The Cooperative Children’s Book Center, housed at the School of Education on the University of Wisconsin’s campus in Madison, has seen lots of changes since it was founded in 1963. While its collections of children’s literature and other resources are primarily for the benefit of Wisconsin librarians, educators, and students, the CCBC’s impact extends far beyond the Badger State. Since 1985, the CCBC has compiled and published statistics on diversity in children’s books, as reflected in the 3,500–4,000 new English-language titles that it receives each year from publishers in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere.
“We go through every single book we receive,” said Tessa Michaelson Schmidt, who will celebrate her first anniversary as CCBC director in June. “We focus on high-quality books for children and YA, and we’ve started looking for diversity in a more expansive way.”
Between 1985 and 1993, CCBC statistics were limited to children’s books written by Black authors or featuring Black characters, but in 1994, it expanded its mission to include tracking books by BIPOC authors or about BIPOC characters. And since 2018, it has gathered a broader range of statistics on the identities of protagonists in the books it receives.
Asked about any trends in children’s literature that the CCBC has noted in the past year, Schmidt said that there is more representation of intersectional identities. “It’s not just about one ‘fill-in-the-blank’ kid; it’s about multiple primary characters having intersectional identities. Someone might be a Latina who is gay and also has a learning disability—and her best friend is white, Jewish, and nonbinary. There’s more nuance in terms of representation, and we’re seeing an increased authenticity of what intersectional lives look like and how they’re portrayed in children’s books.”
Schmidt emphasized that recent releases are “of much higher quality and more true to the experiences of young people”—and the statistics appear to bear out her claims to some degree. Of the nearly 3,500 books received by the CCBC in 2022, 18% were by Asian authors and 11% were about Asian characters; 13% were by Black authors and 14% were about Black characters; 11% were by Latinx authors and 7% were about Latinx characters; 1.5% were by Indigenous authors and 1.7% were about Indigenous characters; and 0.4% were by Pacific Islander authors and 0.4% were about Pacific Islander characters.
In comparison, in 2012, the CCBC received 3,600 books. Of those, 2% were by Black authors and 3% featured Black characters; 2% were by Asian and Pacific Islanders authors and 2% featured Asian and Pacific Islander characters; 1.6% were by Latinx authors and 1.5% featured Latinx characters; and 0.2% were by Indigenous authors and 0.6% featured Indigenous characters.
Demand for one CCBC program, which launched in 1978, has spiked this past year: the Freedom of Information Services program. The program helps Wisconsin libraries and educators respond to book challenges and bans. “We don’t take any position on challenged or banned books themselves,” Schmidt said. “We provide support for the professional in the situation.” Resources include information about the challenged or banned title, such as professional reviews and a list of awards and other distinctions—and anything else that can help librarians or educators respond knowledgeably to any challenge or ban.
Even though the CCBC caters to Wisconsin educators, students, and librarians, Schmidt said, some of its resources are designed for a wider audience—anyone interested in high-quality children’s literature. Children’s booksellers in particular might want to take advantage of CCBC Choices, lists of the previous year’s best children’s books issued every spring, as well as the CCBC’s themed lists of recommended reads.
“That’s the core of our service,” Schmidt said. “We try to identify the best of all the books that we receive. And our thematic lists might be useful for booksellers when they’re putting together displays.”