Rap It Up

My original plan was simply to get a pass for the exhibit hall, spend a couple of days at ALA Midwinter in Chicago, and head home. But these were not the best laid plans, as they grew exponentially. I was invited to the ALSC Day of Diversity on Friday, I embraced the opportunity to room with Debbie Reese and also to present at the Ignite Session. (20slides/15 seconds per slide. Topic: “The Kids are Not All White”)

I still wonder what I was doing in the Friday event filled with movers and shakers in kitlit diversity. Selfishly, I’ll claim the day was a personal victory as I was able to make real life connections with people I’ve connected with virtually for years. I met such inspiring people, such ordinary people doing such great things. I’m not going to name drop because I will miss names and I do not want to do that, but if you followed events on Twitter or FB, you’ve seen the photos. I’ll post some that I have to the blog later, too difficult to work that right now.

On a bigger scale? The flaw in any diversity event is that you end up preaching to the choir. Those lacking a social consciousness see it and think it’s not about them. Event organizers assume everyone attending is on the same page, has similar motivations and expectations and we end up beginning the conversation in the middle. My needs often lack profundity; I can be extremely plebian in my approach and I did find satisfaction in the connections I made and quite humbly I have to say the recognition I received. I do often feel like giving up my blog. I don’t feel like I’m making a difference, that I’m just fighting the same old fight again and again. But I met Satia Orange. My word for the year is ‘diligence’ and Satia certainly embodies the spirit of diligence. Satia challenged us not with what we could do to continue the struggle, but what would we do tomorrow? Those of us in that room were called together for a purpose and if all we got out of it was a reminder of why we do what we do, who else is doing it and new ways we can do it, I want to say that’s a good thing. But, lets remember as Violet Harris reminded us, this fight has been going on since the 1847 with the publication of the Anti Slavery Alphabet.

Pat Mora reminded us that this struggle is based on power. We may think we simply want more diverse books for our children to read, but this is a power issue, one of racial power that expresses itself in economics and the control of the stories we tell. Pat Mora, Maya Gonzales and Jasmin Cardenas spoke the words Saturday evening at Reforma’s annual Noche de Cuentos: we all have stories to tell. When those stories are censored, we lose our identity.

Every turn I made in McCormick Center, I ran into someone I had been trying to connect with, trying to make appointments with and there they were. I’ve seized opportunities and am finding new ways to grow. That, I think is what conferencing with others is all about. We can have the best laid plans, but there’s magic in the air. I was able to connect with Readers to Eaters and several academic librarians who work in reference and instruction as I do as well.

So, right now I’m on the train home. There’s a poem I used to know about getting up this morning feeling good and Black. Putting on my black shoes, coming my black hair, opening my door and Lord! White snow.[1,968 Winters by Jackie Early] Let’s keep fighting the good fight. The train whistle is blowing loud and clear. Beware! We’re coming through!

I just finished listening to the ALA Youth Media Awards. Listening?? I was on Twitter! HA!! An amazing array of diverse books (that’s another post!) But don’t be fooled. Don’t let anyone make you think those books were chosen because of their diversity. It doesn’t work that way, not on ALA committees. Those majority white selectors are all about the integrity of the writing. Yes, they may have made a greater effort to find diverse books this year, but the books and authors won because they are outstanding literary achievements.

Monday! Another week filled with possibilities!

Done Deal

I’m currently reading Bad Luck Girl by Sarah Zettel. “Half fairy. Half human.Half Black When Jazz ruled Chicago.” This is the third book in the American Fairy trilogy and easily stands alone. I should finish soon!

Endings. ALAN just ended as did Grand Jury deliberations in Ferguson.

I’m here in this resort setting in Maryland (no! this is not DC) with an evening to quietly relax with my books. ALAN was low key and quiet this year. I met people I’ve known and supported for years, heard new and different ideas and got a few (47!) new books. Walter Mays did a fabulous job of bringing in a very diverse crew of writers and incorporating authors of various ethnicities, genders, and abilities into panels relevant to every aspect of being a teen.

