White Folks Star in 90% of 2011's Young Adult Book Covers

Illustration for article titled White Folks Star in 90% of 2011s Young Adult Book Covers

Last year—riffing on a hand-wringy Wall Street Journal article about the thematic "darkness" of YA books—blogger Kate Hart created a "YA Cover Color Wheel," sorting the top titles of 2010 by their literal colors. Then she dug into some more pointed analysis of "where YA covers are most definitely NOT dark: Race/ethnicity." Based on Hart's sample, only 9% of 2010 YA covers featured models of color. This year, she's created a new batch of charts for 2011's titles. And guess what? We did better!!! Well...1% better.

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Illustration for article titled White Folks Star in 90% of 2011s Young Adult Book Covers

Hart looked at over 900 covers from 2011, and found that 90% feature a white character. Black characters, on the other hand, appear on only 1.2% of books. Beyond that, Hart points out, black YA cover models who do appear come in four basic types: "In the background (behind a white girl)," "face obscured," "beheaded (along with two white friends)," and "front and center; illustrated; albino." And disabled characters? Nope. She didn't find a single one. By contrast, 6.6% of covers feature a dead girl.

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The rest of Hart's analysis and gorgeous charts are worth a look. It's telling, I guess—I generally associate people who read with people who think (not exclusively, of course, duh), and if the "thinking person's media" is chugging along in 2011 with such glaring representation problems, then how fucked is the rest of everything? A lot. A lot fucked. If we're really interested in fostering a love of reading among children, for example, maybe we should give them something to read that actually acknowledges their existence. Because "children" doesn't just mean "white children."

[Kate Hart] "Uncovering YA Covers 2011"
[Kate Hart] "Uncovering Ya Covers 2010"

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DISCUSSION

I was thinking about this, and with the really rather vast amounts of YA I read, I could only come up with a few off the top of my head with non-white characters, much less non-white protagonists:

* The Ear, The Eye, and the Arm (Zimbabwean setting and protagonists, Nancy Farmer)

* Daja's Book, Cold Fire (Black fantasy-world protagonist, Tamora Pierce)

* Liar (Biracial protagonist, Justine Labalier-and they stilltriedtoputawhite chick on the cover!)

* Walter Dean Myers' work pretty consistently features black protagonists, but he is also one of the onlymajor YA authors who is black

* Born Confused (Indian protagonist, Tanija Desi Hadar)

* House of Night (Protagonist is 1/4 Cherokee; P.C. and Kirsten Cast)

...Yeah, it's a pretty depressingly short list. Conclusion: We need more P.O.C. characters in Y.A. lit period. This white girl, for one, wants to help with that. If only I can overcome my writerly ADD...