Paula Yoo: Learning From the World


Delivered by Paula Yoo, Children’s Award Winner for Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee & Low, 2014)

Thank you to the South Asia All Conference organizers and the South Asia Book Award committee for this IMG_0174award. Congratulations to the other winners and honorees Tanuja, Padma and Vivek. It is an honor and privilege to receive this award. Special thanks to Rachel Weiss and Kevin King for organizing this conference for the authors. I’m married to a 7th grade math teacher so I support all teachers and librarians for their hard work and inspiration for our children.

Right now, diversity in children’s literature is a hot button topic where many heated debates have happened online and at various conferences for librarians, teachers, writers, publishers and readers.

I believe this award raises more awareness not only for our own books but for the importance of increased diversity in children’s literature. Many people believe equal representation is necessary in children’s books – that today’s books must provide a mirror for readers. Non-white and non-mainstream characters provide a chance for children of color and other diverse backgrounds to see themselves reflected in literature. A child who is South Asian or Asian American can see someone like Professor Yunus who looks like them and feel included and represented in our unfortunately very divisive country.

But I also believe diversity is necessary because it provides not only a mirror but a window for ALL children of ALL backgrounds to look out into the world and realize we are more alike than different in terms of our humanity. I spoke today at a very diverse elementary school called the Eagle School and was so moved by how all the students, no matter what their racial, ethnic, cultural, gender sexual orientation, religious background, identified immediately with Muhammad Yunus. They admired his compassion, generosity, and desire to help empower people and eradicate poverty in the world to create peace. Kevin spoke earlier of the theme of Heroes amongst our four books tonight. The fact that children of all backgrounds can identify with our characters as heroes and be inspired to become heroes themselves is the power books have for children, and this is why I do not take my job as a writer lightly.

Thank you again for this honor. I’m so grateful and I admire all the important work everyone is doing at this conference. I want to close with the words of Muhammad Yunus’ father that influenced his journey – “Learning from the world is the greatest learning.” And books are a window into that world. Thank you.

Delivered as part of the 44th Annual Conference on South Asia—the world’s largest such event, with more than 800 scholars, students, professionals, writers, artists, and anyone interested in research on the region in attendance for four days of research panels and roundtables, lectures and addresses, film screenings, booksellers, association receptions, and other special presentations.

Read Tanjua Desai Hidier’s acceptance speech on Reading While White.


Paula Yoo is a children’s book author and TV writer/producer. Her books include the Young Adult novel GOOD ENOUGH (HarperCollins 2008), which was an Honor Book of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Youth Literature, along with the IRA Notable picture book biographies SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY, SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY and TWENTY-TWO CENTS: MUHAMMAD YUNUS AND THE VILLAGE BANK from Lee & Low Books. Her TV credits include NBC’s THE WEST WING, Amazon’s MOZART IN THE JUNGLE, and SyFy’s EUREKA. She was most recently a Supervising Producer on Syfy’s third and final season of DEFIANCE. Paula is also a professional violinist who has played with everyone from IL DIVO to FUN and NO DOUBT. She is represented by CAA and The Shuman Company for her TV writing and by the Erin Murphy Literary Agency for her books.


Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank

written by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee &Low Books Inc., 2014)

Twenty-Two Cents smartly chronicles the life and inspiration behind Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus, and the internationally transformative Grameen Bank’s micro-lending system. Coupled with rich illustrations that vibrantly capture the essence and depth of Yunus’ experiences, this poignant picture book easily lends itself to readers of all ages. Includes an afterword and author’s source notes. (Grades 2-5) Lesson Plan

The dessert, by the way, is BlackBerry Fool

A Fine Dessert becomes A Fine Mess

If you’re active on Twitter, Facebook or some of the children’s literature blogs, you’re probably aware of the controversy involving A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat written by Emily Jenkins and Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. (Schwartz and Wade, 2015)

I first became aware of the controversial aspects of the book in August when Debbie Reese Facebooked about problems she was finding in one of the images. Only recently did I actually pick up the book so that I could see what everyone was talking about. I took a very different approach by not reading the text. Because the book is being talked about as if it could be a Caldecott contender, I opted to read the images.

