Sci-fi books for young readers often omit children of color from the future

While visiting an elementary school library in 2016 to count fantasy books for a graduate class on fantasy literature, I noticed that there were hardly any science fiction books for readers under the age of 12. This discovery led me to spend the next five years researching the science. Fictional books for children of this age.

I came to two major conclusions. First, I noticed that adults often think that children can’t understand science fiction—but they can. Second, I noticed that writers and illustrators are not showing characters from diverse backgrounds in children’s stories about the future. As a researcher who specializes in children’s literature, these findings make me wonder if the reason there is so little diversity in children’s science fiction is because authors don’t recognize that their readers will be children from diverse backgrounds. .

Of the 357 science fiction children’s books I read for my research, I found that only about a quarter contained diverse characters. Less than half – 37% – featured a girl in a major role. While children’s science fiction books have historically lacked diversity, I found that those written in the 21st century are more diverse than children’s books as a whole.

Case for different characters

In 2014, authors Malinda Lo and Ellen Oh launched the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign to call for more books for children with characters of different races, genders, cultures, religions, and physical and mental disabilities. Since then, the number has grown from 397 different children’s books published in 2014 to 1,155 books in 2021.

Diversity is important in children’s science fiction because it tells who the future is.

In recent years, some vocal fans have reacted negatively when major television and film series such as “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and other science fiction and fantasy television shows feature actors of color in lead roles. .

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When fans refuse to accept non-white fantasy and science fiction characters, they demonstrate what children’s literature expert and professor Ebony Elizabeth Thomas calls “imagination space.” Thomas explains that the space of imagination begins in childhood. Children who rarely see diversity represented in their fantasy and science fiction books grow up to see diversity out of place in their favorite stories.

Imagine the future

Diverse representation in science fiction is especially important because these authors are not only imagining the future, but the kinds of people who are creating those futures. NASA scientists and mechanical engineers have said that their interest in science is due to their childhood encounters with science fiction.

When science fiction authors imagine diverse people such as women, people of color, people with disabilities, and queer people as future scientists, they provide models for more children to imagine themselves in those careers. Research shows that seeing female scientists in the media affects whether girls envision themselves in STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—careers. Even just seeing a positive character from a diverse background in science fiction can motivate young people to enter and maintain STEM careers. Mae Jemison, the first black female astronaut, says she could envision herself going into space because as a teenager she watched Nicole Nichols play Lt. Niuta Uhura on “Star Trek.”

Yet children’s science fiction is more diverse than children’s literature at large. I compared recent science fiction books in my sample published from 2001 to 2016 with the overall diversity in children’s books over those same 16 years. I found that science fiction books have 19 percentage points more diversity.

Better representation

I have noticed that the presence of girls and diverse characters in children’s science fiction has gradually increased over the past 90 years. The first science fiction picture book, “Little Machines,” written by Mary Liddell and published in 1926, avoids human diversity by focusing entirely on robots and their animal friends. It’s hard to add diversity to books that don’t have human characters.

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Although the plot of the 1999 picture book “The Worst Band in the Universe” by Grimbase is an allegory for the history of black music in America, it only involves aliens from the planet Bleep. DeWitt Douglas Kilgore, an expert on race in science fiction and professor of English at Indiana University, says that science fiction should include a variety of humans, not a variety of aliens, to celebrate the potential for diversity in the future. go

Initial efforts

The first example of my model for incorporating diversity was the 1929 collection of “Buck Rogers” comic strips. It had at least a few characters with different skin tones and some independent female characters. That’s more than other stories I’ve read from the same era, like the 1934 “Flash Gordon” comic and the 1935 “Brick Bradford on the Isles Beyond the Ice” comic. The 1960s were often trying but failing to break free. “Connie: Master of the Juvenile Moons” from 1939 stood out for having an active and successful female character and an elderly female scientist.

Only five of the 357 books I read had detailed non-white or non-European cultural content. The 2014 graphic novel “Lowriders in Space” by Kathy Kemper and Raul The Third, for example, highlights Mexican American lowrider culture and rasquachismo, a unique Chicano aesthetic that values ​​survival and defying fantasy. Uses discarded and recycled materials in art. The price of these materials. The illustrations in “Love Riders in Space” were created with ballpoint pens that Raoul the Third picked up from the sidewalk.

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The books I’ve read haven’t featured queer characters, but I’ve noticed that recent children’s television has featured this type of representation. The cartoon “Steven Universe” uses the limitless possibilities of the science fiction genre to creatively think about gender and queerness. For example, aliens in “Steven Universe” can change their bodies at will, and still identify and relate to women.

Science fiction authors can be leaders in efforts to diversify children’s books if creators fill the gaps in children’s science fiction with stories that include characters from diverse backgrounds. Inspired by my own research, I teamed up with illustrator Lorraine E. Brown to create a picture book about a girl who learns to care for a lovable stowaway stranger. The girl is black and disabled, but the story is about the discovery of life in space.

If creators of children’s science fiction do not diversify the genre, they risk perpetuating the idea that only certain groups belong in science and the future. The burden isn’t just on creators, though. Teachers and parents should also explore science fiction with diverse characters to ensure that children’s book collections reflect a future that welcomes all.

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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.talk

reference: Sci-fi books for young readers often leave children of color out of the future (2022, December 1) Retrieved December 1, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-12-sci-fi-young- readers-omit -children.html

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