I think the message I heard most often was that writers must honor the story, not forcing causes or gender or race get into the way and I can buy that. When you’re writing from who you are or more precisely, who your character is, their Blackness or their queerness will be so much a part of them that it will just be there.

Why was it that only Coe Booth, Christopher Paul Curtis and Walter dared mention Ferguson? How can we teach children how to cuss, ignite their sexual curiosity and show them how to come of age while ignoring issues of justice and equality? This is the meat of the call for diversity, and it’s more substantive that simply asking you to see our differences when at the same time I want you to understand our commonalities.

If you’ve heard me present lately,  you’ve heard these stories. They’re important.

I have a co-worker who was complaining that her niece is afraid of black men. She wondered what schools are teaching. I suppose we could blame schools who don’t include images of black men in books and in posters in classrooms. But real blame goes to the continued negative way black men are portrayed on the news and in TV shows and movies. Look how often the criminals are Black or Latino. Look how often the military shows have Middle Eastern or Chinese bad guys.

As I was putting together a list of children’s books that had black men as fathers or teachers or other positive role models, it suddenly hit me that this little girl would be afraid of my sons. My kind, wonderful, silly, smart sons. And think of all the other white girls who would be afraid of my sons, and all the boys who would be too. Think of all the police officers who would be afraid of my sons, like Darren Wilson, simply because they don’t know any.

I also think about the social studies teacher from Indiana who had no idea what to do with the kid who was racist to his core and who is learning this hatred from his parents while growing up in an all white town and all white school. Do you think he’s the only little racist growing up there? How does the school teach him any different? Books? It’s kinda like Christopher Paul Curtis said, “books are a start. If we see them as more than that, we’re over reaching.” Coe Booth then talked about her brother who stopped reading in the 5th grade. She writes want he might have read and wonders how different his life would be if he kept reading.

So many others over the course of the workshop– African Americans, Egyptian Americans, transsexuals, those with mental disabilities– all wondered how different their lives might be if they had met themselves in the books they read. Would they have better understood their own struggles? Felt validated? Not lived so much inside their own mind/fears/confusion?

White reads don’t wonder that.

The Furgeson Library is being filled with book donations as they remain a safe haven for the city’s children. Filling it with books about children of color won’t solve all their problems, there is no one solution to societal problems, but finding commonalities in our stories where characters look like the real world and understanding good stories will give us just a little more hope. I have no faith a room of books that is not a world of books. My responsibility is weighing heavy. To look at these things like Ferguson, to be aware of and know about these things and to do nothing? I’ve heard that called ’emotional entertainment’.

Under the Radar

Are you a librarian or parent working to create a diverse book collection in your home or school? Don’t miss Lee and Low’s inventory and list of resources to help you along the way.

Be certain to read The Brown Bookshelf’s feature from Carole Bostone Weatherford on why she entered the print on demand and ebook market.

There is a market, and need for, more multicultural books and ebooks. The number of multicultural children’s books being released each year has plateaued at fewer than 100 titles a year. This at a time when the U.S. population is increasingly diverse.

Several days ago, Zetta Elliott’s post about #weneeddiversebooks discussed the need for those who want more diversity in YA to support self published authors.

I’ve been discussing the barriers faced by writers of color and my colleagues had several ideas, including a collective of indie authors. I think the big review outlets—Kirkus, School Library munecas_front_covercorrectedJournal, Horn Book—ought to devote a column to indie authors so that they can shine a spotlight on the very best self-published books instead of using blanket policies to shut out those truly talented writers who have already been turned away by publishers. But if members of the children’s literature community refuse to change and instead opt to wait on the publishers themselves to do better, nothing will ever change…

I’d had a similar discussion with Amy Cheney just the week before. Amy says that without self published authors, there would be even less for her students to read. She specifically mentioned L. Divine who self published to continue her Drama High series and No Matter What by Jeff Rivera.

