Picture This: Follow Up


Thank you.

We are blown away by the response to our CCBC infographicMany have long been advocating for diversity in children’s literature; as we’d hoped, this infographic is pushing this work along. Since September 14, the blog post has had over 36,000 views; my initial tweet made over 17,000 impressions; my Facebook post was shared over 10,000 times, including by writers Cynthia Leitich Smith, Zetta Elliott, Mike Jung, Ellen Oh, and Junot Díaz. Professors, teachers, librarians, and students – from K-12 through graduate courses at universities and public libraries across the US and the world – are printing, sharing, displaying, and discussing the infographic.

Of course, with so much visibility came many questions.

Sarah Hannah Gómez pointed out the difference between the white category in the 2012 infographic, and ours, which uses data from 2015. She noted that it may cause folks to think we have made progress. But actually, David included the bunny to show that a significant percentage of children’s literature depicts animals and inanimate objects (trucks, cupcakes, screws, etc.) as protagonists, something CCBC Director KT Horning wrote about in her 2013 blog post “I See White People.” The 2012 infographic, created prior to Horning’s 2013 post, does not reflect this, so the numbers are not exactly aligned.

Many people wondered about categorization. Where are South Asians? Why are Pacific Islanders included with Asians? Where are Jewish people? etc. Categorizing people (and books) into groups is difficult work. After some discussion, we decided to use pretty much the same category titles as the CCBC; you can read more on their website about how they categorize.

The CCBC’s data includes distinct categories for books by, and for books about, each of the demographics they count. The about category may, or may not, include a book in the by category (this happens when an Asian American writer, for example, writes a book that is not about Asian Americans.) For our infographic, we used only the about data. It is vitally important to note that this data does not reflect the quality, accuracy, etc. of the books themselves. It is also vitally important to to note that the number of books about and written and illustrated by #OwnVoices authors is significantly lower.

Our hope is that people will continue to ask questions and do the work that will uncover more information. See Debbie Reese’s post “A Close Look at CCBC’s 2015 Data on Books By/About Americans Indians/First Nations” for one example of how a scholar unpacked the data, and Jerrold Connors’ post “We Need Diverse Books, and How!” for some more graphs. As many have done with our infographic, read everything critically. Who is saying what? What is left unsaid? What more needs to be done?

In short, we still have much work to do.

Note: We made the infographic with a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license, so you may download a JPF and PDF here.

Recommended citation: Huyck, David, Sarah Park Dahlen, Molly Beth Griffin. (2016 September 14). Diversity in Children’s Books 2015 infographic. sarahpark.com blog. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/picture-this-reflecting-diversity-in-childrens-book-publishing/

A Week with Zetta Elliott

The Twin Cities will be hosting award-winning author, academic, and activist Zetta Elliott from Tuesday, September 13 to Saturday, September 17, 2016, for a series of panels, and school and library visits. The following events are free and open to the public.

A Week with Zetta Elliott – Events


Inclusivity and Indie Authors: The Case for Community-Based Publishing

Hosted by the St. Catherine University Master of Library and Information Science Program and its American Library Association Student Chapter, Progressive Librarians Guild, and Student Governance Organization & Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen
Tuesday September 13 @ 7:00 pm
St. Catherine University – Mendel 106
2004 Randolph Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55105
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/1576818495957311/
Flyer: ZettaElliott-StKatesMLISProgram-Flyer

Inclusivity and Indie Authors: The Case for Community-Based Publishing

Hosted by Ancestry Books & the Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy
Friday, September 16 @ 10:00 am
Lucy Laney Elementary
3333 Penn Ave N
Minneapolis, MN 55412
10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Facebook (please RSVP): https://www.facebook.com/events/187857264966279/

Zetta Elliott Reading & Panel Discussion on Elevating Absent Narratives

Saturday, September 17 @ 7:00 pm
The Loft Literary Center
1011 S Washington Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55415
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/312269269124828/

Zetta will also conduct workshops with Juxtaposition Arts and visit with students at Lucy Laney Elementary School, Bancroft Elementary School, Gordon Parks High School, Vadnais Heights Elementary School, and Maplewood Middle School.

