Diversity in Books

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My daughters have a non-profit where they give books and a blanket to elementary-aged children who might not otherwise have them. What started as a small project has grown to the point that they have now handed out over 100,000 books. 

With that volume, book collection and sorting is a year-around process. And as someone who sometimes lends a hand, I find the sorting process to be a learning experience. Among other things, I get to see who is and who is not represented in children’s literature. 

Ashley Fetters recently examined this topic as well, in her article for the Atlantic. She wrote about outdoors books. 

In these texts, the characters brave the wild, scavenge for food, and encounter animals, among other activities. They also serve as the entrée to the outdoors for many children. In reading about the characters’ adventures, children learn about what is possible in the outdoors, and important to the current discussion, who is likely to enjoy the outdoors

Fetters’ analysis showed that, by and large, outdoors books are about White children. Think about some of the classics in the area, such as Owl MoonBlueberries for Sal, or We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Or, some of the new books, like Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots. They all focus on White children.

The result is that racial minority children come to see outdoors activities as something that is not for them. 

According to Michelle Martin, an expert in this area, the lack of diversity signals “that black kids and black families don’t belong outdoors—on the Appalachian Trail, or hiking up in the Cascades, wherever.”

Several groups have formed to counter this trend. Black People Hike is one example. Their purpose is to foster minorities’ participation in the outdoors and environmentalism. Despite these efforts, there is still room for improvement when it comes to ensuring all people can enjoy outdoors activities.