Diversity in YA--Remember When? by Brian Katcher


Diversity in young adult/children's literature is a hot button topic these days. How can we best present the spectrum of people in the universe without making our characters tokens or caricatures? 

I think it's important, however, to step back and remember how god-awful the portrayal of non-whites used to be in children's literature. And I'm not talking about a hundred years ago.


This was a comic book I enjoyed as a child. Donald and nephews travel to Volcanovia, a land where everyone wears sombreros, speaks broken English and loves to take naps. I think they say the word 'siesta' on every page. Donald actually calls a guy a 'wetback.' 

And good ol' Tin Tin. I was never into this series, but before 1980, every illustration of an African featured a donut for a mouth.

I was a teenager before I realized Mammy Two Shoes wasn't a bear.

 In just a couple of generations we went from this:

He only ever said 'cowabunga!'

To this:

 Things aren't great, but looking back a few decades, they're a hell of a lot better than they used to be. Thank goodness none of my favorite books had overtly racist overtones.