Reading List

  1. Zetta Elliott’s books: http://www.zettaelliott.com/books/
  2. Elliott, Zetta. (2009 September 5). Something Like an Open Letter to the Children’s Publishing Industry. Zetta Elliott Blog.
  3. Atkins, Laura. (2010). White Privilege and Children’s Publishing: A Web 2.0 Case Study. Write4Children 1(2). Winchester University Press.
  4. Elliott, Zetta. (2011 May 25). Breaking Down Doors: My Self Publishing Story. The Huffington Post.
  5. Elliott, Zetta. (2012 July 2). Trayvon – Killed By an Idea. The Huffington Post.
  6. Díaz, Junot. (2014 April 30). MFA vs. POC. The New Yorker.
  7. Low, Jason. (2016 January 26). Where is the Diversity in Publishing? The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey Results. The Open Book.
  8. Elliott, Zetta. (2016 February 1). How It Feels to be Self Published Me. Publishers Weekly.
  9. Lee, Paula Young. (2016 February 18). ‘Your manuscript is not a good fit’: How ‘we need diverse books’ can move beyond wishful thinking. Salon.
  10. Kwaymullina, Ambelin. (2016 February 22.) Writing While Black/Writing While Indigenous: Two Voices Speak on Literature, Representation and Justice. Zetta Elliott Blog.
  11. Elliott, Zetta. (2016 February 23). Writing While Black/Writing While Indigenous: Part 2. Zetta Elliott Blog.
  12. Elliott. (2016 April 5). What’s LOVE Got To Do With It? Self-Publishing as a Black Feminist Act of Radical Self-Care. The Huffington Post Books.
  13. Horning, K.T. (2016 July 21). SLJ Diversity Course: Keynote Lecture webinar. School Library Journal.
  14. Reese, Debbie. (2016 July 21). KT Horning’s Keynote for SLJ’s Diversity CourseStorify.

This week-long series of events is co-hosted by Ancestry Books, University of Minnesota Libraries Archie Givens, Sr. Collection of African American Literature/Umbra: Search African American History, Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy, Bancroft Elementary School, The Loft Literary Center, Minnesota Humanities Center, and the St. Catherine University Master of Library and Information Science Program and its American Library Association Student Chapter, Progressive Librarians Guild, and Student Governance Organization.

Contact: Shannon Gibney (shannongibney@gmail.com)

Check out the UMN’s write-up regarding Zetta’s week in MN: http://www.continuum.umn.edu/2016/09/visionary-childrens-book-writer-zetta-elliott-visits-minnesota/#.V8tHXhArKHp


What’s Wrong With This Picture?

What’s wrong with these pictures?





I understand the humor in these, and for the most part I find them funny, but I think it’s utterly ridiculous that all the people, whether they’re celebrities, cartoons, or what have you, are white or can pass as white. 

 I made this one in response:Image

And I really just love this one ❤Image


Come on, people. It’s 2012. Can we please stop it with the whitewashing? 


MN Faculty Becoming More Diverse

Recently, someone from the MN Private Colleges Council interviewed me because she’d heard I’d “had a good experience at St. Kate’s.” Indeed, I have. You all know how much I love my job. But… there’s still work to be done. I enjoyed sharing my stories and experiences with her, and think she did a great job weaving together a story that both celebrates progress and indicates that it’s an ongoing struggle.

Here’s an excerpt from the article, “Faculty Becoming More Diverse,” on the MN Private Colleges Council (MPCC) website:

Looking at the data, in 2009 MPCC institutions employed 465 faculty of color; a decade earlier it was 278. This increase of 67% compares to an increase of 27% for white faculty. While MPCC institutions have been able to recruit a more diverse faculty, the 9% non-white faculty still lags behind the state’s diversity — 15% — and the ethnic diversity of our student body — 13%.

