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Children’s Literature in Education, Vol. 34, No. 4, December 2003 (2003)
Denise E. Agosto,
and Catherine Gilmore-Clough
Denise E. Agosto, San-
dra Hughes-Hassell, and
Clough are all affiliated
with the College of In-
formation Science and
Technology, Drexel Uni- The All-White World
PA. of Middle-School Genre Fiction:
Surveying the Field for
While there has been a notable increase in multicultural publishing
over the past several years, this study indicates that the increase has
not extended into genre fiction for middle-grade readers. The study
entailed a content analysis of book reviews of fiction for the middle
grades published between 1992 and 2001. A total of 4,255 reviews
of genre fiction were analyzed. Although the 2000 U.S. Census indi-
cated that about one third of the U.S. population of children is com-
prised of people of color, only 661, or less than one sixth, of the
books were identified as containing at least one protagonist of
color. In a more realistic representation of the world, about one
third of the characters would be people of color.
KEY WORDS: multiculturalism; genre fiction; juvenile literature; content analysis.
In the fall of 2001, a reporter from a local newspaper called us to ask
for book recommendations. To coincide with the opening of the first
Harry Potter movie, she wanted to print a list of books that young
Harry Potter fans would enjoy. As we scrambled on short notice to
compile a reading list of fantasy fiction for the middle grades, we
realized that of the 30 or so fantasy titles that immediately came to
mind, none featured a multicultural character as a protagonist. We
consulted all of the multicultural literature bibliographic tools in our
personal collections, as well as a few online bibliographic tools, yet
still we could not locate any youth fantasy fiction with multicultural
0045-6713/03/1200-0257/0 2003 Human Sciences Press, Inc.
Children’s Literature in Education258
protagonists for that age group. We were shocked that the youth fan-
tasy arena seemed unaffected by years of extensive writing and re-
search related to multicultural issues and the need for connecting
young people to multicultural literature.
Based on this disturbing incident, we decided to undertake a survey of
youth genre fiction book reviews to look for titles with multicultural
protagonists. This article discusses the issues underlying our search
and presents the methodology and results of our survey.
Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century, most litera-
ture for youth contained no characters or settings other than white,
mainstream United States culture. The few items that did contain multi-
cultural characters or settings were often inaccurate and insensitive
(Lynch-Brown & Tomlinson, 1998). Larrick’s (1965) groundbreakingCarol Lynch-Brown and
Carl M. Tomlinson, Es- study of over 5,000 children’s books published between 1962 and
sentials of Children’s 1964 showed that only 6.7 percent included one or more African
Nancy Larrick, “The all- Americans. This study and a growing awareness of diversity issues
white world of chil- spawned by the Civil Rights movement led to the beginning of the
dren’s books” multicultural publishing movement in youth literature. Some publish-
ers began actively to seek literature by and about people of color and
other minority groups, but still multicultural literature was a tiny part
of youth publishing.
Nearly two decades later, Bishop (1982) conducted another extensiveRudine Sims Bishop,
Shadow and Sub- analysis of youth literature to determine the extent to which African
stance: Afro-American American characters were represented. Although Bishop found that
Experience in Contem-
porary Children’s Fic- the percentage of books including African Americans had increased,
tion those representations were most often stereotypical and negative.
Bishop identified three main categories of books dealing with African
American themes. Socially conscious books were those written to
help white children understand the experiences of nonwhites. Melt-
ing pot books depicted whites and nonwhites together without differ-
entiating among them and showed nonwhites to be no different than
whites except for skin color. Culturally conscious books were written
for African American youth and reflected the uniqueness as well as
the universality of the African American experience.
Currently, although the numbers of multicultural titles being pub-
lished remain relatively low, the quality in terms of authority and au-
thenticity is improving (Harris, 1996; Lynch-Brown & Tomlinson, 1998).Violet J. Harris, “Contin-
uing dilemmas, debates, Other major milestones have included the establishment in 1998 of
and delights in multicul- Jump at the Sun, the first African American children’s imprint at a
tural literature” major publisher (Hyperion), and the establishment of a number of
The All-White World of Middle-School Genre Fiction 259
literary awards for youth multicultural literature, including the Ameri-
can Library Association’s Coretta Scott King Award and the American
Library Association’s Pura Belpre
´Award. There has also been an in-
crease in the number of small presses specializing in multicultural lit-
A Note About Term Selection
Racial and ethnic term selection is problematic. Most terms are offen-
sive to some, and few terms are acceptable to all. Since we based our
background demographic data on the most recent available U.S. Cen-
sus Bureau data, we opted to use their terminology for ethnic and
racial groups. For this reason, we use the term “Hispanic” instead of
“Latino” or another term, and “American Indian” instead of “Native
American” or another term. To refer to persons of non-Hispanic, Euro-
pean descent who do not belong to any of the other groups identified
in the Census Bureau data, we use the Census Bureau’s term “White.”
Nonetheless, we recognize that some of these terms might be offen-
sive to some readers.
