TMC6 Dundas

Who do we see in kids’ books? Star survey provides insight into diversity of Canadian publishers and the characters they develop

By Deborah Dundas

In a recent survey undertaken for the Toronto Star, publishers from across Canada were asked about representation of diverse communities in their children’s book offerings. No survey like this had been undertaken in the country before. In the United States in 2002, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin began keeping track of how many books were published for children and young adults that were “by and about people of colour and from First/Native Nations.” Continuing the survey each year has helped to form a baseline from which to measure progress over the years. In 2002, for example, of 3,150 books received at the CCBC, 69 were by African/African Americans and 166 were about African/African Americans. In 2018, that number had moved substantially upward – 202 books were by African/African Americans and 405 were about. Modeling a survey on that research, the author at the Toronto Star undertook to establish a similar baseline here in Canada. The results of that survey were then compared to the demographic figures produced by Statistics Canada to compare how many BIPOC, LGBTQ and disabled characters were represented in the books compared to their representation in the Canadian population.

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Deborah Dundas is an accomplished and versatile professional with 25 years local, national and international experience in multimedia, web, print journalism, marketing, public relations, public speaking and television production. She is also a books editor at the Toronto Star. Deborah recently wrote an article sharing a Toronto Star survey on the state of diversity in Children’s books in Canada, Who do we see in kids’ books?


  1. Deborah, thank you for undertaking this important research into Canadian books and diversity/representation. I was a little surprised not to see the #ownvoices hashtag referred, or the FOLD (Festival of Literary Diversity) led by Jael Richardson mentioned. Having said that, I was delighted to see Zetta Elliott mentioned - I only just read her book "Dragons in a Bag" as a 2020 Forest of Reading nominee.

    I really liked the distinction between "about" and "by". We want to avoid tokenism by publishing books by authors only because of their race/ethnicity/sexual orientation, but I am sure there are enough talented authors out there who also possess/share the lived experience of their protagonists.

    This can be a controversial topic - I've been involved in heated discussions related to this - and I appreciate you addressing the issue head-on. I look forward to hearing you speak at TMC6 this year.

    Diana M

    1. Hi, Diana, Actually I did speak with Jael Richardson briefly; Zetta and Nadia said it best, though, so made it into the story. I was focused on the specific data I collected and they were the ones who actually inspired the survey.

      Look forward to presenting on Saturday.

  2. Thanks for your research on a topic that clearly not everyone wants to have. I'm thinking, in particular, of one of the responses you mention in your article that this type of discussion is what is ruining children's literature. Might this be white privilege talking? As your research states, however, we really don't know who is choosing what stories are told. This reminds me that as a teacher-librarian choosing books for our school library, I need to be ever vigilant of the biases I hold when choosing books and give students a voice in the books that are being selected. I was particularly pleased to see that a large number of adults actively seek out and want more diverse books.

    1. It is so difficult to put our own biases aside, but it's so important for students to get a choice of voices to read. I want to do more research into where books are distributed and who is reading them.

  3. Thank you, Deborah, for your work on this important topic. It gives school-based librarians one more tool for doing diversity audits of their collections (and the images in their libraries and schools). I too would like to see children and youth involved in book choices. Dianne O

  4. Hi,
    Thanks for this article. I embarked on a diversity audit, using a work study student to help me. What i realized quickly (she finished the task of checking 5 000 resources in about 4 hours) was that it required a deep knowledge of the books, the authors, and the issues within the stories. These audits can only be done by experienced professionals! ( I suppose if my online catalogue was more accurate it would help, but i don't think that anything will be as good as a knoweldgeable librarian!)

  5. It confounds me that - in 2020 - there was a publisher with the balls to say that they don’t publish children’s books based on “skin colour, gender or any sort of identity
    politics” and that “this sort of thinking is becoming so pervasive and ruining children’s
    publishing.” Are you kidding me?

    This looks like a board table full of white, middle-aged men who insist that they hire "the best person for the job" when questioned about the cultural or gender diversity around the table. Ironically, it is indeed this archaic, patriarchal, colonial type of thinking that is "ruining children's publishing". Cultural relevance and responsive pedagogy matters.

    I wish the author was willing (able?) to call out these companies so I could ensure that none of their titles end up on the shelves of my urban, inner-city school library. Librarians are the gatekeepers. We are the ones who buy the books. And it is our buying power that determines what sells, what is popular, and what gets read. Never forget that we hold all that power. We would be remiss not to wield it wisely.


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