When I started writing and illustrating children's books, I knew it was important to make sure my characters were racially diverse. It's super important that kids feel seen in the books they read, and when every character is White, that's a problem for the millions of Black, Asian, Latinx, Native American, Indian, and mixed race kids in the world.
Some illustrators avoid this problem entirely by creating animal characters. And while I love me a good llama (or giraffe, as the case may be), ignoring the problem doesn't solve the problem.
Initially, I thought I would make Mia Black. Then I came across this infographic and decided to do a bit more research:
Looking at this data, 77% of all children's books do not have racially diverse main characters. Asian Americans are less represented than Black Americans, Latinx even less, and hardly any American Indian. Biracial kids don't make the list at all. You can learn about the infographic on Sarah Park Dahlen's blog.
If you're familiar with my family, you know that my daughter is mixed race; her dad is Chinese American and I am White (Jewish). In my former marriage, it became really clear to us that families with Asian fathers are rare.
I decided to give Mia the same racial makeup as my daughter not only so that my daughter would see herself in these books, but so that other kids can see that parents come in all races. There is also a lot of racism specifically toward Asian men, and I wanted to be sure that they are represented in my books' main family.
Through my personal work in learning to be anti-racist, I know that I have a long way to go as a White woman, and will likely make a lot of mistakes along the way. I write this post not to give myself a pat on the back for having a biracial main character, but to amplify this infographic, and to call attention to the lack of diversity in children's books specifically when it comes to biracial kids.
This infographic and the work and research that went into it made an impact on the characters I created in my books. I hope it will make a difference in the decision-making of other writer-illustrators, too!
Source for the infographic: Huyck, David and Sarah Park Dahlen. (2019 June 19). Diversity in Children’s Books 2018. sarahpark.com blog. Created in consultation with Edith Campbell, Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/picture-this-diversity-in-childrens-books-2018-infographic/.