Another Cry for More Tokenism? Will Major Children's Publishers Ever Publish More Multi-Cultural Books?

Surrey, UK -- (SBWire) -- 07/10/2013 --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
- Only 2.1 percent were about Asian-Pacific Americans
- Only 1.5 percent were about Latinos
- A mere 0.6 percent were about American Indians.

Out of every 100 books only 7.5 percent repesented either African Americans, Asian Pacific Americans, Latinos and American Indians though these groups together total 37% of the US population.

These facts may make great political debate about the lack of representation of diverse characters in children’s books but to think that quoting these will somehow enlighten or embarrass mainstream publishers to publish or mainstream bookstores to stock more books with diverse characters is somehow far from the facts.

So what are the simple facts about modern day children’s publishing?

Major publishers in the UK and US publish an overwhelming majority of books that cater for people from the dominant European culture. Why? Readers from the dominant culture along with the readers from other cultural groups in the UK and US have a long history of buying books that repesent the European dominant culture. This makes the publishing and promotion of such books far more financially rewarding and historical logical for major publishers.

But those of you who believe that it’s not fair and morally wrong for mainstream publishers and bookstores to ignore the needs of multicultural audiences in the US and UK yearning for multicultural books, you may have missed the key point! It’s all about profit and serving the dominant culture!

Which mainstream US or UK publisher, driven to earn as much profit as possible, has a moral agenda or should care about anyone other than the buyers from the dominant culture which it has relied upon for decades to make its profits? Also, the fact that people from other cultural groups in the US and UK purchase many of the same books as those from the dominant cultural group makes it even more logical for major publishers to continue to use the same old business model whether it is antiquated or non-inclusive.

It is naïve to expect that mainstream publishers in the US and UK would, because of statistics that show they under- represent the diverse cultures in the US and UK, somehow feel morally obligated to now change their business model and publish more multi cultural books. Why will a business invest much of its time in an area they consider risky or worst still not important?

Calls for more books that reflect the many different cultures in the US and UK is not going to change the current trend in children’s publishing. It hasn’t in the last thirty years despite the fact there are large audiences in UK and US society longing for more multicultural books. So what is?

The same thing that has always changed the trends of the mainstream…

Create products, ideas so exciting and great that the traditional audience from the dominant culture begins to follow or buy from you, making the major businesses that service the people from the dominant groups, take heed and interest in your works, ideas etc. If authors do this, as people have done in other industries, the mainstream will want them and their ideas more than they ever could imagine.

Hip hop music is a prime example. In the 80’s when hip hop was underground music, listened to by African Americans and Hispanics in minority areas it was something as exotic as multicultural books in minor in the world of the mainstream music industry. The mainstream was not interested. Hip-hop and RnB then had no financial credibility. Simple it was profitable and it certainly didn’t represent the mainstream monoculture.

In the nineties, as Hip-hop and RnB began to cross over and become more popular in the suburbs and amongst the middle classes of American youth, the mainstream now became very interested. Obviously, this was because of the money being generated by the growing Hip-hop and RnB industry. The mainstream music industry now saw the opportunity for guaranteed wealth with their traditional audiences buying into the rapidly developing Hip-hop and RNB genres. So they did what all mainstream businesses do; they took the new cash cow and introduce it to the rest of the family and milk it while it is sure thing. The end result Hip-hop and RnB became mainstream, making the mainstream music industry billions.

The moral of the story is; if writers from diverse backgrounds are expecting change to come from the mainstream then that goes against history. Change always comes from the outside from the free thinkers, from the dreamers, from those who are bold enough to go it alone and create works of genius that shock the mainstream into noticing. Whether it is women’s rights or human rights, equality, cultural recognition, and political representation these all started as movements that the mainstream ignored or opposed.

H Aitoro, the author of the wonderful children’s book series Amara Para Global Friendship which celebrate inclusiveness and diversity in an interview stated

‘I wrote, illustrated and published my own books because I had no time or desire to convince major publishers why they should publish my books when it is not in their business interest to invest in books which are not in line with their criteria for bestselling books. Why should they publish children’s books like mine which celebrate Russians, Pakistanis, Irish, Welsh, Nigerians, Caribbeans, Arabs, Samoans, Kazakhs, Indians and so many more? That’s not their target audience. Rather than waste time bemoaning of the state of the Children’s Publishing I would create my own publishing platform from the humblest of means.Thanks to the ease of self-publishing these days this is achievable. I hope more writers will realise and do the same.’

H Aitoro, didn’t wait for the mainstream publishers. He has published his wonderful and insightful series of children’s books for all children which can be found @ or

Tamarind books in the UK and Lee & Low in the US have built successful businesses publishing culturally inclusive books. In 2007, Tamarind Books was acquired by Random House Group Ltd and became an imprint of Random House Children’s Books (UK), a major publishing group.

So finally, do I think the mainstream publishing houses should publish more culturally inclusive books with diverse characters? Of course, they should. Will they? Not until more writers such as the like of Verna Wilkins, H Aitoro or the owners of Lee & Low change the trend in the mainstream by showing them how publishing multicultural books can be profitable. Remember the mainstream are rigid, antiquated and formula driven. It takes massive shock from the outside to change it.

In the words of my father ‘Don’t wait for change, instigate it’

After thirty years of calls for more representation of the diverse cultural groups in US and UK in children’s books nothing much has changed. Is it right to cry for more tokenism?

Anthony Lewis, freelance writer

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Anthony Lewis

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