Have you read the book? As indicated in the title, it’s the story of families over time enjoying the same dessert. It takes on a rhythm appropriate for 4-8 year olds, but it’s that rhythm that I think causes the books problems. That rhythm of these families creates a likeness that is only true if you think living in America makes us all basically the same, trying to find commonalities in European and African American history. Well, let’s take a look.


One of the first images is of this young white family (sans father) and the young girl is looking up to her mother as they pick blackberries.

This is in opposition to s similar image where the young enslaved girl is looking down at her own mother (we know this is her mother because it’s stated in the text.)


The mother seems to have a look on her face that is hopeful at the least, happy at most.

FullSizeRender FullSizeRender-5

The likenesses of these individuals is certainly troubling. The same round faces, very similar clothing and even similar expressions that indicate similarity in their social and economic positions.


I think this is one of the most interesting images in the book because the artist conveys so much meaning. Look at those patriotic drapes. See the patriarch on the wall looking over his family? The father at the head of the table, leaning in? Such power there while at the other end of the table, the mother is demur and almost disengaged. The enslaved workers eyes are downcast and the mother is in a pose as if she is offering so, so much to this family that is not her own.

At the edge of these pages, the mother and daughter slip off to sneak some of the dessert for themselves.


Would not a 4-8 year old see the fun in hiding in a closet with their mother, rather than the dehumanizing fact that this cupboard offers the child more protection that her mother ever could?


Looking at these girls licking the spoons, can you even tell for sure which is White and which is Black?

Oh, and there’s the kumbaya moment at the end.


I admit to fumbling with this one for a moment. That rhythm is so alluring! But, I knew I’d never buy this book for my children or grandchildren. And, when I wondered how an African American would have done this book, I know they wouldn’t have. That realization make me dig deeper, have a conversation and get the nuances. I looked again, and yes pictures do speak a thousand words. Most of my problems with the book are not the same as what others have seen, yet we’re all seeing issues.

The author, Emily Jenkins has realized and admitted the book’s shortcomings and has decided to donate all her earnings to We Need Diverse Books. That, my friends, is a big deal. That is a HUGE indication that there is a problem with the book. I’ve read several things Jenkins has written and I do think she’s an ally to diversity. Diversity work is relentless! The revelations about how we reduce others, how we limit their power is continual. We have to admit how we do it on a personal level, accept the shame in that and also recognize how it’s done on an institutional level. There is no switch to turn that makes you a diversity worker one day, but not the next. Heck, I’ve even admitted that it took me a minute with this book.

Maybe you have to keep struggling with this one. Maybe you know there must be a problem because so many (INCLUDING THE AUTHOR) say there is a problem. Keep listen, keep looking. That white light is blinding and it can be hard to see through it at first.

And yes, Varian Johnson will buy the book and will read it to his girls. Varian will not read the book to his girls in the same way most white readers will read the book. He will see all the flaws in the text and images and he will know his girls well enough to know what they’re ready to discuss. Varian clearly has very high expectations for his daughters as he is preparing them with a well curated education. They will know the fullness of American history (not just the white version) and they’ll be able to read messages conveyed in text and in images. They will understand how authors and artists try to position readers, how they use their power to frame their message. Most in kidlit have said they’re saving these lessons for older students. We have to know our audience as well as ourselves when we’re having these sessions in critical literacy. Do we really see what messages are conveyed here?

Do you really see the messages conveyed?

Did you realize this post is not contextualized, that I have not linked to any of the posts containing historical evidence of the conversations and confessions relating to the book? As the owner if this blog, I used my privilege to frame this message to fit my world. That’s what people in power do. I use my power to fight the good fight.