The KIDS COUNT Census Data Online, compiled by the Annie E.
Casey Foundation, paints a diverse picture of America’s youth (Annie
E. Casey Foundation, 2002). According to the Casey Foundation’s anal-
Annie E. Casey Founda-
tion, Kids Count Cen- ysis of the 2000 U.S. Census data, over 30 percent of America’s chil-
sus Data Online dren are minorities, compared with 28 percent of adults. As Table 1
Number and Percentage of U.S. Children, by Race and Hispanic Origin, 2000
(Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2002)
Total population under age 18 72,293,812 100.0
One race only* 69,436,926 96.0
White* 49,598,289 68.6
Black or African American* 10,885,696 15.1
American Indian* or Alaskan Native* 840,312 1.2
Asian* 2,464,999 3.4
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander* 127,179 0.2
Some Other Race* 5,520,451 7.6
Two or more races* 2,856,886 4.0
Hispanic 12,342,259 17.1
Note:Onthe 2000 Census, for the first time, people could check more than one race.
*Only persons who are not of Hispanic origin are included in these categories.
Children’s Literature in Education260
shows, Hispanics account for 17 percent of all children. Of the non-
Hispanic racial minorities, African Americans account for almost 15
percent of children, and Asian Americans account for just over 3 per-
cent. Other racial minorities account for almost 9 percent. Racial di-
versity among U.S. children continues to increase at a fast pace, with
minority children accounting for 98 percent of the growth in the child
population during the 1990s (O’Hare, 2001).William P. O’Hare,
Child Population: First
Data from the 2000 The KIDS COUNT data confirm our belief that genre fiction for youth
should indeed stem from a variety of cultural milieu. As Walter Dean
Myers (1986) argued, all children, not just those who belong to theWalter Dean Myers, “I
actually thought we majority culture, have a right to read stories depicting their lives and
could revolutionize the experiences.
Before conducting any study relating to multiculturalism, it is neces-
sary first to define “multicultural.” Opinions of what groups to include
under the branch of multicultural range from narrow to broad. Propo-
nents at the narrow end of this range (e.g., Lynch-Brown & Tomlinson,Carol Lynch-Brown, and
Carl M. Tomlinson, “Es- 2000; Peterson, 1995) advocate restricting the definition to people of
sentials of multicultural color, such as African Americans and Asian Americans. Proponents at
and international chil-
dren’s books” the wide end of this range (e.g., Agosto, 2001; Shannon, 1994; Smith,
Lorna Peterson, “Multi- 1993) argue for including any groups identifiable by certain demo-
culturalism: Affirmative graphic characteristics, such as religion, geographic location, or lan-
or negative action?”
Denise E. Agosto, “The guage.
cultured word: Cultural
background, bilingual- For those who wish to restrict the definition to people of color, the
ism, and the school li-
brary” issue of inequality comes into play. These critics generally contend
Patrick Shannon, “I am that people of color have suffered the most seriously and should there-
the Canon: Finding our- fore be the focus of the multicultural movement in an attempt to re-
selves in multicultur-
alism” duce the inequality gap. As Harris (1992) explained, multiculturalism
Karen P. Smith, “The should “concentrate on those who are most excluded and marginal-
multicultural ethic and ized, people of color” (p. xvi). Cai (1998) wrote that:
connections to litera-
ture for children and
young adults” the dominated cultures have been and are still underrepresented in the
Violet Harris, Teaching curriculum. We should focus on the disenfranchised cultures rather
Multicultural Litera- than all cultures. To include every culture, the curriculum would not
ture: In Grades K–8
only be unmanageably large but also miss the ultimate goal of multicul-
Mingshui Cai, “Multiple
definitions of multicul- turalism. (p. 318)
tural literature: Is the
debate really just ‘Ivory
tower’ bickering?” However, some who promote the more inclusive view base their
stance in the belief of the importance of studying all minority groups,
regardless of the particular demographic characteristics that define
them (e.g., Agosto, 2001). Others who hold this broader view feel
that greater inclusion enables larger numbers of people to identify
The All-White World of Middle-School Genre Fiction 261
with multiculturalism, which in turn makes it a more powerful move-
ment (Shannon, 1994). Cai (1998) provided a review of the literature
covering the range of definitions. She concluded that the current
trend is toward “all inclusiveness” (p. 312).
