Children learn many things from the books they read, and some of the most important lessons books teach are the sociocultural norms of society and whose space it is. These lessons are conveyed, in part, through the representation of different characters. In a recent BFI Working Paper, Anjali Adukia, Alex Eble, Emileigh Harrison, Hakizumwami Birali Runesha, and Teodora Szasz showcase how new computer-driven tools can help systematically measure the messages children encounter in books.
Their tools allow us to understand many things about who is and is not represented in these books. The following interactive figures show two key dimensions: one, the proportion of words in a book with a gendered meaning that refer to females; and two, the average skin tone of character faces pictured in the book. The graphs report the distribution of these two variables across over 1,000 books recognized by the American Library Association.
The Intersectionality Between Skin Color and Other Identities
The graphs are broken into seven collections. The two primary collections are (i) “mainstream” book awards which honor books without attention to representation, and (ii) a “diversity” collection comprising multiple book awards chosen to highlight the experiences of historically underrepresented or excluded groups. The other five collections comprise subsets of the diversity collection, showing the performance of book awards that highlight the following groups: all people of color; African Americans; people with different levels of able-bodiedness; females; and LGBTQ individuals. The graphs show the proportion of books in each collection which have a given level of representation as indicated on the x-axis.