Diversity in Young Adult Books
Young adult books have truly come a long way. In 1965, an article called “The All-White World of Children’s Books” was published and showed "that of 5,206 children’s trade books published by sixty-three publishers during a three year period, only 349 books, about 6.7%, had one or more African American characters in them" (source). Flash forward almost 50 years, and there still weren't many more reading options for those interested in diverse characters. In 2014, a nonprofit organization called We Need Diverse Books was founded to help fulfill this need by encouraging changes in the book publishing industry to "produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people." Diverse books aren't always easy to find, so We Need Diverse Books created programs that mentor diverse writers and illustrators, support diverse publishing professionals, provide books to children and teens, and offer awards for diverse books. Today's young adult books have much more variety and diversity among characters, including those who identify as LGBTQ+, people with differing abilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. However, this is only a start and there is still a need for more diversity in young adult literature.
"When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part."
Though this article focused on children, this statement can also be applied to teens and adults. Connecting to characters is a huge part of reading books. According to We Need Diverse Books, 90% of the educators in a survey of 2,000 schools believed children would become more enthusiastic readers if they had books reflecting their lives (source). Everyone wants to be able to envision themselves as a book character or have a character talk about an experience that they also share.
Another purpose for diverse books is so that those who have not experienced something can learn from alternative perspectives and develop understanding of those who are different from themselves. According to "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors," the "dominant social groups" also need diverse books as "windows to reality" and to "help them understand the multicultural nature of the world they live in" (p. 1).
We Need Diverse Books
Everyone needs diverse books, and everyone deserves to see themselves in books. In addition to increasing diversity among characters, there is also a movement to increase diversity among authors. Own Voices books are about diverse characters but are also written by authors from that same diverse group, giving even more diverse outlooks and experiences. Whether authors are researching to create more diverse characters or basing them on personal experiences, these books should be read and shared. Scroll through to find a selection of our diverse books, author exclusives, book trailers, book lists, and more.
Characters in these books have differing abilities, both visible and invisible. An asterisk (*) by a book title means that it is an Own Voices book, meaning that the book's author shares a marginalized identity with the protagonist.
Characters in these books identify as LGBTQ+. An asterisk (*) by a book title means that it is an Own Voices book, meaning that the book's author shares a marginalized identity with the protagonist.
Characters in these books identify as different racial minorities. An asterisk (*) by a book title means that it is an Own Voices book, meaning that the book's author shares a marginalized identity with the protagonist.
Characters in these books identify as religiously diverse. An asterisk (*) by a book title means that it is an Own Voices book, meaning that the book's author shares a marginalized identity with the protagonist.
Characters in these books have diverse socioeconomic statuses. An asterisk (*) by a book title means that it is an Own Voices book, meaning that the book's author shares a marginalized identity with the protagonist.
According to ALA's policy manual:
"The American Library Association (ALA) promotes equal access to information for all persons and recognizes the ongoing need to increase awareness of and responsiveness to the diversity of the communities we serve. ALA recognizes the critical need for access to library and information resources, services, and technologies by all people, especially those who may experience language or literacy-related barriers; economic distress; cultural or social isolation; physical or attitudinal barriers; racism; discrimination on the basis of appearance, ethnicity, immigrant status, religious background, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression; or barriers to equal education, employment, and housing."
The titles on this list are what Helen Hall Library defines as "young adult." For ALA's complete list of Frequently Challenged Books with Diverse Content, please click here.