We argue that since the central goal of multiculturalism is to bring
recognition and respect to marginalized people, all marginalized
groups should be included. Although people of color unquestionably
have suffered attitudinal, institutional, and governmental discrimina-
tion for centuries, so have other groups. An example of a group not
identifiable by racial background is people with disabilities. There has
been longstanding prejudice against, and shame at the very existence
of, people with disabilities. Although the stories of historical discrimi-
nation against African Americans, for instance, and people with disa-
bilities are not identical, they do share common characteristics, such
as institutionalized employment barriers. Comparing these two histo-
ries of discrimination and identifying commonalties can open young
people’s eyes to the fact that nonracially defined groups have also
suffered from, and continue to suffer from, societal antipathy. Discrim-
ination against these types of marginalized groups is less commonly
discussed and less frequently recognized than discrimination against
people of color, making an increase in awareness a crucial initial step
toward solving the inequality problem. Constricting the discussion of
multiculturalism to groups identifiable by racial identity alone ex-
cludes other marginalized groups from the debate and perpetuates
Although we recognize the necessity of expanding the limits of multi-
culturalism beyond the constraints of race and ethnicity, we focused
this study on people of color as protagonists. “People of color” is
defined here as people of African, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern,
American Indian, Caribbean, Pacific Islander, or Australian Native de-
scent. Our reason was that this restriction made the search feasible.
To search for all genre fiction with protagonists representing any
groups identifiable by “ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, gender, dis-
ability, political, geographic, age, or socioeconomic status” (Agosto,
2001) would have been an unmanageably large project. We plan to
replicate this study in the future focusing on other determinants of
multicultural status, such as religious or linguistic affiliation.
Defining Genre Fiction
As discussed previously, the goal of this project was to investigate the
extent to which multicultural protagonists exist in genre fiction for
middle-grade readers. The term “genre” can refer to literary format,
such as poem or essay, or it can refer to the defining theme within a
Children’s Literature in Education262
work of fiction, such as mystery or science fiction. We used the latter
of these two definitions throughout this study.
Schmidt (1989) defined genre fiction as a type of series fiction: “WhatGary D. Schmidt, “So
here, my dears, is a characterizes the novels within a series of this sort is a set of adven-
new Oz story” tures which have almost identical plot situations; the reader’s delight
in the series comes about as the author plays variations along the same
theme time and again” (p. 164). That is, in a mystery, there is always
an unknown element to be determined; the reader’s enjoyment comes
in expecting the introduction of the unknown element and in know-
ing that the unknown element will be satisfactorily revealed. In this
view of the genre novel as a type of series novel, it is the genre itself
that serves as the series, with individual mysteries, fantasies, horror
novels, and so forth serving as series entries.
Critics have tended to denigrate genre fiction, especially genre series
fiction, deeming it lower quality than so-called “literary fiction.” Ross
Catherine S. Ross, “‘If
they read Nancy Drew, (1995) traced the origins of the long tradition of denigrating series
so what?’ Series book fiction to negative attitudes surrounding nineteenth-century dime nov-
readers talk back” els. Many critics who question the quality of genre fiction call it “for-
mula fiction,” in reference to the thematic frameworks that define
each genre. These critics feel that the genre formulas constrict au-
thors’ ranges of creativity, resulting in reduced literary quality (Lu-Rebecca J. Lukens, A
Critical Handbook of kens, 1999).
Many critics of youth genre fiction have urged readers to turn to so-
called higher quality youth fiction, such as youth classics. However,
as Bixler and Agosta (1984) argue, many youth literature classics, suchPhyllis Bixler, and Lu-
cien Agosta, “Formula as Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Secret Garden, were themselves
fiction and children’s lit- based heavily on adult formula fiction, such as popular romance nov-
Waldo Burgess and Fran- els. Of course, it is also important to mention that not all genre fiction
ces Hodgson Burnett” is series fiction; some so-called literary fiction also follows genre con-
ventions and is therefore genre fiction.
The Appeal of Genre Fiction
In his classic book Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Sto-
ries as Art and Popular Culture, Cawelti (1976) attempted to explainJohn G. Cawelti, Adven-
ture, Mystery, and Ro- why so many readers are drawn to genre fiction. He suggested that
mance: Formula Sto- readers find the familiarity of well-known plot structures comforting
ries as Art and
Popular Culture and reassuring, as do children listening to the same bedtime story
night after night:
Older children and adults continue to find a special delight in familiar
stories, though in place of the child’s pleasure in the identical tale,
they substitute an interest in certain types of stories which have highly
The All-White World of Middle-School Genre Fiction 263
predictable structures that guarantee the fulfillment of conventional ex-
pectations: the detective, the western, the romance, the spy story, and
many other such types. For many persons such formulaic types make
up by far the greater portion of the experience of literature. Even schol-
ars and critics professionally dedicated to the serious study of artistic
masterpieces often spend their off-hours following a detective’s ritual
pursuit of a murderer or watching one of television’s spy teams carry
through its dangerous mission. An enormous percentage of books, mag-
azines, films, and television dramas depend on such formulaic struc-
tures. Thus these formulaic stories are artistic and cultural phenomena
of tremendous importance. (p. 1)
Schmidt (1989) agreed that the familiarity of genre patterns appeals
To say that these books are formulaic—and here I do not mean to
scorn—is to say what is at the very heart of what this form demands.