South Asia Book Awards

On Friday 23 October, the The South Asia National Outreach Consortium (SANOC) presented the South Asia Book Award. This award exists to celebrate and promote those who portray South Asia or South Asians living abroad and to provide parents, librarians and educators with high quality reading material for young people. This year’s award winners certainly meet that criteria. The honor award winners are highlighted here today, tomorrow I’ll be working with Reading While White to feature the award winners themselves.

Vivek Shraya is no stranger to this blog. His book, God Loves Hair, first came to national attention in 2010 as a self published book appearing on the Rainbow Project Booklist. God Loves Hair (Arsenal Pulp Press) is a collection of stories that combines coming of age and sexual awareness in the context of Hindi faith and tradition. Illustrated by Juliana Neufeld. SABA says “Shraya writes with intense honesty and insight about the cutting pain of not only being of a different race and religion, but also discovering that he is gay. Readers will be amazed by the author’s strength and resilience.”

ViveGod-Loves-Hair-150x107k Shraya is a Toronto-based artist working in the media of literature, music, performance, and film. Vivek’s body of work includes ten albums, four short films and three books, which have been used as textbooks at several post-secondary institutions. His debut novel, She of the Mountains, was named one of The Globe and Mail’s Best Books of 2014. He has read and performed at shows, festivals and post-secondary institutions internationally, sharing the stage with Tegan & Sara and Dragonette, and has appeared at NXNE, Word on the Street, and Yale University. Read more about Vivek on his website. (source)

Padma Venkatraman manages to release books when I’m on selection committees and I don’t get the opportunity to review them. SABA Describes A Time to Dance (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin)  as “skillfully told in verse, Veda’s inspirational story reveals an athletic young woman passionate about traditional Indian dance. When she loses a leg in an accident she must fight to determine her identity and future.”

Padma Venkatraman is an award-winning American author who lives in RI. All three of her critically acclaimed novels were released to three or more starred reviews and were Booklist Editor’s Choice Best
Books of the Year and American Library Association Best Books of the Year. Her work has also garnered numerous other awards and honors such as: the South Asia Book Award, the Paterson Prize, the Julia WaATimetoDance-99x150rd Howe Award, ASTAL RI Book of Year, ALA Notable, Kirkus Best Book, CCBC choice, Capitol choice, Bank Street College of Education Best Book, New York Public Library Best Book, Booksense Notable, Indiebound summer selection, Publishers Weekly Flying Start, etc. Dr. Venkatraman enjoys discussing her work with interested audiences and has provided keynote speeches at teacher and librarian conferences, commencement speeches at schools, been the chief guest at international book/author festivals, and has been invited to participate on panels organized by PEN international, the New York Public Library, Harvard University, and other eminent institutions. Read more about Padma on her website.

Please visit the SABA website for a complete list of honor and highly commended books.


I know those girls because I’ve taught those girls.

They’re the ones who are loud, indignant and if you listen to them, they’re quite often right in their message although wrong in their approach. Smart, too. They knew the school was letting them down and could tell when a teacher didn’t care. They fight with words as easily as with their fists. They cut class if they don’t like you and work like the dickens if they do.

“Women of color are more likely to push back on things or they are going to talk a certain way and you have to understand what they are saying. You have to know how to deal with and not be upset with or be offended by it . . . . [The girls] are going to question you. It’s not that they are being disrespectful. It’s they just want to know”.

They’re the ones like P, a student I had who none of her other teachers seemed to notice. These were good, young black teachers who worked hard with the students and it was odd that they didn’t notice P. She rarely came to school but when she did, she would quietly do her work. I found out that every 6 months or so, she was living in a new home because her mother couldn’t care for her children. P had a limp because she had a bone that never set right.


I remember C, the girl who took an attitude with me because I called out to her from the back of the library, said I yelled at her and she wasn’t accepting that behavior. How she became one of my special students, I’ll never know.

These are the girls who gave me this gray hair. These are the girls whose faces I could look into and see my neighbors and my cousins in their features. Their lives were too often beyond me. It’s these girls who let me know I would never be a writer because their short lives has more stories than all my years ever would.

