Diversity of Authors & Illustrators in First Grade Core Reading Series

By Buescher, Eileen M.; Lightner, Sarah C. et al. | Multicultural Education, Winter 2016 | Go to article overview

Diversity of Authors & Illustrators in First Grade Core Reading Series


Buescher, Eileen M., Lightner, Sarah C., Kelly, Robert H., Multicultural Education


Introduction

Children's concepts of gender and race are influenced by many factors throughout schooling, including the texts with which they interact. Specifically, picture books, illustrated books for children, play an important role in the development of students' understanding of these culturally constructed functions (e.g., Bender & Leone, 1989; Blom, 1971). Over time, these findings have spurred increased attention to the diversity portrayed in texts children read, not only of characters, but of authors and illustrators as well.

Larrick (1965) surveyed 5,000 trade books published in 1962, 1963, and 1964, and found that only 6.7% (349) contained one or more African-American characters. When African-American characters did appear in the books Larrick surveyed, they often only appeared as faces in a crowd or as characters with skin darkened in a way that was barely recognizable as indicative of a racial difference.

Twenty years later, in 1984, after noticing a drastic underrepresentation of books published by people of color, the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) began to document the number of books published by authors of different races (Horning, Lindgren, & Schliesman, 2014). The CCBC reported that in 2013 approximately 5,000 children's literature books were published and the CCBC reviewed 3,200 of them. Of those 3,200 books only 3% (93 books) had significant African or African-American content. Even more surprising is that only 2% (67 books) were written by Black authors and/or illustrators. This trend continued across books published by all people of color:

♦ 34 books contained Native American content, while only 18 of those books were written by Native American authors and/ or illustrators;

♦ 61 books had Asian/Pacific or Asian/ Pacific American content, while 88 of the books were written or illustrated by people of Asian/ Pacific heritage; and

♦ 57 books had significant Latino content, but only 48 books had Latino authors and/ or illustrators.

These statistics do not mean that all of the other books published in 2013 contained White characters because there are many books published every year that do not include characters, and many that include anamorphic characters. However, these statistics do indicate that there is a lack of diverse content in children's books, which is mirrored by the lack of diverse authors and illustrators who are publishing children's books.

Venezky (1990) noted that "the evolution of the modern reading textbook is in part the history of American education and in part the history of American culture," (p. x) but the statistics presented by the CCBC suggest that despite the diversity of perspectives and cultures in the United States, books published for children and teens reflect only a limited perspective of American culture (Horning et al., 2014).

The purposes of this study were to examine the diversity of the authors and illustrators in core reading series and to evaluate the opportunities and limitations of these texts in relation to the goals of multicultural education. We began our research concerned about whose stories are told in core reading series and who gets to tell those stories.

In order to address our concerns, we conducted a text analysis of four popular core reading series to determine the representation of gender and race of the authors and illustrators whose works are present in these series. We recognize that diversity can be viewed from numerous lenses -race, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religion-just to name a few. Although diversity entails much more than just race and gender, we have chosen to focus on these two tenets because they are visible from the pictures of authors and illustrators printed along with the stories used in core reading series. This article examines the issues that are the basis of the research and presents the methodology and results of our analysis.

Literature and Multicultural Education

The inclusion of texts by and about diverse groups of people is significant towards creating an environment where multicultural education is valued. …

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