It is also to say that these books work very hard at meeting reader
expectations, at not projecting outside of the confines of plot situations
which would unsettle a reader’s assumptions about the world of these
books. (p. 164)
Although each genre can be defined by its unique characteristics,
genre fiction as a whole shares more general stylistic traits that span
genre boundaries. These traits include an action-filled plot, the protag-
onist as the overriding focus of the story, and a happy ending. In
addition to the comforting familiarity of the genre format, these three
traits draw young readers to genre fiction. Moreover, series genre fic-
tion protagonists are usually likeable; the reader continues reading a
series to continue his/her personal relationship with the main charac-
ter (Schmidt, 1989).
Design of the Study
The research questions that drove this study were:
1. What percentage of recent middle-grade genre fiction reviewed in
mainstream journals features protagonists of color?
2. What individual groups of people of color are represented and to
3. Within the 10-year period selected for analysis, how many genre
fiction reviews featuring protagonists of color were included in
each of the targeted journals?
In defining the boundaries of our search, we made several decisions
that shaped the study. First, it was necessary to reduce the possible
universe of existing works of youth literature to a manageable pool.
We limited our study to books written in English and published be-
Children’s Literature in Education264
tween the years 1992 and 2001. We wanted to examine the most
recent materials available at the time we were working, and we needed
to select a relatively large date range to ensure that trends would be
detected. Selection of an even larger date range was beyond the scope
of a study of this size. Second, it was necessary to select a set of
genres for analysis. Based on their prevailing popularity with young
adult readers, we chose the following genres: historical fiction, fan-
tasy, science fiction, mystery, horror, western, romance, and sports.
The major defining characteristics of these genres are summarized in
We chose content analysis as our methodology for the study. Our unit
of analysis was an individual book review. Using School Library Jour-
nal (SLJ ) and Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA), we counted the
number of book reviews published during the 10-year period immedi-
ately preceding the study (1992 and 2001) that: (a) featured a person
of color as the main protagonist or major secondary character, (b)
represented one of the genres described in Table 2, and (c) indicated
readers in fifth through eighth grades as the intended audience. Only
reviews of English-language novels were counted. Reviews of nonfic-
tion, reissues, translations, collections of short stories, or picture books
were excluded. For each review that met our criteria, we recorded
the genre and the race or ethnicity of the minority character or charac-
ters, as well as the author, title, and bibliographic information for the
book. It is important to note that during this phase of the study, we
did not begin with a predetermined set of racial and ethnic categories.
Instead, we permitted the categories to emerge from the reviews,
based on the categories created by the reviewers. For this reason,
there is not a direct match between the racial/ethnic categories in-
cluded in our definition of multicultural literature and the categories
discussed in the findings. The categories in the findings tend to be
more specific, echoing the level of specificity in the reviews.
We selected these two reviewing tools because together they review
the vast majority of the novels published in English for this age group.
The SLJ in fact, aims to review all children’s books published in the
United States. Not only do these two journals together review the
majority of materials applicable to this study, they are two of the most
frequently used standard selection tools for librarians and other adult
intermediaries who purchase books for middle-school library, public
library, and classroom collections. Publishers have a strong financial
incentive in sending review copies to these two journals. They know
that if their materials are not reviewed in them, their potential buying
audience is greatly diminished, so most attempt whenever possible to
send review copies. As a result, the reviews analyzed for this study
represent nearly the entirety of middle-school novels widely available
The All-White World of Middle-School Genre Fiction 265
Major Defining Characteristics of Genres
Name Major Identifying Characteristics Example
Historical 1. Set in an historical period or Sarah, Plain, and Tall,
Fiction based on an actual event Patricia MacLachlan
2. Set at least 20 years in the past (1985)
3. Characters may or may not have
Fantasy 1. Involves elements of the super- The Hobbit: Or There
natural, such as magic or anthro- and Back Again, J.R.R.
pomorphism Tolkien (1937)
2. Often draws on myths and leg-
ends of folk literatures
3. Envisions a world that could not
exist within the restrictions of
the laws of science
Science 1. Includes scientific or technologi- My Teacher is an Alien,
Fiction cal advances beyond that of the Bruce Coville (1989)