I still, still hesitate with self published works even though I know Zetta Elliott, B. A. Binns, Neesha Meminger, L. Divine and Jeff Rivera do good work. These authors know the process and don’t rush a first draft to press. Not everyone has that dedication.

And then there are small presses. While some can rush works through, the majority whose work I’ve read, spend time with writers of color who wouldn’t get a chance with a larger press. They don’t necessarily have the resources for a lot of marketing, but the larger houses that do have the marketing departments don’t necessarily use them on newer writers.

And, we can’t assume anything because a book comes from a major publisher. Biases are still there, editing can be sloppy and research on historic events, cultures or places can be incorrect.

By these standards, we should be willing to give independent authors and smaller publishers a try, but when you consider that these large publishers so seldom give writers of color a try, perhaps we need to really reconsider where our money is going. In Econ class we called it the ‘dollar vote’. Be selective where you spend your money and make it count. Look at the reviews and consider how well Native American culture is being portrayed. They won’t get it right until our dollars vote for the right books.

I really do try to make this easy for you. I have a nice list of authors of color who have published with smaller companies, and I even have information on some of the smaller publishers who have been flying under the #seneeddiversebooks radar. While many publishers such as those listed below are on my Resource Page, the ones I’m presenting today are not.

Pinata Books

RoadRunner Press

Saffron Press

Shen’s Books

Starbright Books

Tara Books

Tiny Satchel Press

Tulika Books

Tuttle Publishing

7th Generation Press

Black Sheep YA is an imprint of Akashic Books.

“Akashic Books is a Brooklyn-based independent company dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction by authors who are either ignored by the mainstream, or who have no interest in working within the ever-consolidating ranks of the major corporate publishers.”

Black Sheep YA is meant to appeal to reluctant readers and those looking for something not found in traditional publishing. 2014 Titles include Changers Book 1: Drew by T. Cooper and Allison Glock-Cooper and Game World by C.J. Farely.

Jacqueline Guest’s books are published by Lorimer. From her webpage:

Jacqueline is a Metis writer who lives in a log cabin nestled in the pinewoods of the Rocky Mountain foothills JacquelinePortrait2859JGverof Alberta . 

Her award winning books are unique in that many of the main characters come from different ethnic backgrounds including First Nations, Inuit or Metis. Her well-drawn characters face issues common to every child such as bullying, blended families and physical challenges and are strong role models for today’s youth. Jacqueline’s historical novels for young readers’ present Canada ’s vibrant past as an exciting read every child will enjoy. Her young adult mysteries address teenage problems in a sensitive way while still providing a great page-turner.

Her recent books include Free Throw, Triple Threat and Hat Trick.

Na’ima B. Roberts? Too awesome!! Check her out on Wikipedia!

If you’re more visual, She Wore Red Trainers is her current UK release.

It’s love at first glance when Ali meets Amirah, red trainers and all. Ali is still getting over the loss of mother, and trying to come to terms with his identity as a Muslim who likes basketball, motorbikes and wants a gap year in Mexico. Amirah, the gifted artist, has sworn never to get married. But falling in love isn’t simple when trying to remain true to the deen, the spiritual path of Islam.

Watch the trailer and then read the first chapter!

Into steampunk steamfunk? You have to know about Balogun Ojetade, author of the Chronicles of Harriet series, self published by Roaring Lions Produections. Come back sometime. I just bought a copy and plan to review soon. Much more to follow on this author.

Writer of YA paranormal. Author of EDGE OF TRUTH (Sapphire Star Publishing, June 2013). Hopeless chocoholic!

Natasha Hanover

I also just purchased Edge of Truth by Natasha Hanova. Hanova writes YAParanormal, is published by Sapphire Star Publishing and is a blogger extraordinaire!

