Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Closer Look at 2017 African/African American #OwnVoices Books

With the ever-growing call for #OwnVoices books in youth publishing, we delved deeper into the CCBC's 2017 diversity stats, with a particular focus on #OwnVoices books. In this post, we examine the African/African American #OwnVoices books and consider creator roles, book type, and countries and cultures that are represented.

First, a bit of background: To compile the CCBC diversity stats, we consider the race/heritage of primary characters, and of secondary characters who appear throughout the story and have a strong bearing on the plot. Consider, for example, Jason Reynolds's Miles Morales: Spider-Man. The primary character, Miles, is Afro-Latino, so this book belongs in both the African/African American and Latinx categories. Miles's Korean American best friend, Ganke, is a significant secondary character, so this book is also included in the Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific American category. 

For picture books, we also note the number of times a character appears in the illustrations. For instance, if a book with a white primary character has an African American secondary character who only appears on 3 out of the 32 pages, it's unlikely that we'll count that book in the African/African American category.

Apart from characters, we consider other significant content. If a book is set in Tanzania, for instance, it is included in the African/African American category. Likewise, a Mexican folk tale with animal characters would be included in the Latinx category, and possibly, depending on the original source of the tale, First/Native Nations.

Each book is, of course, different, and the process is somewhat subjective. We always consider characters and content within the context of each individual book, and we strive for consistency in our counting.

As of our most recent count, we received a total of 355 books with significant African or African American characters and/or content published in 2017. Of these, 111 were #OwnVoices: They had at least one author and/or illustrator of African descent.

Creator Roles

Of the 111 #OwnVoices books:
  • 95 had African/African American authors
  • 41 had African/African American illustrators

Of the 111 #OwnVoices books, 62 were illustrated. Of these 62 illustrated books:

  • 24 had an African/African American author, a non-African/African American illustrator
  • 15 had a non-African/African American author, with an African/African American illustrator
  • 25 had both African/African American authors and illustrators

Type of Book

Of the 111 #OwnVoices books:
  • 26 (23.42%) were picture books
  • 54 (48.65%) were fiction
  • 31 (27.93%) were nonfiction (including one graphic novel)

Percentage of #OwnVoices in Countries/Cultures Represented

Below is a list of countries/cultures represented in the books we received. The percentage is the number of #OwnVoices books out of the total number of books representing that country/culture. For example, we received a total of 4 books about Haitian Americans, and 1 of those (25%) was #OwnVoices (OV).

  • Characters of African descent (unspecified fantasy setting): 0 of 2
  • African American: 88 of 261 (33.72% OV)
  • Haitian American: 1 of 4 (25% OV)
  • Nigerian American: 0 of 1
  • Trinidadian American: 2 of 3 (66.67% OV)
  • African Canadian: 2 of 5 (40% OV)
  • Jamaican French Canadian: 1 of 2 (50% OV)
  • Caribbean (unspecified location): 0 of 1
  • Cuban: 0 of 7
  • Haitian: 0 of 2
  • Jamaican: 1 of 4 (25% OV)
  • St. Lucian: 0 of 1
  • West Indian: 0 of 1
  • African British/Irish: 1 of 7 (14.29% OV)
  • Ethiopian British: 0 of 1
  • Jamaican British: 0 of 2
  • Nigerian British: 2 of 2 (100% OV)
  • African Brazilian: 0 of 1
  • African French: 0 of 2
  • African Australian: 0 of 1
  • African (unspecified or multiple countries): 5 of 16 (31.25% OV)
  • Congolese: 0 of 3
  • Egyptian: 1 of 7 (14.29% OV)
  • Ethiopian: 0 of 2
  • Kenyan: 1 of 3 (33.33% OV)
  • Liberian: 0 of 1
  • Nigerian: 3 of 4 (75% OV)
  • Senegalese: 1 of 1 (100% OV)
  • South African: 2 of 4 (50% OV)
  • Tanzanian: 0 of 2
  • Ugandan: 0 of 1
  • West African: 0 of 1
  • Zambian: 0 of 1


We observed that books with African/African American characters written by non-African/African American authors often feature diverse casts of characters that include one or two characters of African descent. This is true for both picture books (e.g. Hats Off to You! written by Karen Beaumont and illustrated by LeUyen Pham) and fiction (The Devils You Know by M.C. Atwood), although it is most noticeably a common characteristic of chapter book series (e.g. "Girls Who Code" series by various authors).