2. Focuses the social impact of that
3. Envisions a world that could ex-
ist within the restrictions of the
laws of science
Mystery 1. Revolves around unexplained The Secret of the Old
events Clock, Carolyn Keene
2. Unexplained events are usually (1930)
explained by the protagonist’s
Horror 1. Goal is to scare the reader Welcome to Dead House
2. Includes considerable violence (Goosebumps #1), R. L.
3. Often includes elements of sus- Stine (1992)
pense, fantasy, and/or mystery
Western 1. Set in the “Wild West” Jim Ugly, Sid Fleishman
2. Protagonist often battles nature (1992)
or fights against industrial devel-
Romance 1. Revolves around the relationship Seventeenth Summer,
between two characters, usually Maureen Daly (1942)
one female and one male
2. Usually has a happy ending
Sports 1. Revolves around a sport or sport- The Kid Who Only Hit
ing event Homers,Matt Christo-
2. The playing of the sport is de- pher (1972)
scribed in considerable detail
Children’s Literature in Education266
through major channels to youth in grades five through eight. Had we
chosen less mainstream journals, such as Multicultural Review,itis
certain that our analysis would have turned up a far greater prevalence
of multicultural protagonists. However, such journals are far less com-
monly used in library book collection practices and therefore present
a less accurate picture of the reviews on which most youth librarians
We recognize that this study is not without limitations. Since we did
not read or review all of the novels ourselves, we cannot attest to the
authenticity of cultural portrayals. In addition, our determination of
the race or ethnicity of the main character was dependent on review-
ers’ directly identifying characters as people of color. If reviewers oc-
casionally opted not to discuss protagonists’ racial/ethnic portrayals,
our methodology would have missed a portion of the titles that should
have been counted. To assess the possibility of such a methodological
error, we spot-checked the coding results against qualified novels we
had read, and also used selected reviews from additional selection
tools to triangulate the SLJ and VOYA reviews. Both of these forms of
results verification indicated that our method had picked up nearly all
applicable titles, indicating strong construct validity.
Similarly, our genre classification of each novel was based on details
provided by the reviewer. Again, the two spot-checking methods de-
scribed previously indicated strong construct validity. In cases in
which a title seemed to belong to more than one genre, we consulted
additional reviewing tools (Booklist,Publisher’s Weekly,BCCB, and
Hornbook) and coded the title under the one genre mentioned the
most frequently by the reviewers.
Using Holsti’s (1969) formula, inter-coder reliability for the three cod-
Oli R. Holsti, Content
Analysis for the Social ers was calculated to be 91.9 percent, well above the commonly ac-
Sciences and Humani- cepted 80 percent benchmark. As Table 3 demonstrates, we found a
ties paucity of genre fiction reviews featuring people of color. Our finding
that only about 16 percent, or one sixth, of the 4,255 reviews ana-
Genre Fiction Reviews 1992–2001 (N=4,255)
Genre fiction reviews featuring a protagonist of color 661 16.0
Genre fiction reviews featuring a white protagonist 3594 84.0
The All-White World of Middle-School Genre Fiction 267
lyzed feature people of color is distressing. In a more realistic repre-
sentation of our world, about one third of the characters would be
people of color. And since our definition of “protagonist” was very
wide-ranging (referring to major secondary characters as well as to
main characters), this finding is even more upsetting. It does not indi-
cate that only about one sixth of the novels analyzed include a person
of color in the leading role, but that only about a sixth feature a
person of color in a significant role. Together these reviews paint a
picture of a world in which only about one sixth of the population is
either a person of color or a White person with a close acquaintance
who is a person of color. Had we limited our analysis strictly to lead-
ing characters as people of color, the results would have been even
As noted previously, we recorded the title of the book and the race
or ethnicity of the protagonist for each genre review featuring a per-
son of color. As Table 4 shows, 32 percent of these protagonists were
African American. Another 6 percent were African, making people of
African descent the most often featured group. American Indians were
the second most often portrayed, followed by people of Asian descent
and then people of Hispanic descent. These figures indicate that all
groups of color are underrepresented in youth genre fiction and that
Hispanic characters are particularly underrepresented. For each genre,
we have included in the Appendix three representative titles identi-
fied through our analysis.
The following sections discuss our findings according to each of the
genres surveyed. Table 5 provides a summary of the data for each
Total Percentage of Genre Fiction Characters by Ethnic/Racial Identity*
Ethnicity/Racial Identity Percentage
African American 32.0
American Indian (North & South) 25.0
Asian American 5.0
Asian Indian 1.0
Middle Eastern 0.9
Pacific Islander 0.9
More than one minority 0.9
*Totals do not add up to 100% due to rounding.
Children’s Literature in Education268
Number of Reviews Featuring a Protagonist of Color by Genre 1992–2001
Historical Fiction 447 28.0
Fantasy 62 6.0
Science Fiction 18 5.0
Mystery and Suspense 73 13.0
Horror 21 6.0
Western 12 22.0
Romance 8 6.0
Sports 20 12.0
genre. The figures in the far right column indicate the percentage of
the total titles found featuring a protagonist of color that fell into each
We found that from 1992–2001, historical fiction accounted for 38
percent of the genre fiction reviewed— by far the largest category of
genre fiction reviewed each year. Of the 1,605 reviews, 447 of them
(28 percent) featured a protagonist of color. The majority of these
protagonists, 42 percent, were of African descent. Twenty-six percent
were American Indian and 14 percent were Asian. While Hispanic
children account for 17 percent of U.S. children, only 8 percent of
the novels featured a Hispanic main protagonist or major secondary
character. From this preponderance of historical fiction, we can con-
clude that when youth genre fiction authors decide to write about
characters of color, they often do so within a historical context. While
it is certainly important for young people to understand that people
of color played major roles in history, authors and publishers need to
extend their thinking about characters of color more deeply into our
modern, everyday world.
