We seek to quantify and map explicit mentions of national identity and nations, focusing here on Asian identity in Anglophone text, to help sustain and continue the ongoing conversation about who is represented, how, in literature for young readers.
Since 2019’s “Own Voices” campaign, publishers of youth literature in the United States have been actively seeking out authors who embody "diversity" along the axes of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, and who write characters that reflect some of those experiences. While there has been some backlash to the tendency to reduce complex, and sometimes private, author identities to a set of public marketing labels, new fiction released for middle-school and YA readers in 2021 is rhetorically positioned against an implicit monolith of straight, white, socioeconomically comfortable narratives thought to dominate youth literature throughout the 90's and 2000's.
We use a sample from the Young Readers Database of Literature (YRDL) to examine the portrayal of Asian diversity in American middle-school and YA novels written in English between 2000 and 2020. For this study, we sampled 250 texts from each year of the 20-year period, for a total of 5,000. In this study, we track the frequency of both proper nouns and adjectives referring to Asia and individual Asian countries (e.g. 'Japan' and 'Japanese'). We also take a particularly close look at the compound adjective [X]-American, a common means of marking an "otherness" from the implied white, Western European default that does not rise to the level of "foreignness". We seek to quantify and map explicit mentions of national identity and nations to help sustain and continue the ongoing conversation about who is represented, how, in literature for young readers.