Multiracial characters in books

  • Posted on June 13, 2015 at 3:16 PM

Where are the books with multiracial characters? How are these books being tracked? Why does it seem like this form of diversity is ignored and dismissed? I started asking teachers at my school just how many students they thought were biracial or multiracial. They were surprised because that wasn’t a category they considered. Some said 5-10%. None of them really worried about the category because as one teacher said to me, “Most of the kids would just choose to be black.” Stop and think about what such a statement means. If you were to say this when the student was in front of you, what impact and what message would this send?

Timothy and Anthony Chen

My Beautiful Boys

I have two biracial/multiracial sons. Their father is Chinese. My heritage includes Norwegian, Dutch, French, Scots-Irish – the typical northwest Iowa mashup. I’ll never forget the day when my oldest son answered someone who asked what race he was, that he was Norwegian. The expression on their face was priceless.

In February the Cooperative Children’s Book Center had released  “Children’s Books by and about People of Color Published in the United States” Statistics Gathered by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Each year they analyze the books they receive for non-white diversity and categorize them into these four racial categories: African Americans; American Indians; Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans; Latinos.

Debbie Reese at her blog analyzed this in relationship to which books were about Native Americans and which were written and or illustrated by Native Americans.   Debbie advocates daily for Native Americans. Who is advocating for multiracial families? I started pondering and thinking deeply about this back in February. I began researching for a blog post. I emailed various bloggers, authors, and publishers. I asked questions of trend spotters.

I’m not alone.  The Washington Post’s Nevin Martell is a freelance writer who blogged asking, “Where are all the interracial children’s books?”  http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2015/01/20/where-are-all-the-interracial-childrens-books Unless you directly have an interest and have biracial/multiracial/interracial children, it appears you don’t care.

My problem is that there is no one out there tracking or looking for any trend on multiracial characters in literature. Over twenty years ago I began pleading with authors like Laurence Yep and Ed Young to please write for my sons and for our future blended generations. One year I was ranting about this and Arnold Adoff spoke up and said, “Honey, I get this.” (Have I mentioned again how much I adore that man?!) The number of blended children increases. The number of books with their faces and their families doesn’t.

Cynthia Leitich Smith has some blog posts where she explores Interracial Family Themes in Picture Books and an excellent introduction to the topic of exploring multi-racial families. Throughout her blog as Cynthia explores diversity, I feel like I could curl up and chat with her about these issues openly for hours.

The blog Brown Baby Reads keeps us current about books with African American children and gives me some hope with their list of Books about Multiracial Children & Families. The Epic Adventures of a Modern Mom has some children’s books featuring interracial families. If you are seeking to adopt a child or explain a multiracial adoption, there is a short list here Multiracial Diversity Books for Adopted Children.

I keep searching for other blogs, but I need your suggestions. In 2010 there was a post “Books with Biracial Children” but it looks like it’s archived and not updated at http://4bedtimestories.wordpress.com/2010/05/27/books-with-biracial-children/ There is an extremely confusing list from GoodReads that I wouldn’t depend upon. Maybe some library student can undertake this project.

One of the best discoveries while researching for this article was The Grio Raising biracial kids in 2013: The challenges and the opportunities for the African-American community by Suzanne Rust | August 5, 2013 http://thegrio.com/2013/08/05/raising-biracial-kids-in-2013-the-challenges-and-the-opportunities-for-the-african-american-community/ I quote: “As more African-American women are considering marrying outside their race than ever, and 25 percent of black men married interracially in 2010, issues relating to how their children will be treated and perceived are paramount.” It goes on to explore the topics of being “other”, the census and having to choose a category, and racial profiling.

book cover for The Case for Love

The Case for Loving

One of my favorite books this year was The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko and illustrated by Sean Qualls. If I’d known I was leaving my school, I wouldn’t have donated all my copies and would have kept one to take with me to my new school!  Scholastic publishers description:

This is the story of one brave family: Mildred Loving, Richard Perry Loving, and their three children. It is the story of how Mildred and Richard fell in love, and got married in Washington, D.C. But when they moved back to their hometown in Virginia, they were arrested (in dramatic fashion) for violating that state’s laws against interracial marriage. The Lovings refused to allow their children to get the message that their parents’ love was wrong and so they fought the unfair law, taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court — and won!

Yesterday, NPR recognized Loving Day with this broadcast:

When I moved my family to Nashville in 1997, one of my young co-teachers was chatting with me one day at dismissal when a mixed family was picking up their child. She suddenly mentioned how she was from Mississippi and she was sorry, but that just didn’t set right with her. I looked at her and said, “You do realize my last name is Chen, right? My husband was Chinese. I have two half Chinese sons. They are absolutely beautiful and their is nothing wrong with that.” I don’t think she ever recovered from that moment and transferred midyear. I never treated her badly and did try to show her through love and kindness that my children were a beautiful blessing, but I have always wondered if her views on life have changed.

Forcing me to finish this blog post is the upcoming ALA Conference in San Francisco where Diversity is being celebrated in many ways. Today Jason Low, Lee & Low Books emailed out congratulations to Juan Felipe Herrera the first Latino U.S. Poet Laureate, and their  Diverse Summer Reading Lists from LEE & LOW BOOKS.  They included a link to a Proportional Perspective Infographic on the world’s native languages. While Chinese continues to be the most populous, I laugh at the irony that my alma mater in Iowa is disbanding their program where I studied modern languages with an emphasis on Chinese and a minor focus in Spanish. Such lack of vision but they’ll save money.

Don’t miss Publisher Jason Low’s Ignite Session on Diversity’s Action Plan onSaturday, June 27 at 11:30AM in the Moscone Convention Center room 130 (N).  Want more diversity? Here’s a list of more diversity-related programming and events happening at the show. LEE & LOW BOOKS will be located at booth #1020. I continue to admire their publishing efforts and support them as often as I can in spreading the word.

One new book on my list to gift is I am Mixed. If you go to the link http://www.amazon.com/Am-Mixed-Book/dp/0578110873, you will see some excellent other suggestions below to accompany this list.  I wanted to include a picture, but Amazon only had an image to the Kindle edition. Great reviews even from Susan Graham of projectrace.com