If there was a theme to this year’s Clinton Global Initiative summit of business, government, and other leaders, held in Chicago June 13–14, and hosted by the Clinton Foundation, it was that it’s high time that the U.S. truly embrace diversity. Focusing at the summit on the role that books play in shaping popular culture, First Book, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, addressed the lack of diversity in children’s literature. And the group is well-positioned to have a broad view of the industry: since 1992, it has provided more than 105 million books and other educational materials free or at discounted rates to 60,000 educators and community programs serving children from low-income families.
Jane Robinson, CFO of First Book, announced at the CGI the organization’s commitment to a two-year, $3 million initiative called the Stories for All Project. Its goal is to aggressively expand the market for more diverse children’s literature by fall 2015. Disney, which has already donated eight million books to First Book, is a major supporter of the project.
The plan calls for First Book to add 30,000 Title 1 classrooms and community programs to its existing network; provide matching grants providing 600,000 books and other resources to children in need; create and distribute 9,000 collections of 50 books each that emphasize cultural diversity; conduct an assessment of educators’ needs in underserved communities; and, Robinson said during her presentation, convene children’s book authors and illustrators to brainstorm about “new content selection,” as well as to “inspire new and diverse artists” to submit their work to publishers.
“This isn’t about social ills,” Kyle Zimmer, First Book cofounder, president, and CEO told PW during a phone interview following the summit. “We need a market-driven solution to the lack of diversity in children’s literature. Publishers need to know that if they publish culturally diverse titles, the market is there.”
Citing the most recent results of a study done each year since 1985 by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, Robinson noted during her presentation at the CGI that of an estimated 5,000 children’s and YA books published for the trade in 2012 and made available for sale to schools and libraries, 3.3% featured African-Americans; 2.1% featured Asian-Americans or Pacific Islanders; 1.5% featured Latinos; and only 0.6% featured Native Americans. The CCBC received and reviewed 3,600 new releases in 2012 to arrive at these figures.
“The world is so small,” Zimmer said. “No matter their cultural background, people have to understand one another. If we don’t expose all of our kids to different cultures, we’re robbing them. Every child needs to understand the full spectrum of cultures out there.”
The Stories for All Project builds on First Book’s purchase this past spring of $1 million worth of culturally diverse books and other content from HarperCollins and Lee & Low. The books and other content are being provided to the educators and community programs that First Book serves.
“All kids deserve books that are high-quality, affordable, and culturally relevant,” Zimmer said. “First Book has already solved two of those problems: quality content and affordability. Now, with the Stories for All Project, we’re solving the third problem. I feel more positive about the possibilities to change things than I’ve felt in the past 21 years.”