, just maybe, the facts hit a raw nerve. Behind the data are stories of authors and illustrators whose picture books broke new ground for depicting children and families of color when the mainstream/buying public had little interest in multicultural content. And I have to ask . . . have things really changed since the early 1900s?
Until recently, I felt completely grounded as a children’s picture book author/illustrator. It’s completely natural for me to feature my multicultural family in stories. I live diversity with them, not through them. I don’t feel less authentic for being a different color. On the contrary. I’ve grown more bold in my position as defender of diversity in children’s literature. Recent feedback from a top reviewer for my new book, I Want Cake! made me wonder what took so long. The kids’ ethnicities are plain to see, but the reviewer didn’t see. The multigenerational theme of the book is plain to see. But the reviewer didn’t see. High praises for the illustrations. Those were seen.
This led me to creating an infographic, “Diversity in Children’s Picture Books — 10 Groundbreaking Books: 1920 – 1969.” I retreated into the facts, but the stories illuminated the timeline. The 17 year-old Native American illustrator of Taytay’s Tales, 1922, touched my heart. Elizabeth Orton Jones, illustrator of Prayer for a Child, 1945 Caldecott Winner, took a huge chance by including children of color in her illustrations. These courageous, bold storytellers and picture book makers made history. Take a look. Join the discussion.