Once non-white or underrepresented faculty arrive, institutional support is key to their success. “A lot of us are first-generation graduate students and junior faculty and we don’t have an ‘old boys network’ to support us in the challenges we face,” Park said. She is one of four Asian Americans in a department of 13 faculty and staff. “The diversity and collegiality in my department is great,” she said. “That doesn’t mean there haven’t been challenges.”

During her first all-faculty meeting in 2009, Park was taken aback when another faculty member referred to a Chinese student as “Oriental.” “I was shocked that she didn’t know that that word was outdated and offensive,” Park said. When Park approached her afterward, her colleague apologized and the two had a great conversation, but Park knew “there’s still work to be done.”

Check out the full article:


When sparky gets angry – really, really angry…

Lately I feel like I’ve been blogging mostly when something makes me angry, but then I remember that anger can be used productively to instigate social change and then I stop feeling so bad.

Earlier today my friend and colleague Debbie Reese posted a blog entry regarding a new book in the Alvin Ho series – I’ve read the first two, Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking and Other Natural Disasters and Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School and Other Scary Things. I adore the  Alvin Ho series because the protagonist is an endearing Chinese American boy whose OCD tendencies are dealt with in an empathetic, charming and humorous manner. Plus, there are few children’s books directed at this age group (grades 2-4) that depict Asian American boys, so hurrah for that!


I was severely disappointed when I learned that the newest book in the series, Alvin Ho: Allergic to Birthday Parties, Science Projects, and Other Man-Made Catastrophes, devotes much of its plot to Alvin’s preparation for and participation in “playing Indian” at an upcoming birthday party. And we’re not just talking one illustration of Alvin wearing a feather headdress, we’re talking it’s a major part of the plot.  Check out Debbie’s blog post here:


I’m trying to process this as an Asian American scholar of Asian American children’s literature. How are Asian Americans complicit in perpetuating stereotypes of cultures not our own? Why? And from where (or from whom) do we learn these stereotypes? What makes us think it’s okay?It grieves me that we participate in the denigration of already oppressed cultures, whether intentionally or not (intentionality doesn’t matter – impact matters).

I wrote this in the comments section of Debbie’s blog:

I find really interesting (and disturbing) when one non-white group performs the stereotypes of other non-white groups and cannot make the connections or commonalities of mockery, bias, oppression, etc. My fellow graduate students and I at Illinois worked hard to show the undergrads that the Chief mascot was not entirely unlike the Pekin Chinks mascot at a high school only a couple hours from town in an effort to form some pan-ethnic solidarity around the Chief issue, and I guess I should not have been surprised at how resistant some of them were to seeing the connections. How would Asian Americans feel if we saw non Asian American people playing “Japanese Interment” or “Blacks v Koreans in the 1992 LA Riots” or “Chinese miners v white miners”? This speaks first to a major failing on our education system in not educating our young people on, well, let’s just call it appropriate behavior, and second on the failure of our books in perpetuating these stereotypes in children’s literature. This is a pretty egregiously (I’ve been using this word a lot lately) horrific and inappropriate depiction. I think that it exists at all means that we haven’t been taught to think about other people, only about ourselves (if at all), and that is frightening.

I think there are many reasons why this book was approved for publication:

  • Apparently no one – NO ONE – at Random House stood up and said, “Hey, isn’t this stereotyping? Maybe we should think twice…” or if they did, no one listened, and the book went to press. This reminds me of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” song – did NO ONE on her production team have an issue with her using the word “Orient”?! Seriously??!
  • Another reason is because kids really are still playing “Cowboys and Indians” or “Settlers and Indians” or “Take-Your-Pick and Indians” – parents continue to condone this behavior, however racist and misinformed and inaccurate.
  • And finally, specifically regarding the fact that both Lenore Look and LeUyen Pham are Asian American – well, I wonder about their racial experiences, perspectives, sensibilities. And then I wonder about other Asian Americans in the publishing industry and we Asian American scholars, all of whom are working hard to create and promote the best and most realistic and accurate (give or take artistic and creative license) books for young people. But this is not the best of books for young people. This is one of the worst, most blatant and egregious instances of Native American stereotyping. It grieves me that we are guilty of creating images that are hurtful and harmful, and I think it’s largely systematic because we have not been taught that they are so. Or perhaps we have, and we didn’t or refuse to listen, because it’s not MY group, not MY issue. Which in some ways is worse.

