Diverse Voices are Important in Publishing – On the Cover and Beyond (Op-Ed)

By Hannah Boardman

Literature has been a pillar of society for centuries. Since their invention, books have been a tool for education and entertainment, a way to bring people together and spread information. Children’s books, in specific, have had an incredible impact on generations of people. Throughout the past year, many industries have undergone extensive self-reflection regarding diversity. The publishing industry is no different. While publishers have been focusing on signing more diverse authors, it is time to extend the practice to hiring diverse editors, marketers, creative directors, and other employees, especially in children’s books.

Diverse voices in books are vital for a child’s education, in front of and behind the scenes. It is important that diverse voices are being consulted at all stages of the publication process to make sure the content reflects realistic situations.

Children’s publishing is a $2 billion industry that is continuing to grow. According to IBISWorld.net, a trade research website, children’s publishing is growing by 2.6% in the US in 2021. This growth indicates a demand for children’s literature, only projected to continue in the next few years. This growth period is the ideal time to diversify big publishing houses.

Books and Development

Reading is vital for children’s brain development. Reading aloud to children at a young age helps them with speaking and listening skills among other parts of brain development. Books are a core part of the developmental process, making their content incredibly important.

According to the International Board on Books for Young Readers, both reading aloud to children and allowing them to read independently help children begin to understand context clues and develop problem-solving skills. On top of this, books help children learn basic communication skills at a young age.

Due to the crucial role books play in development, the publishing process must be taken seriously. Editors and other publishing professionals must make sure that the books reflect the world we live in. When diverse professionals are brought together to work on a book, there is a wider range of backgrounds to analyze the content. With more backgrounds and worldviews, the book is better able to accurately represent the real-world situations that are important for children.

According to the article, “The Value of Children’s Literature” by Martha Crippen, originally published in the Oneota Reading Journal, children’s literature helps kids understand their own culture, as well as other peoples.

Children need to see other cultures in their books to gain context for the future, when they may encounter these cultures in real life. It is also important for children to see their own cultures reflected in books. Representation in the media is vital to children’s self confidence and self-image. With more diverse publishing professionals behind the scenes, there is a higher chance that this representation is accurately portrayed.

Diversity in Publishing

Just as diverse content in books is important to children’s development, diverse teams in the publishing industry are important to the book’s creation. Diverse teams at all stages of book production ensure that the information reaching the children is accurate and appropriate.

Diverse employees bring with them a wide range of experience and can represent many walks of life. Currently, however, the publishing industry is largely white women. According to a 2019 study conducted by Lee and Low Books in partnership with faculty from Boston University, 76% of publishing professionals are white, 74% are women and 78% are straight.

These numbers simply do not reflect the diversity in this country. Publishing professionals from all different backgrounds should be behind the diverse books being published, not just straight white women.

Some may argue that it doesn’t matter who is behind the book if the book itself represents different cultures and backgrounds. The problem with this argument is that when books are written by non-diverse authors and edited by non-diverse editors, there is a higher possibility of misrepresentation of a culture.

Diversity in children’s books needs to go beyond the page and into the industry itself. When children consume accurate portrayals of different cultures, they become better equipped to handle these differences in the real world. With diverse publishing teams, the industry can start taking steps in the direction of a future full of culturally accurate children’s books.

We need to make sure our children are reading books that reflect the diversity of this country, created by teams that are made up of diverse individuals. Diverse books are more than their content: they are authors, they are editors, and they are publishers. We need to turn the page on misrepresentation and start a new rich and diverse chapter in children’s publishing.

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