I’ve stepped away from the news lately. In the morning, instead of the Today Show I’ll watch the most recent episode of General Hospital while I get ready for work. When Dajerria was dragged across the lawn by a police officer in Texas, I never watched the video, nor have I seen footage of 18 year old Shakara being thrown from her school desk. I have looked at the still images and thought “yeah”, not in affirming way, but in a way of knowing what it’s like to be in a school where teachers are afraid of black girls and where discipline is turned over to armed men.


I’ve read that Shakara’s mother recently passed away and the girl had just gone into foster care. She’s a quiet child.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement was prompted by the brutal murders of black boys in the streets and even then, there was an undercurrent, a muffled cry calling out the names of black women who were also being killed. And dragged across lawns. Hanged in jail cells. And thrown out of school chairs.

I wonder how many crimes against our girls have gone untold. How many girls think they don’t matter, that no one cares?

This silence about at-risk girls is multidimensional and cross-institutional. The risks that Black and other girls of color confront rarely receive the full attention of researchers, advocates, policy makers, and funders. As a result, many educators, activists, and community members remain underinformed about the consequences of punitive school policies on girls as well as the distinctly gendered dynamics of zero-tolerance environments that limit their educational achievements.

Why on a blog about diversity and literacy? Because, diversity is about social justice and there clearly is too little justice for our young girls. Social justice, hell humanity, recognizes our connected responsibility to these children. Because these schools are failing our girls when they’re calling armed security guards to remove children from chairs. Because we need to get our girls literate so that they can effectively navigate the world around them. Our gilrs will DEVOUR books that resonate with them. They are SPONGES. But, with no mirrors, they cannot see their own beauty.

“Because girls may not be perceived as problems or “in crisis,” their needs for affirmation may be overlooked, leading some girls to gravitate toward unproductive pathways or to simply fall through the cracks.”

source of all my quotes today:
Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected

Around and About

Nicola Yoon recently announced that her recently released novel, Everything, Everything (Delacorte Press, 2015) has been optioned by MGM.

Mitali Perkins shared that a narrative feature film based on her middle grade novel Rickshaw Girl 11986385_1020320677998638_1992805819758346769_n(Charlsebridge, 2008) is currently in production and planned for a 2017 release.

With all the children’s books that have evolved into movies, have you ever seen a chidlren’s or YA book by a Native American or person of color become a major motion picture? Yes, there are film versions of Watsons Go to Birmingham, and The House of Dies Drear but they were not major releases. I think it’s huge to see these books moving to film and I hope to see lots of support for them.

Quvenzhane Wallis becomes the latest (and youngest?) African American celebrity to get a book deal. Wallis has a four book contract with Simone and Schuster for three chapter books and a picture book.

36287-2Publisher’s Weekly recently released its annual salary survey of the publishing industry. A few takeaways.

  • the average age of those employed in published dropped from the previous year
  • there was little change in the ethnic makeup of the publishing workforce at 89% White and 5% Asian
  • the percentage of women in the industry rose from 74% to 77%. 15% of these with fewer than three years experience were men. 54% of those with more than 21 years were also men.

It will be interesting to compare these results to those from the Lee and Low survey specifically for firms that publish children’s and young adult literature.

Latin@s In Kid Lit is currently running a series on Cuban American authors which has thus far featured reflective pieces from Alma Flor Ada, Meg Medina, Laura Lacamara, Nancy Osa and Margarita Engle. I like getting to know these authors, what it means to be a Cuban American (no, there is no single story!) and discovering a few new books. I can read more critically when I understand what it means to be Cuban American.

The Kirkus article “On Ethnicity and Authenticity” explains what happens when we read critically, when what we bring to the reading differing expectations in what words we’ll use and  how this sometimes derails authenticity.