I am angry – really, really angry – that we have not all learned how to be sympathetic and empathetic. I am angry – really, really angry – that in 2011 this kind of book can still be published. I am angry – really, really angry – that we clearly have MUCH more work to do.

As an educator, I extremely conflicted. I love the Alvin Ho books so much that I assign them in my Library Materials for Children course (and have already ordered them for 2011 Fall), but the publication of this new book casts a very dark shadow on how I now perceive the series, and whether or not I will continue to promote it. One thing I know for sure: this is NOT okay.

Not Me!

Not Me! by Nicola KIllen

Yesterday my friend Debbie Reese (the scholar behind American Indians in Children’s Literature) blogged about a new picture book, Not Me! written and illustrated by first-time picture book author Nicola Killen. The book was published by Egmont in the UK and is available through both the UK and US Amazon market. Especially as a professor teaching a course on Social Justice and Children’s/YA Literature, I had to see what this was about. Seeing the cover image on the left, I hope it’s clear why Debbie blogged about this, and why I also felt the need to comment. Unfortunately, for some reason Blogger keeps returning an error message when I try to comment on both Ms. Killen’s and Debbie’s blogs, so I’m posting my comments here instead.

In order to understand the context of my comments below, you’ll want to read Nicola Killen’s original post and subsequent commentators responding to that post, and also read Debbie’s post on the same topic. Only after will the following make sense:

I have been following this thread with great interest and am very much enjoying the conversations here.

As a graduate student at Illinois, I took a children’s literature course with Debbie Reese that strongly influenced the way I think about representations of Native Americans in popular culture. Now as a professor of Library Science, I invite Debbie every year to guest lecture in my classes and assign her blog as required reading, and my students are always tremendously influenced by her conversations with them. It is not just Native American mothers that might not pick up a book where a non-Native child “plays Indian” (however unintentional by the author and/or illustrator); as an educator, I might not purchase, assign or promote such a text. In fact, I’d use it as a teachable moment – I’ve already posted a link to this conversation on my course website for *Social Justice and Children’s/YA Literature.*

I think the fact that Debbie is Nambe Pueblo and an educator with a background in American Indian Studies lends great credibility to her cause. I would hope that me being Korean American and having an academic background (both a BA and MA) in Asian American Studies would lead others to trust my judgment when I comment on similar issues. This is pan-ethnic alliance and strategic essentialism and should not be dismissed as “[presuming] to represent.” Therefore I take offense to the implication that dressing up in a kimono is harmless “play” when that same child might think that likewise dressing up in a grotesquely bucktoothed, squinty-eyed karate costume on Halloween might also be “play.” It’s a slippery slope, and one where I would exercise caution over liberty. Taking liberties in the name of freedom of expression seems culturally arrogant.

The suggestion that a Native child wearing a cowboy hat has the same effect of a white child wearing a Native headdress is egregious – this dismisses the centuries of genocide and discrimination suffered by Native Americans at the hands of mostly white people, and elides the power and privilege that white people hold in this country and others. While white people doing blackface is not exactly the same, I don’t think the connection is without merit. It stems from not understanding and respecting different cultures, and reducing them to entertainment and even mockery. And at the end of the day, as Debbie notes, if Native students are not doing as well as they could in school, partly because of the ways in which they are misrepresented and their culture is so liberally used as “play,” well then, does that not give one pause? I would hope that we would extend to those groups the same respect for human dignity that we want and expect for ourselves.

And finally, suggesting that Debbie has other places where she could channel her energy is absurd; Debbie is one of the most productive, hard working, and responsive people I know. Her work is incredibly important and has been cited by countless students and professors, organizations, libraries, museums, and who knows exactly how many blogs. She is well respected in the field of children’s literature, and her work has tremendous implications for the publishing industry, libraries, schools, and of course the universities and programs that prepare students to work in those institutions. Her ongoing engagement with Ms. Killen is one example of this tireless work.

