Do Picture Books Accurately Represent Modern Families?

Over the past few years, there has been a surge of interracial families appearing in popular TV shows and being featured in prime time commercials.  This representation has sparked discussion and highlights the growing percentage of interracial families and bmultiracial photoiracial/multiracial children.  Recent studies have shown that over 8.5% of all marriages in the US are between individuals of different races or Hispanic ethnicity, and over 15% of new marriages in 2010 alone were interracial.  As the face of America begins to change, it raises the question, “Are children’s books accurately representing modern families?” which may make you wonder, “Why do they need to?”

While infants as young as six months old have been shown to recognize differences in skin color, children as young as three begin to display marisolattitudes about different races.  Picture books can be excellent tools in explaining the differences and similarities between races and cultures and can showcase socially accepted behavior in and reactions to the multicultural world.  Multicultural books in particular can also aid in identity formation and improve self-esteem for multiracial children.

Currently in the United States, there are over 9 million multiracial Americans (more than 8% of the minority population).  Hispanic/White is the most common combination in interracial families with Asian/White and then Black/White following.  Unfortunately, there currently exists only a handful of available, picture books that feature these families, and finding these books can be a challenge as many are lumped in with “multicultural” labels or are completely unidentified.  Within these titles, there is also evidence that the families represented do not match current population statistics.

  • Even though Hispanic/White and Black/White families are 1st and 3rd in population statistics, the majority of interracial picture books show Black/White families, followed by Asian/White.  An even smaller percentage shows Hispanic/White.
  • The majority of multiracial children’s books feature families that live in multicultural or predominantly minority communities.  Very few show interracial families that live in predominantly White communities.
  • Most interracial families in picture books depict minority mothers and White fathers.  However, the opposite is true for the population, particularly in Black/White and Hispanic(Latino)/White families.

While research has shown that most “multicultural” books have been black_white_just_rightwritten by White authors, more recent books that depict interracial families are coming from authors and illustrators that are telling their own stories, or those of their loved ones. This indicates the present and increasing need for diverse authors and illustrators.  While there are other factors that contribute to the discrepancies identified above, encouraging diverse authors to share their personal, real-life stories, and demanding more accurate portrayals of families from publishers may eventually resolve most of those gaps and insufficiencies.

The look of America is changing, and so is Boone County.  As we become a more diverse community, we want all of our children to feel normal, included, and accepted.  They need to see themselves in the books they read.  They need to be exposed to different kinds of families, and we need to have the resources to help them. 

If you’re looking for a great list of multiracial picture books, check out this Goodreads list and check out BCPL’s Diversity picture book category.  Every month, BCPL provides opportunities for local writers, young and old, to share their work and receive feedback and encouragement.  We welcome you to come explore our diverse collection and share your own stories at our Writer’s Group, Teen Writer Tuesday, or Middle School Writers Group.


Dawna Neil is the Teen Librarian at the Scheben Branch of BCPL.  She is a former admissions counselor and teacher and a graduate from the University of North Carolina where she focused her research on the representation of multiracial children and families in children’s literature.  


  • 2012 Pew Research Center report, The Rise of Intermarriage
  • Library Quarterly’s, Inside Board Books: Representations of People of Color

University of North Carolina’s, Mixed & Matched: the Representation of Interracial Families in Children’s Books

More people are using the Library than ever before

I’d like to debunk three common myths about libraries in this blog post.

Myth number one: No one uses the library any more.

Last Fiscal Year (2013-2014), more than one million people (1,107,074*) walked through Boone County Public LibraryOne million visitors’s doors. In Fiscal Year 2009-2010, 888,672** people walked through those very same doors. The Library’s door count has increased by 24% in the last five years. Visits to the library have been on an upward trend ever since it first opened its doors forty years ago.