“…both choices were made to increase the appeal of each book to a general U.S. audience, I can understand it. Broader appeal means higher sales and, arguably, higher exposure of each ethnic minority to children unfamiliar with it. But the trade-off—potential alienation of the culture each book is about—seems tragic to me. If, as we keep saying in our calls for diversity in children’s literature, children need both windows and mirrors, isn’t it working against that goal to give them books that are not truthful to those diverse cultures?”


Questions and Answers

In a recent blog post, I asked how we can move forward to attain greater diversity in children’s literature, both collectively and individually. Several responses were generated on FB, via email and as comments to the original post. They appear below. Each of these thoughtful responses provides avenues we all might consider as ways to personally get involved in the diversity movement.

Anne Sibley O’Brien; children’s book creator, performance artist

My focus, including in the books I create, is on diverse races and cultures, so that’s what my ideas are related to, but most here apply also to other forms of diversity.

One of the biggest problems I’ve noticed is that people often don’t know about so many of the books that *have* been published that feature diverse kids. This lack of visibility leads to lower sales which leads to fewer diverse books being published. And round and round the vicious cycle goes. We need to take action to reverse that cycle by increasing visibility, usage and demand.

I’m a co-founder of two projects that promote racially- and culturally-diverse books, to increase visibility and usage and to inform the conversations about diversity in books: I’m Your Neighbor (, a searchable database of books about recent immigrants; and the Picture Book Project: A Bates College Collection Portraying People of Color.
Of course the majority of the titles in both collections are still by white writers and illustrators.

Other things I’m thinking about/working on that individuals, especially established white writers and illustrators, can do to increase the visibility of books about and especially BY writers of color and Native people:
– When promoting your own new titles – on blogposts and social media, in interviews, during school and conference presentations, etc – develop and share a companion list of related (by topic, group, setting, genre, etc) titles *by diverse authors*: “And if you enjoyed my book, here are some other titles I think you’d like…”
This is a particularly useful resource for teachers and librarians who are building their collections, and particularly effective coming from those authors who have a wide following and successful sales.
– After your own author appearance, recommend several writers of color for future appearances. Or help sponsor a diverse author at your local school.
– In your own community, pay attention to recommended reading lists – school summer reading, book clubs, etc – and add suggestions of diverse books.
– Choose diverse books as gifts for baby showers, birthdays, and friends.

Finally, I believe one of the most important steps is to unpack and increase awareness of patterns of privilege, dominance and entitlement in the white community. So much of the attitudes and behaviors that have resulted in a lack of diverse books is unconscious. Unless we become aware of these patterns, even the best-intentioned white people – and sometimes even POC – will continue to perpetuate them. Read challenging material about race and DISCUSS. The blog, “Reading While White,” is a good place to start.

Cheryl and Wade Hudson; publishers, co-founders Just Us Books

Previously marginalized characters need to be integrated and centralized in stories for all children. This is one of the primary reasons we established Just Us Books–we wanted our own African American children to see themselves positively reflected in the books and stories that we read to them. Some responses to the #LargeFears review shows just how deeply embedded white privilege is in contemporary children’s literature. So the struggle continues.

Just Us Books and Marimba Books will continue to publish books for children and young adults that reflect our nation’s, our world’s diversity. That commitment which motivated us to establish our own publishing company is still just as important, just as crucial, in 2015 as it was in 1988 when Just Us Books brought its first book to the marketplace. We will not only continue to advocate for more diversity in books that are published for children and young adults, but will also encourage and promote the inclusion of people of color on staffs of publishers producing these books. As publishing professions who are also authors of children’s books, we will also continue to take advantage of every opportunity we can to share our stories and educate others–whether librarians, reviewers, booksellers, parents or simply book lovers everywhere about the role each can play to help address inclusion and equity in all areas of publishing.

Debbie Reese; Blogger, librarian, activist.

I understand the impetus to move forward, and I’m doing all I can at American Indians in Children’s Literature to promote children’s books that present Native peoples–“warts and all”–to readers.
I don’t think it is enough, however, to promote the good. There’s far too much misrepresentation out there. The ugly truth is that misrepresentations of Native peoples are the norm. They’re so embedded in what people think they know about us, that when our truths are given to them, they are rejected as “not real” because what they see as “real” is stereotypes.