Picture books with authors and/or illustrators of African descent more often contain cultural identifiers or address race in some way (e.g. In Your Hands, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Brian Pinkney; and Justice Makes a Difference, written by Dr. Artika Tyner and Jacklyn Milton and illustrated by Jeremy Norton and Janos Orban) than do picture books by non-African/African American authors and illustrators.

There were also quite a few picture books written by non-African/African American authors and illustrators with a protagonist who definitively appears to be of African descent in the illustrations, although cultural and racial identifiers are absent from the text (e.g. Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall; and We Love You, Rosie, written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Linda Davick). 

Additional posts providing further detail about the CCBC's Latinx, First/Native Nations, and Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific American stats are to come, so keep an eye on this blog in the near future.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Book of the Week: Children of Blood and Bone

Children of Blood and Bone

by Tomi Adeyemi
Published by Henry Holt, 2018
531 pages
ISBN: 978-1-250-17097-2

Age 11 and older

Zélie was three when she saw her mother murdered along with the other maji in Orisha. Their deaths severed the links with the gods of the ten maji clans. As a result, young diviners like Zélie, identified by their white hair and disparagingly called maggots, can’t come into their magic. Amari is the daughter of King Saran. Her father killed the maji, believing magic a threat to Orisha. When Amari sees her maid and best friend Binta, a diviner, murdered by her father after Binta touches a scroll that awakens her power, she steals the scroll. She asks for help fleeing her pursuers from the first diviner she sees: Zélie. A fast-paced, richly imagined fantasy set in a world that draws on African cultures and geography (the almost-lost language of magic is Yoruba), follows Zélie, Amari, and Zélie’s brother, Tzain, on their quest to reestablish the connection between maji and their gods. The king’s guard in pursuit is led by Amari’s brother, Inan, who loves his sister but falls easily under the spell of their cruel father’s logic. Inan is also desperate to keep his own magical gifts, awakened by the scroll, hidden. The opening volume of this immersive new series offers twists, turns, and surprises as Zélie, Amari, and Inan, haunted by their separate pasts, each seeks to change the future, although not necessarily in the same way. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, May 14, 2018

Book of the Week: The Prince and the Dressmaker

The Prince and the Dressmaker

by Jen Wang
Published by First Second, 2018
290 pages
ISBN: 978-1-62672-363-4

Age 11 and older

When an unconventional dress design (“‘Make me look like the devil’s wench,’” says the client) costs Frances her job, it attracts the attention of a wealthy new patron in search of a personal seamstress. Whisked away to the palace, Frances discovers she’s been summoned by Prince Sebastian, heir to the Belgian throne. After a brief, half-hearted attempt to conceal his identity, Sebastian confesses that it is he who would like to wear her dresses. Although sometimes comfortable as Sebastian, the prince has an alter ego: the confident and charming Lady Crystallia. Soon, transformed by gown and wig, Lady Crystallia invites Frances to accompany her to a beauty pageant after dark. Under pressure from his loving but clueless parents to find a bride, Sebastian finds respite in several clandestine outings with Frances, dancing and meeting new people—one of who happens to be Frances’s idol, the famous designer Madame Aurelia, who offers Frances a spot in an upcoming fashion show. Frances jumps at the opportunity, but Sebastian is terrified it will lead to the discovery of his secret. This clearly and brightly illustrated graphic novel offers a wonderfully affirming message of acceptance of gender-expansive identities. (MCT)  ©2018 Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, May 7, 2018

Book of the Week: The Little Red Fort

The Little Red Fort

by Brenda Maier
Illustrated by Sonia Sánchez
Published by Scholastic Press, 2018
40 pages
ISBN: 978-0-545-85919-6

Ages 3-7

When Ruby decides to build a fort, her brothers Oscar Lee, Rodrigo, and José, tell her, “You don’t know how to build anything.” Ruby simply shrugs and says she’ll learn. “And she did.” When she asks who wants to help draw plans, the boys say no. Ruby says she’ll draw them herself. “And she did.” So it goes as industrious young Ruby is undeterred by her brothers’ laughter and disinterest, which lasts until the fort is finished. When Ruby asks who wants to play inside, all three boys are eager. “Not so fast,” says Ruby, who invites them in only after they’ve shown their willingness to lend a hand. A fresh, original take on The Little Red Hen features a self-possessed young Latinx girl and her family. While the dialogue features only Ruby and her brothers, the equally energizing mixed-media illustrations show Ruby’s adult family members, who look to be her mom, dad, and grandmother, helping her get the job done. The author shares her enthusiasm for The Little Red Hen variations in a note following this captivating new version. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, April 30, 2018