More people are using the Library than ever before, they are just using it differently. Forty years ago on October 14, 1974, one hundred eighty people visited the new library to check out books. That’s it – they checked out books. There wasn’t anything else to do in the Library. Today, Boone County Public Library’s six locations are chock full of technology, from printers and copiers, to computers and Discover TechnologyWi-Fi access. Laptops can be checked out for use while in the building and iPads, e-readers, software and video games can be borrowed for use at home. These technology items were checked out 27,397 times the last fiscal year and the Library’s computers and Wi-Fi were used 220,243* times. More people are turning to the Library to learn how to use technology. Last year, Library staff members spent 467 hours helping people figure out how to use their e-readers and tablets. 2,507* people attended computer classes on everything from using a mouse and setting up an email account to creating a resume in Word and a budget in Excel.

Myth number one debunked – MORE people ARE using the library than ever before.

 Myth number two: Libraries aren’t relevant today.

More than a million people (1,053,475*) visited the Library’Explore collections website last year to download books and music, stream videos, access the library’s research tools, reserve materials and more. Back in 1974, the Library didn’t even have a website…no one did!

The use of digital music and streaming videos is growing at a rapid rate. In order to accommodate this trend, the Library now uses some of its music and video budget to purchase subscriptions for these services. Last year, cardholders downloaded 52,541* songs through Freegal and streamed 4,658 Indie films, documentaries and nonfiction films through IndieFlix and Access Video.

The library subscribes to 61 different research tools (or databases) such as Chilton Auto Repair, Consumer Reports and Ancestry Plus. These research tools were searched 411,786 times last year by people writing papers and business plans, researching family trees, taking practice tests, repairing cars and engines, seeking financial information, learning new languages and so much more.

Why use the Library’s research tools when you can google? Most of the data retrieved from Google hasn’t been evaluated. It could be inaccurate, biased, or it might not be current. Articles found in the Library’s research tools have already been evaluated for accuracy and credibility by discipline-specific experts and publishers. The Library’s research tools contain copyrighted, licensed, and proprietary information.

Myth number two debunked – Boone County Public Library is just as relevant today as it was forty years ago. The Library continues to provide up-to-date accurate sources of information to the community and offers materials such as books, movies and music in the popular formats of today. Most importantly – these items are in high demand! More than one million items (1,658,516) were checked out from the Library during the last fiscal year.

Myth number three: Libraries are dying.

More people are using the Library as a community center. For many, the Library is a place to study and do homework, find a comfy chair and read a book or browse a magazine. ExperienceFor others it’s a place to meet friends, play cards, take a class, or attend a concert. Last year 96,607* people attended DIY workshops, classes, concerts, special events and fairs at the Library. Five years ago, in FY 2009-2010, 65,505 people attended events at the Library – that’s a 47% increase! Local businesses, government agencies, clubs, and organizations use the Library for meeting space. Last year 824* groups and organizations used the Library’s 18 meeting/study rooms to hold 2,128* trainings and meetings – that’s an average of 40 meetings a week!  (Tip: Reserve your room early if you plan to hold a meeting at the Library.)

Myth number three debunked: Boone County Public Library isn’t dying – it’s growing and thriving!

What does this growing, thriving Library cost you? You pay 5.2 cents for every one hundred dollars of your property’s value, in taxes to the library. For example, the taxes you would pay for an $182,300 home (the average value of a home in Boone County***) would be $94.80 per year.  That’s just $7.90 a month and covers everyone who lives in your home. Use our Value Calculator to figure out how much you pay and the value of the Library services you use.

Boone County Public Library is alive and well! Look at the numbers – your friends and neighbors are making good use of the Library, shouldn’t you? Not interested in books? No problem! The Library has so much more to offer you!


Becky Kempf has been the Public Relations Coordinator at Boone County Public Library for the past eleven years. A graduate of Wright State University, she previously worked for Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana and the Association for the Advancement of Arts Education.

*Source: 2014 Report to Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives

**Source: 2010 Report to Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives

***Source: 2010 Boone County Comprehensive Plan: Planning for the Year 2035