Tag Archives: mid-year review

2020 Mid-Year Review: What Am I Reading?

You might have noticed from those What Are You Reading? posts that I read. A lot. I read a lot of picture books (which I know many people don’t count in reading totals). I also read a lot of graphic novels, which can generally be considered “faster” reads than chapter books. But, even with those considerations, I know I read a lot.

I’m privileged in the time I can dedicate to reading–I only work one job and reading is directly related to that job (though not something I really ever get to do on the job). My job gives me easy access to free books, without having to go out of my way to pick them up or even to track down a list of new releases. I don’t have kids or the responsibilities that come up with taking care of young people. Even though I go through slumps, I genuinely enjoy reading. And I’ve had particularly a lot of time for it during the pandemic.

I pride myself on reading books featuring diverse characters. I didn’t really do this as a child, beyond the books that won awards or were regularly in recommendations from school and public librarians. I didn’t think about what the characters in my books looked like until I started library school. (More privilege. I’m just chock-full of that.) I had some pretty phenomenal professors that pointed my head in the right direction, and since then, especially in that last few years, I’ve been making a conscious effort to read diverse kids books.

I know that I’ve made a specific effort to book talk titles featuring diverse characters–though, now that I look again at my process, 3/9 isn’t as high a ratio of diverse books to white/non-human books as I would like. Especially when I put the research in and discover that two of those three books are written by white authors. I’ve been trying to correct that by focusing exclusively on own voices in more recent video book talks — but I’ve already felt the itch to book talk a non-own voices book, and I’m afraid once I open myself to that, I’ll once again not promote own voices books as much as I should.

I also know that my storytimes do not feature enough diversity. I tend to blame this on my typical age group–babies–and the overall lack of books that I really feel is ideal for those wiggling one-year-olds. While the industry definitely has issues, that lack of diversity in my storytimes is squarely on me, and something I’m looking at.

So what is this post about? I want to look at what I’ve actually read so far in 2020.

If anyone has a recommendation on how to do this that is simpler than creating a spreadsheet and reviewing each title one at a time, please let me know. I mark a lot of these things through Goodreads shelves, though, for reasons I do not understand, Goodreads will not show me all of the books I read this year in a way that was easily sortable–it kept dropping off the last 100, which left me with incomplete data.

My own voices data is particularly questionable, as it is subject to searching for a Google image of an author I wasn’t sure of, and then going to their author website if I still wasn’t sure, or if I was genuinely surprised by their whiteness (more often than not unfortunately). I’m hoping to rectify this by making this a more regular effort instead of trying to quickly sort 720 books in one weekend.

Some of the data doesn’t quite add up the way you would imagine, as some books are in multiple categories. For example, there are some picture books and graphic novels also tagged as non-fiction titles.

The breakdown is below.

Mid-Year 2020 Reading Statistics

  • Format/Intended Age:
    • 329 Picture Books (46%)
      • 129 diverse main characters (39% of picture books)
    • 191 Graphic Novels (27%)
      • 44 diverse main characters (23% of graphic novels)
    • 80 First Chapter Books (11%)
      • 45 diverse main characters (56% of first chapter books)
    • 50 Beginning Readers (7%)
      • 20 diverse main characters (40% of beginning readers)
    • 34 Juvenile Fiction Chapter Books (5%)
      • 13 diverse main characters (35% of juvenile fiction)
    • 8 Teen Fiction Books (1%)
      • 4 diverse main characters (50%)
    • 4 Adult Fiction Books (0.5%)
      • 0 diverse main characters (0%)
  • Fiction/Non-Fiction/Genre:
    • 66 Non-fiction (9%)
      • 29 contain diversity in “characters” (picture books/graphic novels teaching facts), biographies, memoirs, or focus on racism (44% of non-fiction)
    • 19 Biographies (3%) (also included in NF)
    • 653 Fiction (9%)
      • 231 contain diverse main characters (35% of fiction)
  • Author Makeup:
    • 475 Books Written By Female Authors (66%)
    • 238 Books Written By Male Authors (33%)
    • 153 Non-White Authors (21%)
  • Diversity:
    • 260 Diverse Main Characters (36%)
    • 132 Diverse Main Characters Written By Own Voices Authors (18%)
    • 28 LGBT Main Character (4%)