Smith (2000) noted the scarcity of African American characters in chil-Vicky Smith, “Are there
seats at the round ta- dren’s and young adult fantasy novels. Our study supports Smith’s
ble? An examination of observation. Only 62 (6 percent) of the 976 reviews of youth fantasy
Black characters in he-
roic fantasy” novels featured a protagonist or secondary character of color. Again,
the majority of the protagonists of color were either of African, Asian,
or American Indian descent. We concur with Smith’s conclusion that
publishers must seek more high quality fantasy novels featuring not
The All-White World of Middle-School Genre Fiction 269
only African American protagonists, but protagonists of color in gen-
Adult science fiction is often seen as White-dominated. Few African
Americans write adult science fiction, although the number is rising
(Dery, 1994). Similarly, Valenzuela (1997) lamented the lack of His-Mark Dery, “Black to
the future: Interviews panic authors and characters in adult science fiction. Our study sug-
with Samuel R. Delany, gests that youth science fiction is also White-dominated. Only 5 per-
Greg Tate, and Tricia
Rose” cent, or 18, of the 387 reviews included a protagonist or secondary
Eduardo A. Valenzuela, character of color. Unlike the other genre categories, where even
“No se habla espan
˜ol in though the numbers were low there was relative ethnic/racial diver-
outer space?” sity, each of the minority characters portrayed fell into one of three
cultural groups: African, Asian, or American Indian. We found no sci-
ence fiction featuring a Hispanic person in a leading or secondary
Muse (1999) claimed that African American mysteries for children and
Daphine Muse, “Detec-
tives, dubious dudes, young adults exist, yet they remain largely unknown and unread. She
spies, and suspense in identified Rosa Guy and Walter Dean Myers as among the best authors
for children and young of African American children’s and young adult mysteries. If, as Muse
adults” maintains, African American mysteries for children and young adults
do exist, they seem not to be making their way to the reviewers of
SLJ or VOYA.Ofthe 577 reviews published between 1992 and 2001,
only 13 percent featured a protagonist or secondary character of
color. It is interesting to note that the number, and percentage, of
Hispanic characters was higher for this category than any other. Eleven
(18 percent) of the titles featured a Hispanic protagonist. Surprisingly,
six of the Hispanic protagonists were adolescent females. In an earlier
study that focused on realistic fiction, Guild and Hughes-HassellSandy Guild and Sandra
Hughes-Hassell, “The ur- (2001) found no recent realistic fiction set in urban areas that featured
ban minority young a Hispanic female adolescent. It seems that the authors of mysteries
adult audience: Does
young adult literature recognize the need of this segment of the Hispanic population to see
pass the reality test?” their lives reflected in literature.
Horror is a favorite with many middle-grade readers, so we were sur-
prised to find that only 361 horror titles had been reviewed in the 10-
year period we studied. Of those titles, only 11, or 6 percent, featured
a person of color. It is interesting to note that in 40 percent of the
titles, the main protagonist was an American Indian.
Children’s Literature in Education270
It is interesting to note that the genre category with the least number
of reviews, only 54 in 10 years, featured the second largest percentage
of protagonists of color. As Table 5 shows, 22 percent, or 12, of the
reviews of westerns featured a person of color. The novels were pre-
dominantly about African American cowboys or the friendships that
developed between American Indians and White settlers, although
one review featured a Mexican Robin Hood. Since the role of African
American cowboys and Buffalo Soldiers in the expansion of the United
States is well documented, it is encouraging to see their importance
reflected in youth fiction.
Romance fiction is the best-selling adult fiction genre. More than half
of all mass market paperbacks are romance fiction. White protagonists
have long dominated the adult romance market, but in 1994 Ara-
besque, the first adult romance line to feature African American char-
acters, was launched. It became wildly popular almost as soon as the
first title was issued (Karp, 1996).Hal Karp, “In the mar-
ket for romance”
Nonetheless, our study detected only eight romance novels that fea-
tured protagonists or secondary characters of color. Four of the eight
novels portrayed interracial relationships—African American and
White, African American and Hispanic, and Asian Indian and White.
Based on these results, it appears that when youth turn to the genre
of romance fiction, they see an almost entirely White world.
It is important to keep in mind that romance is a theme or element
that seems to be present in many other genres, as well as in realistic
fiction written for middle-grade readers. As a tangential finding, our
study revealed that 18 percent of the realistic fiction novels reviewed
from 1992–2001 featured protagonists or secondary characters of
color. This finding suggests that if minority youth who enjoy romance
stories venture outside the genre of romance fiction, they may be more
likely to encounter youth like themselves.
Again, we were surprised at how few sports novels—only 160—were
reviewed during the 10-year period. Twelve percent of those novels
featured a youth of color. Fifty percent of the protagonists were Afri-
can American, 15 percent Hispanic, and 15 percent Asian American.
The most-portrayed sport was baseball. Considering the relative pre-
dominance of players of color in the professional sports world, this
The All-White World of Middle-School Genre Fiction 271
genre exemplifies the overall tendency of youth genre novels to strip
the world of people of color.