 

 

Paul Ferrante publishes with Fire and Ice, an imprint of Melange Books. Melange is a “royalty-paying company publishing ebooks and print books. We pay authors 40% net royalties on ditital formats and 10% on print.” Self publishing that isn’t sm_RobertosReturncompletely DIY. Ferrante writes the T.J. Jackson mystery series nad has currently released the third in the series, Roberto’s Return.

Something’s Wrong in the Birthplace of Baseball

In life, he was one of the all-time greats, a trailblazing icon who played the game with unmatched passion and style. In death, his mystique only grew, the circumstances of his demise shrouded in controversy and myth. When he passed into legend it was believed his like would never be seen again. But now he’s come back. And it’s up to T.J., LouAnne and Bortnicker to solve the riddle of Roberto’s Return.

Medeia Sharif released Snip, Snip Revenge this April from Evernight Press.

snipsniprevengesmallBeautiful, confident Tabby Karim has plans for the winter: nab a role in her school’s dramatic production, make the new boy Michael hers, and keep bigoted Heather—with her relentless Ay-rab comments—at bay. When a teacher’s lie and her father’s hastiness rob her of her beautiful hair, her dreams are dashed. The fastest barber in Miami Beach has made her look practically bald. With all her pretty hair gone, Tabby doesn’t believe she fits the feminine role she’s auditioning for. Michael is still interested in her, but he’s playing it cool. Heather has taken to bullying her online, which is easier to do with Tabby’s ugly haircut. Tabby spearheads Operation Revenge, which proves satisfying until all of her problems deepen. After messing up, she sets to make things right.

CAKE Literary: We’re On A Diversity Mission – Here’s Why!

One of my recent blog posts ending with

Over the next few weeks, I hope to introduce you to few players who are recreating the game for the sake of our children. That’s what we have to remember, this is for our children.

I do have a couple of these posts, but I soon realized that Brown Bookshelf had the same idea and they have done a rliidh27sfn6xh6n76hw_400x400fantastic job of reaching out to individuals who creating amazing possibilities in kidlit. This week as part of their Making Our Own Market series, they feature self publisher authors and closed the week by asking readers to post the names of self published books they’ve read.

Last week, they began their series with CAKE Literary. Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, the ladies behind CAKE Literary are creative, energetic and forward thinking entrepreneurs. Their recipe for success is creating quite a stir! I was able to catch up with Sona lately and she was gracious enough to write the following post. I think what strikes me most as I read the various posts she and Dhonielle have written, is how their passion for diversity in YA lit grew from rather negative situations but is blossoming into something positive. Their passion is their energy. Here’s Sona!

When my daughter was two, her favorite book series was Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells’s That’s Not My collection of board books. There were so many creatures to contemplate: dinosaurs, puppies, lions, oh my. But one in particular stood out. It was a book called That’s Not My Princess, populated by princesses in all shapes and sizes – and even a few different colors. One princess quickly became my favorite. She was small and brown, wearing what very much appeared to be Indian princess regalia (which, of course, as a small brown girl myself, once upon a time, I’d grown up coveting).

Sona Charaipotra

Sona Charaipotra

She rocked a long, flowing purple lengha, with a bright, jeweled top, and a rich, velvety chunni that she’d cinched at her waist. On her wrists were golden bangles, just like the ones my mother got me for my wedding. She was a princess after my own heart.

Naturally, that’s the princess I convinced my daughter Kavya to choose every time. At two, it was easy. This little brown princess was just as glittery and pretty as the others, and she was decked out in Kavi’s favorite colors, pink and purple. What more could we ask for? But as Kavya grew older, it became harder and harder to get her to stick with our princess. It’s not that she was particularly interested in this princess or that princess. It’s that she figured out the narrative structure of these books: the final fill-in-the-blank was always the right fill-in-the-blank. The one to be chosen. Alas, in this book, this particular princess was white and blonde, with blue eyes and an admittedly sparkly tiara. And, I’d quickly learn, that was to be the case with most princesses we’d encounter in future books.

