Feeding the Demand for More Diverse Books

An “It’s Complicated!” post by literary agent Stefanie Sanchez Von Borstel

While on faculty at the National Latino Writers Conference last Thursday, a timely


headline read:

For the first time in US history, more than half of all newborn babies born last year are minorities. The entire US population is 36% minority, and this milestone shows how swiftly our nation’s youth is diversifying. 

Yet a recent study by the SCBWI found that in 2010 more than 90 percent of children’s/young adult books published in the US featured white protagonists. As a literary agent, I’ve found it’s important to show publishers there is a demand, and in turn help them feel confident to publish even more diverse voices. As an author advocate, I believe it’s critical for writers of color to see their fellow writers succeed. As a mother, I know it’s urgent that we make sure young readers see themselves in the books they read.

The debut middle-grade novel by Diana Lopez, Confetti Girl (Little, Brown), is an example of a book filled with diversity that doesn’t focus on diversity but instead wraps diversity around a wonderful story. Apolina “Lina” Flores is a sock enthusiast, volleyball player and science lover looking for answers about her life. Filled with colorful Mexican-American cultural details such as dichos, confetti-filled cascarones and cumbia dances, the story struck a chord with middle-schoolers nationwide. 

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It’s Complicated!

Blog series introduction and welcome by CBC Diversity Committee Chair, Nancy Mercado

One of my favorite things about being on the CBC Diversity Committee is hearing the stories, ideas and concerns that are shared around the table at our monthly meetings. The committee is working towards concrete goals, but it also serves as a good old fashioned consciousness-raising group. By this I mean that we are able to have honest conversations about diversity in children’s publishing and elevate our own discourse by listening to everyone’s experiences, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in the process. These closed-door meetings are incredibly useful, but we wanted to open up the conversation to a much wider audience. To that end, we are introducing a new blog series called It’s Complicated!

The internet can often be a rough-and-tumble kind of place when it comes to complex and layered discussions, but we think it’s possible and necessary to have a respectful and open forum where we are able to chat about some of the challenges that we face, as well as the opportunities that exist when we come together as a community. So what are some of the challenges we face? Well, I’ll give you a glimpse into some of the things we’ve discussed around our table:

  • There aren’t enough diverse people working in the industry
  • There’s a perception that diverse books are too niche or that they don’t sell
  • Diverse books or authors can get pigeon-holed, both in house and in the marketplace
  • Authors avoid the portrayal of diverse characters for fear that they may perhaps not “get it right”
  • Editors worry that reviewers will heavily scrutinize books that feature diverse characters

To begin diving into some of these questions, we’ve asked an author, an agent, an editor, and a children’s literature advocate/reviewer to weigh in on an aspect of diversity in publishing that is meaningful to them. I’m pleased to say that we have terrific posts to come this week from author Cynthia Leitich Smith, agent Stefanie Von Borstel, editor Cheryl Klein, and advocate/reviewer Debbie Reese.

Please tune in this week and participate in what we hope will be an informative and insightful conversation! We really want to hear from you, our readers, about your experiences and concerns, and how you think authors/reviewers/publishing professionals/teachers & librarians/parents can work towards some of our shared goals.