Apprently only ten percent of children's books published in a given year have multicultural content, but I think it's a lot lower in Middle Grade fantasy and science fiction, and I don't seen any surge in diversity. 2013 is, in fact, looking like the least diverse year since I started paying attention five or so years ago.
The year is pretty much half-way done, and these are all I know about and have read; please tell me I'm missing lots!
Middle Grade fantasy and sci fi books
Astronaut Academy Re-Entry (2013), by Dave Roman (quick insertion of much love for Astronaut Academy)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time, by Frank Cottrell Boyce (2013 in the US)
Jinx, by Sage Blackwood (2013)
The Menagerie, by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland (2013)
The Water Castle, by Megan Frazer Blakemore (2013)
The Wells Bequest, by Polly Shulman (2013)
Ms. Yingling adds Playing With Fire (School for S.P.I.E.S., book 1) by Bruce Hale. Thanks.
Upper MG/pushing toward YA
City of a Thousand Dolls, by Miriam Forster (2013)
Hammer of Witches, by Shana Mlawski (2013)
I don't get it. Looking at the five solidly MG books above that I've read (one graphic novel, four regular books), it's clear that it's really really easy to have a central character who isn't white in a fantasy/sci fi book. And the fact that a central character might be a kid of color doesn't have to have anything to do with the plot--it does in The Water Castle, but not in the other four. It doesn't have to be waved enthusiastically, with more emphasis than any other description of any other character. All it takes is a tiny little default to non-white in one or two sentences, and you have the main character of The Menagerie--a kid who happens to be African American, or a bit of family background casually described, and you have one of the main characters of The Wells Bequest, who's family is from India.
Really easy. Doesn't effect book marketing or sales. Young readers won't bat an eyelid (unless they are excited to see themsleves represented). Why don't more writers/publishers do it?
To end on a brighter note--I am not particularly aware of forthcoming books in general (for all I know, a flood tide of diversity is on its way...), but I do want to share the cover of an ARC that arrived in the mail recently from Scholastic. It is the first book of the forthcoming Spirit Animals series, and it is utter bibliocake* for kids--it will be devoured. It was only in my house for five minutes before my youngest was reading it. And look! A brown girl on the cover! She is not half hidden by another character, and she is not at all passive. And my son, reading away, added that her animal is the one shown front and center, making it clear that she is a powerful main character. (It is also a lovely cover for reversal of gendered expectations--the girl looks by far the most fierce).
And I bet that making her non-white was not hard at all, and I bet the series is going to sell like hot-cakes.
*"bibliocake" is like "bibliocrack," but age appropriate
Edited to add: thanks to commentors, here are some more forthcoming books with kids of color-- Sarwat Chadda's The City of Death, Paradox by A.J. Paquette, and possibly The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu. Edited to add: The Real Boy is a go! (confirmed by Anne herself in the comments).
And I've thought of another forthcoming one-- Darwen Arkwright and the School of Shadows, by A.J. Hartley.
I totally missed that line of description both times I read the book...and it raises questions about how, when you have characters in a fantasy world, it can be hard to make it clear that they don't default to "white."
On the one hand, I think that authors having to underline the ethnicity or skin color of non-white characters is something that shouldn't Have to happen (and although it's possible to do it gracefully--see above--when your character isn't living on earth, you loose geographical referents that can serve as confirmation, and might have to fall back on food similes. Assuming they have chocolate and coffee in fantasy land).
But on the other hand, people come in all sorts of colors, and often there aren't sufficient grounds for confident assumption, so even if you have a brown character on the cover, textual description is sometimes necessary to clinch things. Like maybe two descriptions. Thoughts????