While there has been a notable increase in multicultural publishing
over the past several years, this study indicates that the increase has
not extended into genre fiction for the middle grades. There is a seri-
ous need for more youth genre fiction with people of color as protago-
nists because genre fiction holds great appeal to young people. Re-
gardless of the debate surrounding the literary merits of genre fiction,
especially series fiction, young people read it. For many young read-
ers, works fitting into these genres constitute the majority, if not the
entirety, of their leisure fiction reading. We must not allow the world
that they view through these materials to be an all-White, all-majority
As librarians and educators we must make genre literature that stems
from a variety of cultural milieu available to youth. This study suggests
that relying on standard, mainstream selection tools may not be suffi-
cient to achieve this goal. Instead, we need to utilize specialized re-
sources like small presses that are owned and operated by people of
color (see the Cooperative Children’s Book Center Web site for a com-
Book Center, URL plete list: http://www.soemadison.wisc.edu/ccbc/pclist.htm); selec-
http://www.education tion tools like Multicultural Review,Hearing All the Voices: Multicul-
.htm tural Books for Adolescents (2002), and Kaleidoscope: A Multicultural
Mary Ann Darby, Hear- Booklist for Grades K–8 (2001); and organizations like Oyate (a Na-
ing all the Voices: tive organization) and the Barahona Center for the Study of Books in
Multicultural Books for
Adolescents Spanish for Children and Adolescents. We also need to expand our
Junko Yokota, Kaleido- knowledge of multicultural book awards beyond the well-known Cor-
scope: A Multicultural etta Scott King and Pura Belpre
´Award to include awards like the Na-
Booklist for Grades
K–8 tive Writers’ Circle of the Americas Award, the John Steptoe Award
Oyate, URL http:// for New Talent, the Ame
´ricas Award, and the Tomas Rivera Mexican
www.oyate.org/ American Children’s Book Award.
Barahona Center for the
Study of Books in Span-
ish for Children and Ad- Unfortunately, even using these methods we cannot develop genre
olescents. URL http:// fiction collections that accurately reflect our multicultural society if
www.csusm.edu/csb/ the number of existing titles featuring protagonists of color remains
insufficient. We must also become advocates for minority youth by
challenging the established publishing houses to increase the number
of genre titles featuring minority protagonists published each year,
and we need to encourage the publishers of standard selection tools
like SLJ and VOYA to include more reviews of genre fiction featuring
people of color in each issue. Only then will the world portrayed in
youth genre fiction come to be truly representative of our own diverse
Children’s Literature in Education272
Appendix: Representative Genre Fiction Titles Featuring
People of Color
Alexander, Lloyd, The Iron Ring.New York: Dutton, 1997.
Cooney, Caroline B., For all Time.New York: Delacorte, 2001.
Levin, Betsy, Mercy’s Mill.New York: Greenwillow, 1992.
Berry, James, Ajeemah and His Son.New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
Choi, Sook Nyul, Gathering of Pearls. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
Wilson, Diane L., I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade.New York: Orchard,
Bruchac, Joseph, Skeleton Man.New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
Somtow, S. P., The Vampire’s Beautiful Daughter.New York: Atheneum,
Vande Velde, Vivian, There’s a Dead Person Following My Sister Around.
San Diego: Harcourt, 1999.
Mystery and Suspense
Lachtman, Ofelia Dumas, The Summer of El Pintor. Houston: Arte Pu
Rushford, Patricia H., Betrayed.Minneapolis, MN: Bethany, 1996.
Yep, Laurence, The Case of the Firecrackers.New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
´,Loves Me, Loves Me Not. Houston: Pin
˜ata Books/Arte Pu
Ellis, Ella Thorp, The Year of My Indian Prince.New York: Delacorte Press,
˜o, Elizabeth Borton de, Leona: A Love Story.New York: Farrar, Straus
and Giroux, 1994.
Farmer, Nancy, The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm. New York: Orchard, 1994.
Hautman, Pete, Hole in the Sky.New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
Sescoe, Vincent E., Double Time. Sterling, VA: Brookfield Reader, 2001.
The All-White World of Middle-School Genre Fiction 273
Baker, Carin Greenberg, Fight for Honor (Karate Club Series).New York:
Hewett, Lorri. Dancer.New York: Dutton, 1999.
McGinley, Jerry, Joaquin Strikes Back.Greensboro, NC: Tudor, 1998.
Fleischman, Sid, Bandit’s Moon. Illus. Jos. A. Smith. New York: Greenwillow,
Myers, Walter Dean, The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner.New York:
Reaver, Chap, A Little Bit Dead.New York: Dealcorte, 1992.
Agosto, Denise E., “The cultured word: Cultural background, bilingualism, and
the school library,” School Libraries Worldwide, 2001, 7, 46–57.
Annie E. Casey Foundation, Kids Count Census Data Online, 2002, URL
http://www.aecf.org/kidscount/census/ (Accessed August 1, 2002).
