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Our Categories

    • You can use the Diverse BookFinder to consider who is in a book (their racial/ethnic heritage) and how they are represented in a story using our unique book categories. Learn more on our category chart

We have identified nine categories that capture the messages conveyed by children’s books featuring characters of color. Every book in the Diverse BookFinder collection is coded using one or more of these nine themes.

  1. Beautiful Life: A Focus on Culture
  2. Oppression: Struggle, Resistance, and Triumph
  3. Cross-group: Interactions Across Race and Culture
  4. Any Child
  5. Biography: Real People, Real Lives
  6. Race/Culture Concepts: Examining Difference and Commonalities
  7. Folklore: Myths, Legends and Traditional Stories
  8. Incidental: Ensemble or Background Characters of Color
  9. Informational: Factual Content Unrelated to Race or Culture

Click here for more information and sample books.

  • You can also use common language to search for books about everyday topics like adoption, birthdays, any holiday, immigration, or diverse families (for instance).
  • We want to move the multicultural books discussion beyond a focus on increasing book numbers to consider who (which groups) are represented and how.

Book categories are not new and are always imperfect. Ours capture the dominant ideas that emerged as we examined our collection of picture books featuring people of color published in the United States today. Considering the current categories gives us a snapshot of where we are in terms of representation and helps us envision where we might like to go.

For instance, according to our analysis, books we classify as Beautiful Life: A Focus on Culture currently dominate multicultural children’s literature (38%), followed by Any Child (15%), Biography (15%), Folklore (13%) and Oppression (11%). Some groups dominate specific categories: African Americans are most often portrayed in books about Oppression, and Indigenous Peoples in traditional tales (Folklore).

This means that when a child picks up a book featuring an African American character, they will likely find a story of people struggling through slavery or civil rights (Oppression). Or, that when a child discovers a book featuring an Indigenous character it will likely portray people living long ago (Folklore). These stories are important, but on their own they do not capture the full humanity of either character’s experience, (e.g. the contemporary experience of Indigenous peoples) and may potentially reinforce cultural stereotypes.

As we envision the future, we invite everyone — librarians, publishers, book creators and parents — to seek balanced and diverse portrayals both within and across racial/cultural groups, by considering the categories present on a bookshelf, and the predominance or absence of books about particular racial or cultural groups within these categories across your book collection.

Who: Our vocabulary can also help you pinpoint who is in a book, including their racial/cultural (e.g. Asian/Pacific Islander/Asian American, Bi/Multiracial, Black/African/African American, Latinx/Hispanic (Mexican, Central and South American), First/Native Nations/American Indian/Indigenous, Middle Eastern/North African/Arab, White/European American/Caucasian); ethnic/national (e.g. Afghan, Congolese); and tribe/tribal nation (e.g. Igbo, Shawnee Tribe) background. We code by character, not by story. A racial or cultural tag does not mean that the story takes place in that group, but that a lead character is depicted as a member of that group. 

Where: Our vocabulary also includes terms to describe the book’s setting: where the story takes place (e.g. United States -- Montana; as well as international locations, e.g. Nigeria).

This project is a work in progress. Even as we attempt to shift the spotlight to focus on groups that have been underrepresented in children's books, the [field/space/world] in which we operate continues to marginalize indigenous people and people of color and centralize White people. For example:

  • White culture is dominant and normative, so it is commonly used as the reference point to which other cultures are compared ("diverse" compared to whom?).
  • When choosing categories for evaluating and coding, references to the dominant culture can’t be avoided, since books featuring indigenous people and people of color are a record of a minority racial/cultural experience, often one of marginalization.
  • The majority of children's books, including multicultural titles, continues to be created by White authors and illustrators, and agented, acquired, published, reviewed, sold and collected by businesses and institutions that are majority White.

Therefore, as we work to transform the world of picture books to better reflect our children, we're still part of the system we're trying to change. Many thoughtful people have contributed to our evolving concepts and language, and we invite you to be part of this conversation. We welcome critiques of our content, especially any suggestions for improvement.