Breakdown: Format/Intended Audience

  • 329 Picture Books (46%)
    • 129 diverse main characters (39% of picture books)
  • 191 Graphic Novels (27%)
    • 44 diverse main characters (23% of graphic novels)
  • 80 First Chapter Books (11%)
    • 45 diverse main characters (56% of first chapter books)
  • 50 Beginning Readers (7%)
    • 20 diverse main characters (40% of beginning readers)
  • 34 Juvenile Fiction Chapter Books (5%)
    • 13 diverse main characters (35% of juvenile fiction)
  • 8 Teen Fiction Books (1%)
    • 4 diverse main characters (50%)
  • 4 Adult Fiction Books (0.5%)
    • 0 diverse main characters (0%)

I know I read a lot of picture books, and those inflate my overall reading count for the year. I am pleasantly surprised that picture books only make up 46% of my reading for the year (though when I include the similarly-sized Beginning Readers, those types of books make up a combined 52% of my reading so far this year). I’d like to continue to try to keep my picture book reading to under 50% of my overall books for the year, to make sure I am digging into those older age ranges.

Graphic novels have become my comfort zone, particularly for the speed I can read them and their popularity with our patrons. Next time, I would like to break this number down further with the age range the graphic novels are aimed at. I’d like to hold this count steady around 25% of my reading.

During quarantine, I made a particular effort to increase the first chapter books I read, particularly diverse titles. I think that is reflected here. Even with first chapter books being only 11% of my total reading for the year that is much higher than previous years (based on my knowledge of my reading not any formal stats).

These three areas are my weakest reading age ranges

  • Beginning Readers: I struggle with these because I love a good story, and these are not written with the “good story” angle in mind.
  • Juvenile Fiction: I knew my juvenile fiction chapter books have been weak this year, but ouch. Only 5% of my reading has been traditional chapter books–I’m going to work on that.
  • Teen Fiction: If I thought my middle grade reading was low, teen books are abysmal. Though, I will try to defend this a little because at least 30% of those graphic novels are for teens. I don’t program for teens, and we don’t get as many reader’s advisory questions, and…I’ve let this age range slip. Badly. (Michala go write a teen book blog post!)

The second piece of this category I wanted to examine was diverse main characters at the format-level.

While the wait for census numbers will probably take much longer than usual due to the pandemic, the projections for 2020 have remained the same for years: the expectation is that of children in the US (under the age of 18), 49.8% will be “non-Hispanic White.” My reading reflects the books I talk about and share, and my reading needs to, at a minimum, reflect the races of kids today too. I would like to have each of these categories be comprised of at least 50% books featuring diverse main characters.

That isn’t going to be easy–the majority of books published are very white-centered or animal-driven, and while that has been improving a little, it hasn’t improved to the point of enough new titles to necessarily let me increase my reading across these categories without intentionally not reading any other books in those categories. I also need to realistically consider what my reading will look like post-working-at-home. Fifty percent in each category is not likely to happen this year–but maybe it can happen in one or two categories this year, and more over the next few years.

Next Steps:

  • Continue reading any diverse picture books and first chapter books I can access.
  • Actively look for more diverse beginning readers and graphic novels. These are two areas that I’ve always felt are weak proportionately in diversity, at least in my library. Dig harder here.
  • Read more juvenile fiction chapter books, focusing on diverse titles. There have been 10 beside my bed for a week. Actually read them.

Breakdown: Fiction/Non-Fiction/Genre

  • 66 Non-fiction (9%)
    • 29 contain diversity in “characters” (picture books/graphic novels teaching facts), are biographies or memoirs, or focus on racism (44% of non-fiction)
  • 19 Biographies (3%) (also included in NF)
  • 653 Fiction (91%)
    • 231 contain diverse main characters (35% of fiction)

I don’t like non-fiction. Sorry world. I never enjoyed reading non-fiction as a child, and I very, very rarely do as an adult.

Since I struggle with non-fiction (and biographies) so much as it is, I’m going to try to make sure that the books I do read include diversity. I have a tendency to only read non-fiction books about animals, and I want to shift that towards more biographies and memoirs. Poetry is wrapped up in non-fiction too, and while I don’t think I will ever actively enjoy poetry, it is very easy for me to commit to reading diverse poets and generally avoiding white ones.

