The Ink is Black, the Page is White: The Omission of People of Color in Children’s Books

If the song “Black and White” (made famous by the 1970’s band, Three Dog Night) was written today, I would hope they would add to it’s title, “and the Pencil is Brown,” to symbolize the many brown faces that have changed the demographics of the country. The song was actually written by David Arkin and Earl Robinson in 1954 in response to the Supreme Court’s landmark anti-segregation decision, Brown v. Board of Education.

Lack of Representation of People of Color in Children’s Literature

Photo Credit: Christopher Meyers

Illustration by Christopher Meyers

According to according to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, only 253 of 3,200 children’s books surveyed were about people of color (described as African-American, American Indian, Latino, Asian & Pacific Island Americans). Additionally only 213 authors of color were found in the random sample. Additionally, with over 52 million Latinos in the U.S., (a number which is continually growing) the New York Times did not include a single book which included either a Latino protagonist or written by a Latino author, on it’s New York Times notable children’s book of 2013

Importance of representation of people of color in Children’s Books

Illustration by Christopher Meyers

Illustration by Christopher Meyers

The lack of people of color in children’s books is terribly unfortunate and alarming. Books provide a way for children to envision themselves within the world around them. The demographics of the U.S. is rapidly changing to include more people of color. The importance of modeling in education is well documented. It is imperative that children of color see the images and read the words of the people around them that look like them. Therefore, if our books do not represent the many faces of the people that constitute our country, then we are under-serving and disenfranchising a significant portion of our population.

As a parent of a 7 year old, (3/4 Latina and 1/4 Native American) I have noticed the dearth of characters in children’s books that look like us. After reading the New York Times pieces, “Where are the People of Color in Children’s Books,” by Walter Dean Myers and the “Apartheid of Children’s Literature” by Christopher Meyers, I became fully aware of this unacceptable reality.

Book Choices for Parents

Viviana Hurtado and Monica Olivera of Latinas for Latino Lit, have created their own notables list of recommended children’s books that includes Latino authors, illustrators and protagonists. They both speak on the importance of this issue on National Public Radio: listen here.

Photo by Becky Archuleta

Photo by Becky Archuleta

This past Friday I played my bilingual multimedia eBook, Princess Marisol & the Moon Thieves, with it’s multicultural theme, and music, at Chaparral Elementary in Albuquerque, NM. Albuquerque Public Schools has a population of students which is 55% Hispanic/Latino. The characters in the book are real people, Marisol Paramo, Matias Pizarro, Juan Ramirez, Jackie Zamora: I insisted they be illustrated to their true likeness. As I scanned the classroom viewing all the interested little brown, black and white faces, I was proud of the fact that they were experiencing a multicultural story with little brown faces on the screen! 

Alex Paramo is an Author and Co-Founder of Community Publishing. Community Publishing brings local artists of all mediums together in creative collaborations for distribution as multimedia eBooks while promoting literacy in our communities.
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