School of Education News

CCBC's Horning speaks with Indian Country Today about lack of diversity in children’s books

August 29, 2017

UW-Madison’s Kathleen Horning recently spoke with Indian Country Today for a report that examines the lack of Native representation in children’s books -– and how one author is helping to change that.

Horning is director of the School of Education's Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC), which conducts an annual study on the amount of diversity, and lack thereof, in children's books. The CCBC has a long-running tradition of documenting books it receives that are by or about people of color, or from First/Native Nations. The CCBC started tracking these numbers in 1985, documenting them in its annual best books listing, “CCBC Choices” publication. 

The Indian Country today article begins by reporting: “In picture books for children, talking bears outnumber Native Americans nine to one.”

Indeed, according to data from the CCBC, major U.S. and Canadian presses in 2016 published a total of 3,400 children’s books. And of those, only 35 were about Natives. And in an analysis of picture books only, that number shrinks to three out of 1,030. Reports Indian Country Today: “That’s fewer books depicting Native Americans than those featuring talking bears (27), talking dinosaurs (15), talking penguins (six) and talking robots (four).”

“It’s not just animals, but also talking trucks and talking trains,” Horning tells Indian Country Today. “Last year there was a book about a talking carton of milk, a book about the letter E. There are more books about talking or personified objects than there are about Native people.”

The report goes on to explain how even fewer children’s books are written by authors of color. Of the 35 books about Natives published in 2016, only eight were authored by Natives, or about 0.2 percent of the 3,400 books published in all.

The article continues: “By contrast, more than 70 percent of children’s books published by major presses are written by white authors and depict white characters. That means most Native children are learning to read with books that do not portray Native characters — or even other people of color.”

The article then puts the spotlight on Navajo author Daniel Vandever, of Haystack, New Mexico. 

He wrote and illustrated his first book, “Fall in Line, Holden!” published this year by Salina Bookshelf.

The report explains: “The book follows Holden, a young Navajo boy, through a day at boarding school where he expected to conform to rigid behaviors, stay inside the lines and follow the rules. But Holden, who is constantly reminded to “fall in line,” can’t stop his imagination from transforming his bleak environment into one filled with wonder. As he progresses through the school day, Holden’s carefree spirit begins to influence the other students.”

“Daniel is so important in the overall context of children’s books,” Horning tells Indian Country Today. “In this book, Native children can see themselves, and children from the outside can get a more realistic picture of what life is like.”

To learn more about this topic and Vandever’s new book, read the article for free on this Indian Country Today web page.

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