Moving forward, then, means calling out the problems again and again and again until real Native peoples are the norm and stereotypes of us are the exception. It means calling out the problems in much loved books so that kids are not assigned to read LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE and ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS.
We have work to do. At​ ALA​ Midwinter 2015, I said that we need more voices calling out problematic representations​. We can’t​ just promote the good and ​add the good to what is already on the shelves. ​There’s a lot of unlearning required. That is important work, and that is a key piece, for me, in moving forward.

debraj11; YA, paranormal and science fiction writer, avid reader, human rights advocate

The way forward is, I believe, in your post: “The Whiteness of literature will continue until the economics of a brown marketplace demand otherwise.”

I am far more intentional today in the utilization of my purchasing power and time to support books written by POC. And it has been a wonderful experience to look inside new windows, see mirror images, and encounter new stories.

As more librarians, teachers, book reviewers, and bookstore clerks make the works of POC visible, kids and adults will lead the way to changes in the publishing industry.

Maya Gonzalez; award winning artist, author, educator, activist, peacemaker, publisher, equality lover, obsessive recycler, traveler, river lover, tree talker, sky kisser

**i believe the only way to take the diversity conversation to the next level with dignity and respect and effectiveness is to get the kids involved. if we want to create real change, we have to do it different. i’m actively teaching kids of color, disabled and lgbtqi2s kids every aspect of coming into VOICE and bookmaking AND telling them why. awareness coupled with tools of action. this is where i’m going. i deeply appreciate all the beautiful efforts so many amazing folks are putting toward equity right now. we are hitting critical mass! slowly but surely.

Mike Jung; middle grade fiction author and founding member of We Need Diverse Books

I think it’s easy to conceive of “diverse books” as something limited to the books themselves, separate from any of the creative and business forces that permeate them, but after the past two years I find it impossible to do that anymore. Books only fulfill their ultimate purpose (which is to be read) after they’ve gone through a publishing pipeline involving a whole lot of people. Agents, editors, designers and art directors, publicists and event planners, sales representatives, booksellers, librarians, and teachers are just some of those people, and they all influence how and if a given book is found by the readers who want and need it. I do believe the most important people are at either end of that pipeline; authors and illustrators at the start, and readers at the finish. We and they are at the heart of the endeavor. But I also believe that a truly diverse body of literature can only emerge from a truly diverse ecosystem of creation and distribution, which involves people in all of the roles I mentioned, and more. I’ll write my own books, because that’s the most valuable way I personally can contribute, and I’ll continue to engage in public dialogue, because we can’t change our unconscious biases without becoming more fully conscious of them. I’ll also try to openly and publicly confront my own history of inaction and ignorance. I’ve been inactive and ignorant for too long.

Laura Atkins; independent children’s book editor

Such a tough but important question. First, my main thought from what I’ve seen in the Meg Rosoff controversy. I’m struck by how people see things in such different ways. How can Meg and I have read your Facebook post linking to Large Fears and had such profoundly different reactions? I have this feeling that some of us are speaking not just different languages, but from different universes. I’ve tried to get my head around what she said/meant, as she clearly felt misunderstood. But to me, it seemed like a mean-spirited reaction to your post celebrating a book about a queer brown boy. And we both know there aren’t many of those. I’d love to quote an entire post my colleague Jonah Heller from VCFA wrote – based on his research about picture books featuring gender creative children. He said he could count two such books – published in 1987 and 2004. How could this, along with the statistics that the CCBC release each year, not convince ANYONE and EVERYONE that there is a big problem with a lack of diversity and equity in children’s books?