So I shouldn’t have been all that surprised when Kavi’s Disney princess fixation came to a head. She’d coveted them all: the put-upon Cinderella, the delicate (and needy) Snow White, the sheltered (and objectified) Jasmine, and of course, Rapunzel, with her long flowing golden hair. And I swear, that golden hair will be the death of me. At 4, just weeks before her Princess Tea Party celebration (and in the wake of her idolization of two other very blonde princesses, Anna and Elsa of Frozen fame), Kavi realized something, and it shattered her, just a little bit. She needed to be golden. She needed that hair, pale and light and, apparently, all that is good. She needed it, and she needed it now. It would have been easy to write this off as just another tantrum. After all, who doesn’t want what they can’t have. But thinking back to that little brown princess I’d tried so hard to get her to adopt, I realized that, despite it all, I’d failed her.

But it wasn’t all my fault. As my husband Navdeep Singh Dhillon, a fellow writer, pointed out in his piece here, institutional racism is so ingrained, we often don’t realize that it’s there – and that it’s having a devastating effect on our little ones. Some 30 years ago, I remember keenly feeling like I never saw myself in books – and I remember just as keenly the toll it took on my self-esteem. I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t important enough, to have my story told, to have my voice heard. It hurt. And 30 years later, as I watch my daughter go through the same exact thing, it hurts even more.

Dhonielle Clayton

Dhonielle Clayton

This, at its crux, is why my writing partner Dhonielle Clayton and I decided to co-found CAKE Literary, a boutique book packaging company with a decidedly diverse bent. Over the course of our two years together at the New School, where we both got our MFAs in Writing for Children, we had countless conversations about the startling lack of diversity in books for kids and teens, a problem that continues to persist despite the fact that it’s now 2014, and by 2042, the “minority” will be the majority. We already make a strong effort to diversify our own personal work, and the work we create together. But that’s not nearly enough. The idea behind CAKE is that if something is a deliciously written story with strong, well-developed characters and an intriguing plot, people will pick it up. So if you infuse those kinds of stories with diversity – in race and ethnicity, class and culture, gender and orientation, ability and disability – then the market can’t argue. People will pick it up. And slowly but surely, the marginalized will become the mainstream.

What exactly does CAKE do? We create those stories: high concepts that are fun reads, but have a strong dose of diversity without making that diversity the central focus. The plot is the focus. Our debut, Tiny Pretty Things, due next summer from HarperTeen, is a good example of this. The story is a mystery set at a cutthroat ballet academy in New York City, where three girls – one black, one white and one half-Korean – are all competing for prima position. Their backgrounds definitely inform their experiences at the school and in the world of dance (and also in the world at large). You can feel their experience. But the plot is what propels you forward (we hope!).

So why is CAKE a packager and not a publisher? We have so many ideas, stories that we think deserve to be told. Ideas that deserve to be on shelves, ideas will become books that readers out there are looking for – the #WeNeedDiverseBooks call to action confirmed that! But we don’t have time to write all of these books – nor do we have the authentic background or voice to do them justice. That’s where CAKE comes in. CAKE comes up with the concept, fleshes out, then finds that authentic voice to put the meat on the bones. If it’s a book about a Mexican-American family in Texas, then damn straight that’s what we’re aiming to find in our writer. And that is not my background, or Dhonielle’s. We work with the writer throughout the process of drafting, and once we have the proposal or a completed manuscript, CAKE’s agent takes it out to publishers. Some packaging companies get a bad rap for being notoriously stingy – but because we’re writers ourselves, we aim to make CAKE a highly writer-friendly company.

In the end, that CAKE story aims to be fun and delightful and will no doubt thrill some little girl one day when she picks it up, and lo and behold, finally sees herself reflected on the page. Because books should be mirrors, as well as windows. I wish I could be there to see it.

