Diversity, Audits, and Choosing Books


by Lara Neel, Trade Marketing Manager

We here at Lerner are excited to see more and more people becoming educated, excited, and involved in creating collections of books that help encourage all students to read books that challenge social norms and build understanding of disenfranchised groups.

In our discussions about this important work with our team, we realized that, in several ways, this conversation for and from a variety of viewpoints has always been a part of the way we do things at Lerner.

In his memoir Tenacity Well Directed, Harry Lerner shares the story of how, for the 1964 title Mr. Bumba’s New Home, he asked the illustrator to show racial diversity in the title character’s neighborhood. “I believe this was the first attempt to have multicultural original art in children’s books,” Harry writes.

From Lerner’s beginnings in 1959, we have tried to tell many untold stories. The only book for children on left-handedness was part of the early Medical Books for Children line, and Red Man, White Man, African Chief was the first children’s book to provide a scientific explanation of skin color. The original Mr. Bumba books in the 1960s featured illustrations showing a racially diverse cast of characters.

More recently in the 2000s, we are proud of our Coretta Scott King Award and Honor books, including Bad News for Outlaws, No Crystal Stair and H.O.R.S.E. In the fall of 2019, we published A Map into the World, the first picture book about Hmong Americans, a revised edition of the teen sexuality book Queer, a Malaysian American immigrant’s road trip graphic memoir (The American Dream?), The Truth Is, featuring several world viewpoints, including those of transgender characters, and many other stories. Diversity is an important part of the conversation as we choose what books to publish, who will write and illustrate them, who is represented in the art and photography choices. We still have a long way to go.

This chart compares the percentage of titles that are about diverse characters against those written by diverse authors.
This chart compares the percentage of titles that are about diverse characters against those written by diverse authors.

From this foundation that was laid six decades ago, those of us here at Lerner are carrying on the tradition of being lifelong learners ourselves, and that includes a continual focus on quality, diversity, and fairness. In order to make it as easy as possible to find Lerner books to start, fill out, or complete a collection, we have added more information to our books’ records.

There’s now a dedicated part of our website for our most up-to-date listings of diverse books. You can also download our Diverse Books Brochure.

Here are some questions to help you diversify your collection.
Questions to help you diversify your collection.
According to librarians, what's in demand from patrons?
According to librarians, what’s in demand from patrons?

We love all of our books, of course, but we can’t claim to be the final authority on this matter. So, I’ve started a list of resources for anyone who is looking to expand the horizons of their bookshelf. Please leave a comment and let me know if I’ve missed anything!

The Benefits & Limits of Diversity Audits from the Reading While White blog

Beyond the Collection Diversity Audit from Teen Librarian Toolbox/ School Library Journal

Equity through the School Library from Every Library on Medium.com

How to Choose the Best Multicultural Books for Your Collection from The Open Book Blog – This post includes a link to a Classroom Library Questionnaire you can use to identify strengths and weaknesses in your collection.

Library Journal’s Equity in Action: Doing a Diversity Audit from Teen Librarian Toolbox/ School Library Journal

List of sites that offer recommendations for diverse titles from We Need Diverse Books

Read Woke by Cicely Lewis

More posts by Lara.

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