That’s a long answer to what stumped me with what happened. It’s like we live in these parallel realities and just don’t see the world in the same way. Which depresses me. I also realize that I can walk away from this discussion as a white lady and take a break. A break many people of color can’t take, unable to walk away from a society that is often racist and white supremacist. And I know that language would turn off many people right there. But as I get older (the ripe old age of 45), I’m getting less worried about modifying my language. Because that’s what it looks like to me, and to many others.

What will I do to move us closer to greater representation of marginalized people in children’s literature? I will speak out when I see things that feel wrong to me, as I did in responding to Meg Rosoff’s post. Which was hard for me as I’ve been a huge fan of her writing, and it’s scary to stand up to someone famous. But also not so hard since what she said seemed to clearly wrong to me. And it helped that I could draw on personal experience having a lesbian mother (and quick correction, I found out today that she and her partner have been together for 35 years!). So first, speaking out.

I will work to highlight and spread the word about books written by authors of color, and work done by people, especially of color, who are doing equity and social justice work in the children’s book field.

And I am especially interested in following and being involved in non-traditional publishing efforts. I know we are both huge fans of Zetta Elliott’s publishing work at Rosetta Press. Maya Gonzalez/Matthew Smith with Reflection Press, Janine Macbeth with Blood Orange Press, people like Innosanto Nagara who wrote A is for Activist, and Robert Trujillo who illustrated I am Sausal Creek… The list could go on. I’m so excited by these grass roots publishing efforts. Because I also have very little faith in the mainstream publishing industry which functions as a profit-driven behemoth – trying to make money rather than publishing the books which should be out there. Which we can see from the stats – fewer than 10% of books published by/or about people of color while more than 50% of the children born in the United States today are children of color. That’s been a stuck statistic for a long time – publishers clearly don’t feel a sense of responsibility to serve the children in this country.

Things WILL change as demographics shift. And I’d rather be on the side of change. There’s no question I’m radical, and I want to be surrounded by other radical people working in this area. I love reading the Reading While White blog, and seeing people deeply interrogate the status quo. That’s where I want to be too. And following the work of important people like you! And Debbie Reese, and Sarah Park Dahlin, and others who keep all of us on our toes, calling things out when they need calling out.

I am an activist, and want to be involved with, and support the work of, other activists. I’d rather believe and work for the change that I and others want to see than give up hope. So maybe I’m an optimist too. Time will tell…

Sheila Ruth; publisher, author, webdesigner, KidLitCon organizer

I don’t know what the answer is, but I think the best thing we can do is to continue the conversation, continue to talk about and push forward. While it’s true that there’s been some horrible and disheartening backlash, I think a backlash usually means that there’s something to lash back against, and I think it indicates that the problems have reached the level of awareness for many Americans that hasn’t been there before. Maybe I’m being too optimistic, I’m an optimistic person by nature, but it seems to me that the last year or two especially, much progress has been made in creating awareness. Whether that can lead to real change? I don’t know, but I hope so.


Zetta Elliott; award winning children’s author, educator

I decided a year or two ago that I can no longer afford to devote so much time and energy to the diversity debate. Since 2009 I’ve spent countless hours writing open letters, and giving talks at conferences, and posting essays all over the blogosphere. But attitudes like Rosoff’s are woven into the fabric of the kid lit community and they contribute to the continued marginalization of writers of color. In 2013 I self-published one book; in 2014 I self-published nine. So far this year I have self-published 3 books, and 2 more should come out later this month. Only 2% of children’s book authors published annually in the US are African American, and only 1% of publishing professionals self-identify as Black. I have dozens of stories that never would have seen the light of day without print-on-demand technology, and I have at last a dozen stories still on my hard drive. Rosoff and her more discreet peers live in a parallel universe; they don’t know anything about the kids in my community, and they know nothing about my culture’s storytelling traditions. I don’t want to waste time responding to their ridiculous claims, but I know they collectively they hold almost all the power. My job is to seize what power I can and get my stories to the kids who need them. Perhaps this controversy will make the kid lit community think twice about the ways self-published books are stigmatized and marginalized by those who claim to love children and the books they read/need.