Intro: Equity and Inclusion in Children’s and Young Adult Books

Cynthia Leitich Smith

I recall searching for a children’s nonfiction book about a Native woman to be the subject of my third grade report on a famous, historical person (after much deliberation, I went with Sacajewea over Pocahontas — neither known for her service to her own people).

Today, still, too few outstanding books are published that reflect any particular community.

This is worth saying another way: publishing any number of of books inspired by a specific community is not the same thing as publishing enough quality books inspired by a specific community.

(I’m talking about race and culture, but also about faith, socio-economics, mental and physical disabilities, bosexual orientation and gender identity, immigrants and refugees, etc.)

Good reasons exist for readers to seek out quality books featuring characters of a specific identity element and/or books informed by lived experience.

We need to show kids that anybody can be a hero that everybody cheers. We need literature that springs authentically and respectfully from lived experience.

To booksellers and librarians, I strongly suggest double shelving. If an excellent picture book features, say, Chinese American characters and themes, list it and place it on the shelf with excellent other picture books and with other books that include Chinese (or Asian) American characters and themes.

Wake Up Call:

Jingle_smThe publication of books related to people from underrepresented communities continues to lag. The numbers haven’t changed much in the past twenty years.

Does that mean the books aren’t being published at all? No, of course not. I don’t mean to overstate it. We must support the great diverse and inclusive books that are out there.

If you support inclusion in children’s-YA literature, if you believe in quality books for young readers at all, it is essential that you vote with your dollars and advocacy in support of diverse books. If you are a children’s-YA writer or illustrator, review and reflect on the craft of creating diverse and inclusive books for young readers and your role in that conversation.

What to do?

  • Check out We Need Diverse Books for more resources.
  • Buy diverse and inclusive books for yourself, for gifts.
  • Support #ownvoices authors and illustrators, creating books from lived experience.
  • Support authors and illustrators who writing outside their wheelhouse respectfully and with great care.
  • Encourage teachers to integrate the diverse and inclusive into the classroom. Donate them to school and classroom libraries.
  • Encourage school and public libraries to embrace diversity and inclusion–defined broadly. (Vote and speak out to financially support those libraries and make sure they’re staffed with professional librarians.)
  • Check out diverse and inclusive books from the public library.
  • Talk them up to your friends and family members.
  • Signal boost, herald, celebrate.