Kids of color in the middle grade fantasy and science fiction books of October 2010 to October 2011

I have read around 130 middle grade fantasy and science fiction books published between October 16, 201o and October 15, 2011. 130 books were nominated for the Cybils, for which I am a first round panelist in mg sci fi/fantasy, and I've read all but 15 of them. When I add to that the books I've read that weren't nominated, I have a nice and fairly comprehensive database.

And one of the things that interests me is the extent to which kids who aren't white get shown and included in this particular genre.

These are the eight books I know of whose main characters are not of white, northern European descent, and who are shown as such on the cover. Darwen Arkwright is stretching it a bit, because he's a silhouette, but his buddy Alexandra is shown as the African American girl she is, so I let Darwen be part of this cluster.

I read two books which included non-white characters in supporting roles, and showed them on the cover.

And I read five books with non-white characters (all clearly of African ancestry, or described as having dark, or brown, skin), that showed them on the cover, but in a somewhat ambiguous way.

Edited to add: I had meant to include The Boy at the End of the World, by Greg van Eekhout, in this category, but that picture got lost in my struggle with Blogger. Here's the author talking about the portrayal of the main character on the cover. Thanks for the reminder, Doret!

Additionally, there was one book, Zinnia's Zaniness, by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, whose protagonist looked to me as though she could be Hispanic, although I didn't see any mention of ethnicity in the text.

I can think of only two other books (sadly not nominated for the Cybils...I hate it when the good ones don't make it!) that didn't have a Northern European protagonist-- Laurence Yep's City of Ice, and Jenny Nimo's The Secret Kingdom. And I cannot think of a single other important supporting character of color in a book not already mentioned, but I could easily have missed many....especially in books I was really enjoying.

It was, sadly, easy to pull this list together (apart from Blogger being difficult viz formatting). I was not tempted to say "oh goodness there are too many" and throw up my hands.

19 out of circa 130 books nominated.

Please tell me I missed lots????


  1. I haven't read it yet but I thought The Boy at the End of the World by Greg Van Eekhout features a character of color.

    I also can't help but notice out of the 19 authors only 2 are authors of color.

  2. This is an interesting analysis. I wonder how many books there are where the colour isn't mentioned at all, so the reader can create their own mental picture (possibly ignoring how skin colour is portrayed on the cover).

  3. Eek! I had meant to put Boy in, but in my wrestling with Blogger I forgot it. Thanks, Doret!

    That's an interesting question, Andrea--you'd have to find books that didn't show the protagonists on the cover, and then check for description...a big job!

  4. Viz authors of color--Nnedi Okorafor and Greg van Eekhout are the only two I know--are they the same as your two, Doret?

  5. I wouldn't disagree with your count, and brava for keeping track of them.

    I don't know if you've read the Silver Phoenix books by Cindy Pon? They're clearly set in China. The hardcover of the first book shows a clearly Chinese girl: http://tinyurl.com/cvhswd3 the paperbacks in first and second show a much more ambiguous and more conventional fantasy girl: http://tinyurl.com/cjnxdcp They're pretty, but I was really disappointed. (links to Amazon)

  6. Excellent roundup. I love staring at the cover of Breacrumbs. Now I wonder how the YA has fared in this (especially in proportion/comparison to dead girls on YA covers. There was a fascinating article on that, but I can't find it anywhere now).

  7. Yes, I've become more aware of the lack of ethnicity in children's lit. My kids are half hispanic, so I recently wrote a YA paranormal with hispanic characters. My husband, who is from Guatemala, questioned why I would do that. (I am not hispanic.) He thought it was odd and said he would not read books with minority characters. His honest comment shows the extent to which our society has come to expect "whiteness" in our books. I've since determined, for my own children's sake, to include more characters of color in my future books.

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  9. I tend to write base on my own experiences. In real life my friends are from every corner of the world, so I reflect that in my writing. I can't write any other way. Sometimes a character's racial description feels necessary and other times not. It all depends on what kind of story it is.



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