I can’t even out all of my reading percentages, and this is one that, while I know it is an issue from a reader’s advisory perspective, I am going to set aside for now, though keep it in the back of my mind. I will keep an eye out for reading lists containing great diverse non-fiction for kids, and try to focus on those.

Next Steps:

  • Keep an eye out for more diverse non-fiction titles.
  • Read more biographies – increase biographies read during the year to at least 6%.

Breakdown: Author Makeup

  • 475 Books Written By Women Authors (66%)
  • 238 Books Written By Male Authors (33%)
  • 153 Diverse Authors (21%)

Again, I have to choose what I want to work on, and I’m going to let my female-male breakdown go. I’m reading more books by female authors than male authors. I would like to dig into non-binary authors and authors that identify as multiple genders (and, honestly, some of the authors on my list may do that–this was not the best researched spreadsheet).

I do need to focus on reading books by diverse authors. I’ll get into this more in the next section, but the disproportion between books I’ve read written about diverse kids and books written by own voices authors is alarming. (Only half of the diverse main character books I read this year are by own voices authors! Half!) Having 21% of my reading reflect books written by diverse authors is a start, but it is far from where I would like to be. I want to focus heavily on that number during the second half of this year.

Next Steps:

  • Read more books by authors who are non-binary or identify as multiple genders. Not really examined here, but read more books by transgender authors too.
  • Read more books written by diverse authors. Aim to get that percentage to at least 33% by the end of the year.

Breakdown: Diversity

  • 260 Diverse Main Characters (36%)
  • 132 Diverse Main Characters Written By Own Voices Authors (18%)
  • 28 LGBT Main Character (4%)

These were the numbers I was really looking for. I’ve been actively seeking out books with diverse main characters, so I’m glad this number was a bit higher than I expected when I started looking at titles (but not as good as I secretly hoped). This is exactly why I need to actually look at the data though–because if I had to make a guess a month ago, I probably would have said that 40-50% of what I read is diverse, and that is not the case.

The real rude awakening for me, particularly over the last few weeks, has been how many books featuring diverse main characters are written by white authors. That hurt because, in the fake world in my head, I had assumed that the increase in books featuring diverse characters, that I was seeing and reading each year, also meant more diverse authors were getting published. This has never been true, and while the information was right there for me to find, I naively believed otherwise for far too long.

I’ve noticed the own voices dilemma in my own reading and book talking as I’ve started to make virtual book talk videos, focusing on own-voices titles. So many books I recommend regularly or put on displays–Bad Babysitters, Sanity and Tallulah, Zoey and Sassafras, Molly Lou Melon, Lola and Leo, Jabari, Emma on the Air, Katie Woo, and so many more–are all by white authors. Some have connections to the community they write about–the author of Emma on the Air is married to a man from the Dominican Republic and has two mixed children–but it isn’t the same.

I need to do more research when selecting books to read, and make more of an effort to read those books actually written by own voices authors. The other books can be good too, but the own voices books need to take priority.

Next Steps:

  • Prioritize–in reading, book talking, and dispalying–books by diverse authors featuring kids that look like them.
  • Increase the amount of books read by own voices authors to at least 25% by the end of 2020.
  • Increase the amount of books featuring LGBT characters to at least 8%.

Final Thoughts

Overall, these numbers weren’t as bad as I expected but also weren’t as good as I secretly hoped.

I’m interested to revisit this at the end of the year and see where these numbers end up. I like creating specific steps to move toward my goals, but I also tried to ground my goals in smaller increases because, once I go back to in-building work full time, my amount of reading overall will decrease. I can also tell that I am starting to hit a reading roadblock–I keep trying to push through, but I can already tell it is much harder for me to get through a chapter book than a faster picture book or graphic novel right now.

There are so many more elements of my reading I could examine. How does my reading breakdown over typical genre lines? How does diversity breakdown over genre lines? How about male vs. female main vs. non-binary main characters? I really didn’t dig into LGBT characters and authors as much as I could have here. This list focuses on the books I’ve read this year–can I examine what I used in storytime? What books I book talked or used in programs? All the books I’ve ever read?

This is a new process for me, and a daunting one, though necessary. How do you examine your reading? How do you keep track of what you do–and don’t–read enough of?