Fall 2015 • Children and Libraries 7
any people seem to think that the discussion
of diversity started in 1964 with Nancy Larricks
seminal article, “The All-White World of Childrens
Books,” published in the Saturday Review on September 11,
1965. This time line shows, however, that a lot happened
prior to that. Influential library leaders such as Pura Belpré,
Charlemae Hill Rollins, Augusta Baker, and Clara Breed cham-
pioned diversity long before the 1960s.
In the childrens book world, awards matter a great deal. They
can reflect social mores and the critical mind-set of childrens
librarians, both historically and currently. And they have always
had a big impact on what gets published next. Success breeds
imitation, so when authors and illustrators of color win book
awards, particularly the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, it can
lead to greater diversity in literature overall. We saw this happen
in the mid-1970s with African American literature after big wins
by Virginia Hamilton, Leo and Diane Dillon, and Mildred D.
Taylor. We saw it again in the early 2000s with Newbery Medals
going to Linda Sue Park and Cynthia Kadohata, after which we
noted a marked increase in the number of novels being pub-
lished by Asian American authors.
Progress is often measured by firsts—the first Newbery Medal
given to an author of color, first African American president
of ALAs Childrens Services Division (now the Association for
Library Service to Children/ALSC), and so forth. Each of these
firsts represents a breakdown of barriers.
Sometimes these barriers seem to have been broken easily; we
cant know, for example, how much discussion there was back
in 1928 about awarding the Newbery to a book set in India
by an author of East Indian descent. Other times, they clearly
represent the work of tireless advocates. We can appreciate the
effort that must have gone into the launching of The Brownies
Book in 1920 and the heartbreak that must have followed two
years later when they had to close the venture down.
Reading this time line, it should become clear that, as a group,
childrens librarians have been on the forefront for diversity
from the beginning, striving to serve all children. If anything,
our predecessors in the library field had a much better track
record for it than we ourselves have had over the last forty
years. Ultimately this time line shows that we still have a long
way to go.
1916—Childrens Book Week is established.
1919—Macmillan establishes the first department devoted
exclusively to childrens books and hires Louise Seaman (later
Bechtel) as the first childrens book editor.
Kathleen T. Horning is the Director of the
Cooperative Children’s Book Center, a
library of the School of Education at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Milestones for Diversity in Children’s
Literature and Library Services
8 Fall 2015 • Children and Libraries
Milestones for Diversity in Children’s Literature and Library Services
1920—A new monthly maga-
zine, The Brownies Book, is
founded. Created for African
American children, it was
the brainchild of W. E. B. Du
Bois. Unfortunately, it never
got enough subscribers to
sustain itself and ceased
publication after just twenty-
four issues.
1921—Pura Belpré is hired by
the New York Public Library.
Originally from Puerto Rico,
she would pioneer bilingual
storytelling and library ser-
vices to Spanish-speaking
children in New York City.
1922—The Newbery Medal is established to encourage distin-
guished writing for children.
1927—Charlemae Hill Rollins is hired as a childrens librarian
by Chicago Public Library. In succeeding decades, she would
lead the charge against the stereotypical portrayal of African
Americans in childrens books.
1928—Dhan Gopal Mukerji becomes the first person of color to
win the Newbery Medal for Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon, a
book set in his native India.
1932—Perez and Martina
by Pura Belpré, a picture-
book folktale retelling, is the
first book published in the
United States by a Puerto
Rican author.
1932—Popo and Fifina:
Children of Haiti by Arna
Bontemps and Langston
Hughes is the first childrens novel by and about blacks. It was
illustrated by E. Simms Campbell, an African American artist.
1937—Augusta Baker is hired by New York Public Library. She
spent the early years of her career at the 135th Street Branch in
Harlem and became nationally known for her storytelling and
leadership in childrens librarian services.
1938—The James Weldon Johnson Collection is established
at the Countee Cullen Branch of the New York Public Library.
Under the direction of Augusta Baker, forty books representing
positive portrayals of blacks were selected for the initial collec-
1939—One year after the establishment of the Caldecott Award
for distinguished picture-book illustration, the Medal goes to
Thomas Handforth for his portrayal of a contemporary Chinese
girl in Mei Li.
1939—Tobe, a 121-page picturebook by
Stella Gentry Sharpe, is published by
the University of North Carolina Press.
Written in response to a student’s ques-
tion about why there were no books
with kids that looked like him, the
story details the life of a seven-year-old
African American farm boy, document-
ing it with black-and-white photos by
Charles Farrell.
1940—A young artist named Ezra Jack Keats cuts a series of four
photos out of the June 14 issue of Life magazine. They show an
African American toddler before and after a blood test from a
public health nurse, and nearly twenty years later, they inspire
the creation of his character Peter.
1941—Charlemae Hill Rollins publishes We Build Together: A
Reader’s Guide to Negro Life and Literature for Elementary and
High School Use, a list of recommended books that countered
the negative images prevalent in childrens books.
1942—Velino Herrera, a Zia Pueblo artist,
wins a Caldecott Honor for In My Mother’s
House by Ann Nolan Clark, becoming
the first illustrator of color recognized
by the Caldecott Committee, and so far,
the only Native book creator to be recog-
nized by either the Newbery or Caldecott
1942—Clara Breed, president of the ALAs
Childrens Services Division, becomes a vocal opponent of
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 ordering
Japanese American citizens into internment camps. Breed cor-
responded with her young patrons from the San Diego Public
Library throughout their imprisonment, and those letters today
are part of the Japanese American National Museum.
1944—Plato Chan, a twelve-year-old Chinese American
boy, wins a Caldecott Honor for The Good-Luck Horse by
Chih-Yi Chan; he still holds the record for youngest illustrator
ever to be awarded.
1945—African American author Jesse Jackson publishes Call
Me Charley, the first contemporary childrens novel with an
African American protagonist.
1945—Two Is a Team by Lorraine and Jerrold Beim, illustrated
by Ernest Crichlow, is the first picturebook illustrated by an
African American artist.
1946—My Dog Rinty by Ellen Tarry and Marie Hall Ets is pub-
lished by Viking. The contemporary story about an African
Charlemae Hill Rollins