I also very much respect Ms. Killen for being willing to engage with Debbie and others on this topic. If only others would likewise listen.

Response Letter to The Wake

Article in The Wake

An Open Letter to The Wake student magazine and Campus Progress

*Do not copy or repost without my explicit permission.

Dear Student Writers at the Wake Student Magazine and Campus Progress,

My name is Sarah Park and I am an assistant professor at St. Catherine University. I have a BA in Asian American Studies and earned my MA in Asian American Studies from UCLA, where you might know that recently a white student made a racist YouTube video about Asians in the library. I spoke up against that situation and now I am compelled to speak up against this situation: a couple days ago I saw your article titled, “White Students ‘Just More Comfortable’ at Chilly Billy’s” in The Wake.

I am very offended by the implicit privilege and explicit racism depicted by this article, and The Wake’s publication of such an article, for the following reasons:

  • Student Sarah Johnson is reported to have said, “Well, at FruLaLa I don’t even know if they speak English. How am I supposed to get normal frozen yogurt if I don’t know Chinese, right?” Ms. Johnson’s statement regarding her lack of fluency in Chinese betrays her ignorance of Asian cultures by conflating Chineseness with Koreanness – FruLaLa is owned and operated by Korean Americans. Regardless of who owns or works at FruLaLA, FruLaLa employees speak English and are perfectly capable of communicating effectively with all patrons.
  • Ms. Johnson’s use of the word “normal” shows her white privilege in being able to define what is “normal” and implicitly then what is not “normal.”
  • The article posits whiteness against non-whiteness, and particularly against Asianness.This kind of binary thinking is harmful, unproductive, and does not lead to social progress, social understanding, or social healing. Rather, whether spoken in jest or in truth, articles such as this perpetuate racism, xenophobia, and misunderstandings among society.
  • Patronage at frozen yogurt shops is diverse. The Pinkberry crave, begun in Los Angeles several years ago, testifies to this. Your article suggests that prior to Chilly Billy’s, frozen yogurt was not socially accessible for whites in the midwest. Perhaps that has more to do with campus climate perpetuated by attitudes and articles such as this than it does with the ethnic and cultural background of frozen yogurt shop owners. Minnesota is still in the top 15 whitest states in the nation, and white enrollment at UMN is at 72% while Asian enrollment is 9%.
  • Given the recent uproar over KDWB’s racist song about Hmong people, the xenophobic tendencies in our national politics and immigration policies, and ongoing hate crimes against non-whites both locally and nationally, it is socially irresponsible for The Wake to publish such racist views. I would add that, further, it is financially irresponsible as small businesses continue to struggle in this economy. Publishing an article criticizing a small business with racist views can do irreparable financial damage.

The publication of this article does not align with Campus Progress’ goal “to promote progressive solutions to key political and social challenges”; in fact, it does exactly the opposite. Freedom of speech and editorial freedom are one thing, but articles should still be guided by Campus Progress’ mission is to promote progressive solutions.” I completely disagree that this is merely a “controversial or offensive opinion,” as a CP representative wrote in response to a colleague’s letter (on this same issue). In fact, this article is outright racist and has no place in a progressive media outlet.

I recommend that The Wake issue a public apology and develop a process to review articles prior to publication. I honestly don’t believe that a media outlet would not review articles for grammar, quality, and style, much less for content. If these actions are not taken, I urge Campus Progress to pull funding from The Wake since it clearly does not align with CP’s mission.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sarah Park, Ph.D., M.S., M.A.
Assistant Professor at St. Catherine University

UPDATE 4:42PM Campus Progress’ (Unsatisfying) Response

Prof. Park,

Thanks for your feedback. Our program supports progressive media outlets, which may occasionally present controversial or dissenting opinions. We believe in the editorial freedom of our grantees and do not review any work before it is published. Feel free to email us back if you have further questions or concerns.


David Spett

Journalism Network Associate

Center for American Progress

1333 H St. NW, 1st Floor

Washington, DC 20005

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