Young adult novelist Kate Hart embarked on analysis of book cover diversity in her genre last year. She discovered that only nine percent of young adult books featured a girl of color. This year, she’s re-conducted her study, only to find that diversity has improved by just one percent.

Hart looked at over 900 books in the YA market and her infographic, the YA Cover Color Wheel, further breaks down minority spottings, determining how many covers feature black, Latina, or Asian models. She notes that block models most often appear in group shots, behind white models, or with their faces obscured.

There were no girls with physical disabilities featured at all.

I’m not sure what a study like this would’ve unearthed in the 1990s, when I was a YA reader, but I certainly found my way to the works of authors like Virginia Hamilton, Walter Dean Myers, Rita Williams-Garcia, Mildred D. Taylor, and Rosa Guy. This isn’t to say that diversity wasn’t sorely lacking back then; the most diverse assemble character series I can think of is The Babysitters Club, with its one Asian friend and, later in the series, an addition of Jessie the black girl.

What books did you read as a pre-teen/teen? Were your selections diverse? Did you feel that girls who looked like you were adequately represented in your reading?

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  • When I was younger (pre-teen around mid 2000s) I read a lot of everything. However, the ones that are most memorable to me as Young Adult fiction would be

    The Skin I’m In (2000) by Sharon G. Flake (really great African American centered read about a dark skinned girl in middle school who is bullied because of her skin color)

    Bud, Not Buddy (1999) by Christopher Paul Curtis (awesome book about a young black orphan in the 1930’s)

    Romiette and Julio (2001) by Sharon M. Draper (EVERYONE in my middle school loved this book! It’s a spin on the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet instead its a romance with an African American girl and a Latino American boy…AWESOME book)

    The Cheetah Girls (1999) by Deborah Gregory (I wanted to be a Cheetah girl so badly!! They all had different backgrounds)

    Also, I think this book is a children’s book because I read it in the 6th grade…lol…but if we want if we classify Young Adult fiction as focused for ages 12 to 18, I would say Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976) by Mildred Taylor was a good book too.

    In addition, in middle school I also read many adult books like Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (couldn’t get into that one until I reread it my sophomore year of high school, when it became one of my favorite books). Most of the books I read were various, ranging in different characters and all. I never read Harry Potter, and I’m passed the age of the Twilight fame (even though I just now finished the Hunger Games just recently as a sophomore in college) I loved Holes by Louis Sachar which also had a diverse group of characters. And I also loved The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants books, even though unfortuately, there wasn’t any characters who weren’t white…oh! except for the Latina? Or was that just America Ferrara in the movie…idk I haven’t read the books in a long time.

    I miss being young. I read so much!

  • Cia

    There is an amazing new YA author Jaime Reed and she has a new series called the Cambion Chronicles and the protagonist is a young black female. Great books. The first was released December called Living Violet and the second in the series, Burning Emerald, will be released June 1st. Black female character right on the front cover!!

    http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5140626.Jaime_Reed

  • Lilith

    Dork Diaries is the worst offender. There is nothing on the cover that would let you know that the character is black. Also, I’m a romance novel reader and a lot of the older books are being reissued with whitewashed covers. This is shocking because the original covers had Black people of all hues and they matched the author’s description. Maureen Smith books come to mind. I had to be told that her characters were Black because I couldn’t tell from her covers. Contrast all of this with L.A. Banks who never tried to downplay the racial identify of her heroine. Her death is a particularly painful since there is so little diversity in that genre. Also, compliments to Kim Harrison for populating her world with characters of color.

  • Leelee

    @Sasha
    This is an issue, maybe not a major one, but its an issue all the same. Every book does not have to be about black people, and as someone who reads mostly urban fantasy(which does not mean urban as in urban lit) I rarely read books with black protagonists. There is a problem when I pick up a book that’s about a black person and there is a white person on the cover. This happens all the time in YA and sometimes in books for adults as well. If you talk with almost any author, they will tell you that whitewashing is done on purpose, because white people hardly ever pick up books with black people on the cover. The majority of the world is not over skin color. Justine Labalestier, an amazing YA author, has discussed this a lot. One of her books about an ethnic protagonist, was whitewashed, meaning there was a picture of a white girl on the cover of her book when it should have been someone a lot darker. There was a lot of backlash so the publishers eventually changed it. She also talked about how it’s harder for books with black protagonists to be published when written by a black writer(the author herself is white). White authors have the advantage even when writing about black or multiracial people, as she did in her book Liar. It’s not really a matter of black authors writing better or more stories, it’s an issue of what publishers think they can sell to white audiences.

    • Nikohl

      Exactly. Many white people don’t want to read about minorities. Publishers don’t believe that there is a big market for us so they market to people who they believe are buying books. Whether it is true or not.