The CCBC recently released the statistics on diversity in children’s books that were published in the US in 2018. Out of all the children’s books published in that year, only 23% were about children of colour. And it turned out that there were actually more books written about animals than about BAME people. 1% of children’s books were about Native American characters, 5% were about Latinx characters, 7% were about Asian characters, 10% were about African/African-American characters. But 27% of children’s books published in the US in 2018 were about animals. 27%. That’s more than all of the books about BAME characters combined.
Bleaker still are the UK figures. According to the report by the CLPE, only 4% of UK children’s literature published in 2017 featured BAME characters, and only 1% had a BAME main character. This means that out of over 9,000 books published in 2017, only 90 of them adequately represent young BAME readers. This is an issue because 32% of children in England are of minority ethnic origins, but only 1% of the books aimed at them actually represent them.
And I’m sure that the figures are even bleaker for neurodiverse stories that accurately represent people on the spectrum. The lack of representation, and the misrepresentation by the mainstream culture, is a problem because it creates unnecessary stereotypes which do more to alienate people on the spectrum than to advocate any positive awareness.
It is important that neurodivergent people see themselves represented accurately in the pages of books and on-screen, and not merely as a punchline, not as comic relief, not as a plot device to propel a neurotypical narrative, but as human beings with equally valid problems, equally dimensional lives, the same as everybody else.
To achieve this we have to stop assuming that neurotypical, straight, white readers lack the capacity to empathise with people who aren’t neurotypical, straight, or white. As YA author Angie Thomas says in her Twitter thread, publishing listen: if we can relate to a bunny rabbit, a talking mouse, an orphaned deer, we can relate to our fellow human beings.