Photo: Lack of Diversity in Children's Books Leads to 'The Stories For All Project'
The lack of diversity in children’s literature is a problem that affects all children, especially children from low-income families, who rarely see themselves, their families or their communities in the stories they read.
The problem is real and pernicious, and it’s one that researchers, educators and parents have railed against for decades. In a study last year, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center reviewed thousands of kids’ books, and found that only 3.3 percent were about African-Americans, 2.1 percent were about Asian-Pacific Americans, 1.5 percent were about Latinos and a mere 0.6 percent were about American Indians.
Today, at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative America (CGI America) meeting, hosted by President Bill Clinton, First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides new books and educational resources to schools and community programs serving children in need, unveiled its Commitment to Action: to create a sustainable solution by dramatically expanding the market for diversity in children’s literature.
“We’ve heard time and again from the educators we work with that one of the biggest challenges to helping kids become strong readers is the desperate lack of books that are culturally relevant to these kids’ lives,” said Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO of First Book. “One of the best ways to turn children into readers is to give them stories with heroes and experiences they can relate to.”
“By aggregating the voice and purchasing power of thousands of educators and program leaders who serve families at the bottom third of the economic pyramid, First Book is showing the publishing industry that there is a strong, viable and vibrant market for diverse content,” Zimmer said. “First Book represents social enterprise at its best and this strategy will lead to the creation of more culturally diverse content that is available to all children, magnifying the impact of The Stories for All Project far beyond the children it reaches directly.”
“This isn’t only about more African-American books for African-American children or more Latino books for Latino kids, but it’s about more varied content so that all children can experience the richness of everyone’s stories,” Zimmer said.
As part of this long-term, market-driven solution, First Book is announcing through its CGI America Commitment to Action a broad outreach to new classrooms and community programs. Coupled with this market expansion will be the development of culturally-relevant collections of books for the children these educators serve as well as incentive grants to stimulate usage of the First Book Marketplace. First Book currently serves nearly 60,000 educators and community program leaders, still a small fraction - approximately 4% - of the population eligible for First Book’s resources.
As part of its CGI commitment, over the next two years, First Book will:
- Add another 30,000 Title I classrooms and community programs to its network, giving them permanent, ongoing access to First Book’s resources.
- Provide matching grants resulting in 600,000 culturally-relevant books and resources to kids in need.
- Create 9,000 collections (50 books each), featuring a wide array of culturally diverse titles.
- Conduct a landmark assessment of educators in underserved communities to determine exactly what resources they need most.
- Convene authors, illustrators, and other leaders to inform new content selection and inspire new and diverse artists to approach publishers with their work.
The cost of this commitment over the next two years will be $3 million. Disney, who has already donated more than eight million books to First Book, is a lead supporter of these efforts. The company’s investment expands upon its commitment to storytelling and will help First Book reach diverse communities, specifically Hispanic kids and families.
Today’s announcement builds on groundbreaking work First Book has underway. In March 2013, First Book purchased $1 million worth of culturally-diverse content from two publishers: Harper Collins and Lee & Low Books. Those purchases, which Kirkus Reviews called a “colossal commitment,” were unprecedented for a nonprofit, and served as the first major step in creating a new market for multicultural children’s literature.
“All kids deserve books that are high-quality, affordable and culturally relevant,” Zimmer said. “First Book has already solved two of those problems: quality content and affordability. Now, with The Stories for All Project, we’re solving the third problem.”