Barahona Center for the Study of Books in Spanish for Children and Adoles-
cents. URL http://www.csusm.edu/csb/ (Accessed September 5, 2002).
Bishop, Rudine Sims, Shadow and Substance: Afro-American Experience in
Contemporary Children’s Fiction. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers
of English, 1982.
Bixler, Phyllis, and Agosta, Lucien, “Formula fiction and children’s literature:
Thornton Waldo Burgess and Frances Hodgson Burnett,” Children’s Litera-
ture in Education, 1984, 15, 63–71.
Cai, Mingshui, “Multiple definitions of multicultural literature: Is the debate
really just ‘Ivory tower’ bickering?” The New Advocate, 1998, 11, 311– 324.
Cawelti, John G., Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art
and Popular Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.
Cooperative Children’s Book Center, URL http://www.education.wisc.edu/
ccbc/index.htm (Accessed September 5, 2002).
Darby, Mary Ann, Hearing all the Voices: Multicultural Books for Adoles-
cents. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002.
Dery, Mark, “Black to the future: Interviews with Samuel R. Delany, Greg
Tate, and Tricia Rose,” in Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture,
Mark Dery, ed., pp. 179–222. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994.
Guild, Sandy, and Hughes-Hassell, Sandra, “The urban minority young adult
audience: Does young adult literature pass the reality test?” New Advocate,
2001, 14, 361–378.
Harris, Violet J., Teaching Multicultural Literature: In Grades K-8. Norwood,
MA: Christopher-Gordon, 1992.
Harris, Violet J., “Continuing dilemmas, debates, and delights in multicultural
literature,” New Advocate, 1996, 107–121.
Children’s Literature in Education274
Holsti, Oli R., Content Analysis for the Social Sciences and Humanities.
Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1969.
Karp, Hal, “In the market for romance.” Black Enterprise, 1996, 27, 62.
Larrick, Nancy, “The all-white world of children’s books,” Saturday Review,
1965, 11, 63–65, 84–85.
Lukens, Rebecca J., A Critical Handbook of Children’s Literature (6th ed.).
New York: Longman, 1999.
Lynch-Brown, Carol, and Tomlinson, Carl M., Essentials of Children’s Litera-
ture. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1998.
Lynch-Brown, Carol, and Tomlinson, Carl M., “Essentials of multicultural and
international children’s books.” Internet document, URL Article.doc http://
dlis.dos.state.fl.us/bld/FLYP2000/AAbeginning/010 (Accessed December 22,
Muse, Daphine, “Detectives, dubious dudes, spies, and suspense in African-
American fiction for children and young adults,” Multicultural Education,
1999, 6, 37–41.
Myers, Walter Dean, “I actually thought we could revolutionize the industry,”
New York Times Book Review, 1986, 91, 50.
O’Hare, William P., Child Population: First Data from the 2000 Census. An-
nie E. Casey Foundation and the Population Reference Bureau, 2001. URL
Oyate, URL http://www.oyate.org/ (Accessed September 5, 2002).
Peterson, Lorna, “Multiculturalism: Affirmative or negative action?” Library
Journal, 1995, 120, 30–31.
Ross, Catherine S., “‘If they read Nancy Drew, so what?’ Series book readers
talk back,” Library and Information Science Research, 1995, 17, 201–236.
Schmidt, Gary D., “So here, my dears, is a new Oz story,” Children’s Litera-
ture Association Quarterly, 1989, 14, 163–165.
Shannon, Patrick, “I am the Canon: Finding ourselves in multiculturalism,”
Journal of Children’s Literature, 1994, 20, 1–5.
Smith, Karen P., “The multicultural ethic and connections to literature for
children and young adults,” Library Trends, 1993, 41, 340–353.
Smith, Vicky, “Are there seats at the round table? An examination of Black
characters in heroic fantasy,” New Advocate, 2000, 13, 333–345.
Valenzuela, Eduardo A., “No se habla espan
˜ol in outer space?” Hispanic, 1997,
Yokota, Junko, Kaleidoscope: A Multicultural Booklist for Grades K-8.New-
ark, DE: National Council of Teachers of English, 2001.
Youth Literature Referenced
Christopher, Matt, The Kid Who Only Hit Homers. Boston: Little, Brown,
Coville, Bruce, My Teacher is an Alien. New York: Pocket Books, 1989.
Daly, Maureen, Seventeenth Summer.New York: Dodd, Mead, 1942.
Fleishman, Sid, Jim Ugly. New York: Greenwillow, 1992.
Keene, Carolyn, The Secret of the Old Clock.New York: Grosset & Dunlap,
Kindl, Patrice, Owl in Love. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.
The All-White World of Middle-School Genre Fiction 275
MacLachlan, Patricia, Sarah, Plain, and Tall. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.
Stine, R. L., Welcome to Dead House (Goosebumps #1). New York: Scholas-
Tolkien, J. R. R., The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again. London: Allen &