Book of the Week: Hurricane Child

Hurricane Child

by Kheryn Callender
Published by Scholastic Press, 2018
214 pages
ISBN: 978-1-338-12930-4

Ages 10-13

Every morning Caroline Murphy hops on a speedboat and makes the short trip from her home on Water Island to her Catholic school on St. Thomas of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Caroline’s thick hair and skin “darker than even the paintings of African queens hanging in tourist shops” make her an easy target for bullies and contemptuous light-skinned teachers. Home isn’t much better: Her mother left Caroline and her father about a year ago, but the tenacious twelve-year-old is determined to find out what happened to her. When a new girl, Kalinda, transfers to Caroline’s school from Barbados, Caroline is immediately drawn to her and determined to make Kalinda her first friend—and possibly more. She suspects that Kalinda, like Caroline herself, can see spirits, and she enlists Kalinda’s help in communicating with them in the hopes that they will lead her to her mother. This emotionally complex novel thoughtfully explores the anguish that occurs when a mother’s survival comes at the cost of her daughter’s happiness. A vivid Caribbean setting and a tentatively hopeful ending will bring readers some relief on behalf of this determined and aching young girl. (MCT) ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, April 23, 2018

Book of the Week: The Parker Inheritance

The Parker Inheritance

by Varian Johnson
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic, 2018
331 pages
ISBN: 978-0-545-94617-9

Ages 8-11

At her late grandmother’s house in Lambert, South Carolina, for the summer, African American Candice discovers an old letter referencing a hidden treasure in town. Her grandmother tried to find it to benefit the community years before. Instead, she left town in disgrace after losing her job as city administrator. Candice, who loves puzzles, teams with neighbor Brandon, who has research skills (and internet access at home), in hopes of finding the money and redeeming her grandmother’s name. Candice and Brandon’s emerging friendship slowly solidifies as details about their lives unfold (Candice’s parents are separated; Brandon is dealing with a bully and a disapproving grandfather) along with the mystery. Clues in the letter from the mysterious benefactor reference Lambert’s mid-twentieth century history, when Siobhan, the talented, forthright daughter of the tennis coach at the Black high school, was in love with Reggie, the best player on the team, despite her father’s disapproval. Chapters set in the past expand on the story Candice and Brandon are uncovering: When a secret 1957 match between the white and Black boys’ tennis teams triggers violent racist attacks after the Black high school team wins, Siobhan’s family and Reggie must flee town for their own safety. The teens’ resulting separation is at the heart of the mystery in this entertaining homage to The Westing Game that deftly yet meaningfully incorporates social justice issues from the past and the present (e.g., ongoing racism, homophobia).  ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, April 16, 2018

Book of the Week: I Got a Chicken for My Birthday

I Got a Chicken for My Birthday


by Laura Gehl
Illustrated by Sarah Horne

Published by Carolrhoda, 2018
32 pages
ISBN: 978-11-5124-3130-8

Ages 4-8

A girl who wants tickets to an amusement park for her birthday gets a chicken from her Abuela Lola instead. A chicken that isn’t interested in eating and doesn’t have time to lay eggs. It does, however, have a list. At the top of the list: 100 steel girders. At the bottom: a partridge in a pear tree. In between is everything from a winch, cement, a horse, and firewood to a bird, a cat (to catch the bird), a dog (to catch the cat) and poms poms. The chicken also has a plan. It involves complicated construction, which the chicken oversees as it puts the various animals to work. When the chicken arranges for Abuela Lola to visit it puts her to work too. “I got a chicken for my birthday,” says the young narrator with each turn of the page before describing the latest developments in a spare, droll accounting paired with colorful India ink illustrations that spare no details in documenting the absurdity (the chicken in a hardhat is priceless). The end result? A fully functioning amusement park. “I got a chicken for my birthday. And the chicken is a genius … Next year, I’m asking Abuela Lola for a trip to the moon.” ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center