Diversity in MG Lit #41 November 2022

I’ve heard a lot of concern about the new policies at Barnes & Noble that will change the way MG books are purchased, particularly as it relates to various titles. I went to my local B&N and did a shelf inventory. I did a simple count of all the books in the MG section and noted if they had diverse content or not. POC, LGBT+, disability, neurodiversity, and religious diversity were included. If none of those qualities were present in the book or author, I put it on the Not Miscellaneous pile. If the book was centered around animals, toys, or mythological creatures, I left it out of the count entirely. In a group cast, if more than one person was diverse, it counted as one diverse book. I did not count chapter books, easy readers, nonfiction, or graphic novels.

It is not a perfect system. For example, leaving out Dogman and the Wings of Fire (animal-focused books) reduces the number of white writers in the count. And any count like this is just a snapshot of what’s on the shelf on any given day. Still, it’s a window into what’s happening and B&N under the new book purchasing policy, regarding the diversity of the collection.

Here are the numbers.

Total collection size: 1,225 books

Miscellaneous titles: 455 or 37%

non-various titles; 770 or 63%

there were 4 shows end cap with competing titles.

Mystery: 30 books in total, not diverse 90%, diverse 7% and narrated animals 3%

Staff Favorites: 24 Titles, 100% Diverse These were all Native American titles and all by Native American authors.

Rick Riorden presents books: 18 titles, 100% diverse

Chilling: not diverse 68%, diverse 32%

Total End Covers Out of Books: 110, non-diverse 48%, divers 51%

Obviously, these results are disappointing considering that the diversity rate among MG students is quite close to 50%. There were still encouraging signs. The most recent CCBC statistics put the rate of diverse books created at 33% on diverse characters and 37% by diverse creators. Therefore, the contents of the B&N shelves closely resemble the books available.

Many of the white-written titles belonged to long-dead writers who were quite prolific, Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl, etc. Among the newer titles, the diversity rate was much more even.

There is clearly an effort to make the diverse books more visible on the end covers. The Staff Favorites titles were chosen for Native American History Month and will change in December. On the other hand, if you are diligent in honoring Latin American History Month, Asian Pacific Islander History Month, Black History Month, Pride Month, and Disability Awareness Month. That puts different headlines at the end top approximately half the time.

Barnes & Noble has a large Manga section and most of that section is diverse. If you had counted the MG section of those books there, you would have seen a clear majority of various MG books in general.

By itself, my survey proves nothing, but I found it interesting to see the mix of older classics and newer titles. The mixture of what was faced and not. I encourage anyone who is concerned about diversity in publishing to take a close look at the actual number of diverse books in nearby bookstores and libraries. At least it gives us a factual basis on which to have a conversation.

And in the end, a bookstore can only sell what is sold in its local community. Much attention has been paid to the production side of the equation. I hope at least as much energy can be spent on encouraging diverse communities to come to bookstores and order diverse content. That is the only sure way to maintain the progress we have made so far and continue it in the future.

Rosanne Parry is the author of 7 MG novels, including the bestsellers A Wolf Called Wander and A Whale of the Wild. Her first illustrated book of hers Big Truck Day will be released in September 2022. She sells books at Annie Blooms Bookstore in Multnomah Village and writes books in her treehouse in Portland, Oregon.

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