What I do know is this: we all have our reasons for what we do. Dhonielle and I both had this experience growing up, and we’ve heard stories from countless others – writers and non-writers – who’ve felt the same. In propelling forward CAKE’s mission to diversify our shelves (and you can learn more about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign to do just that here!), my reason is these days is my children. I want their reflections in the books they read, and I want them to be able to read about people from all different backgrounds. I can’t wait for the day when the dark-haired princess is the one Kavya picks from the line-up, because she realizes that the princess that looks at her is just as golden as the blonde-haired one.

Want to learn more about CAKE and our mission? We’ll be looking to hire writers this summer, so connect with us at CAKELiterary.com or via CAKELiterarySubmissions@gmail.com. You can also find us on Twitter: @CAKELiterary

 

New Upcoming and Off Topic

I recently joined a webinar for the purpose of learning about upcoming multicultural titles in children’s literature. Lee and Low, Groundwood, James Lorimer and Co (distributed by Orca) and Tuttle Books all shared information about new or upcoming titles. I have to admit I was quite interested in the picture books although I rarely take the time to read them.

At the same time, I look for titles written by authors of color and for books that have fully developed characters of color, where their culture is part of their identity. This doesn’t mean constantly fighting racism or proclaiming ethnic identity but it does mean paying attention to hair texture, family structure, foods and dialog. Eluding to a character’s skin tone doesn’t quite give a full sense of who that character really is.

I read someone somewhere, probably a white author, stating with regards to writing about characters of color that they felt ‘damned if they do and damned if they don’t’. Yes, I feel you on that. I honestly don’t know if I can clearly articulate how I feel about white authors writing characters of color. Do most of us know what we want and, do we know when our expectations are fair and equitable?

What does ‘do it right’ really mean? I continue to say that if your personal life, your friendships, reading and musical selections, knowledge of history, restaurant and movie choices aren’t diverse then you should avoid trying to write diverse. You can’t get it right if you don’t know it.

But, what if a white author does know it and then chooses to write about Native or Asian characters? How far can they develop the story without being criticized? Imagine if a white author were to write honestly about what goes through a characters mind when they encounter a group of Latino teens speaking Spanish or if they’re trying to figure out a young black person’s natural hairstyle. What if a secondary character who is a person of color also happens to be the antagonist? I think that could happen in real life. Books can guide young white readers ability to navigate this racist and sexist world as well as it can young folk of color.

I suggest that if white authors cannot be honest with characters in these moments, if they are going to be accused of being racists or bigots, then they can’t ‘do it right’. Allow them to be racist? No. But, do allow them to explore honest thoughts and emotions. Authors should be able to work with editors who know how these situations unfold. We should work toward having honest dialogs. Once again, I’m expecting way too much of children’s literature because this just doesn’t happen in American society.

See, this is what happens when you don’t write. All your thoughts merge in unexpected ways in unexpected places and you end up with a huge thought peice when all you wanted to do was announce new and upcoming books. So, here we go!

Lee and Low

Family owned company that focuses on stories that children of color can identify with and that all children can enjoy.

Parrots Over Puerto Rico author Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore Illustrator by Susan L. Roth

Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac

Summoning the Phoenix: Poems and Prose author Emily Jiang illustrator by April Chu

The Hula Hoopin Queen Written author Thelma Lynne Godin illustrator by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank author Paula Yoo and Jamel Akib

Drift author M. K. Hutchins

Rebellion (Conclusion to the Tankborn series) author Karen Sandler

Lee and Low will also be republishing their very popular global Cinderella books this year.

GROUNDWOOD

Canadian publishing company.

spring

Why Are You Doing That? author Elisa Amado illustrator Manuel Monroy

Bravo, Chico Canta Bravo authors Pat Mora, Libby Martinez Illustrated by Amelia Lou Carling

Norman Speaks! author Caroline Adderson Illustrator Qin Leng

Lost Girl Found: Story of the Lost Girls in Sudan author Lean Bassoff and Laura Deluca

The Amazing Travels of ibn Battuta author Ratima Sherafeddne illustrator Intelaq Mohammed Ali

Movi la Mano/I Moved My Hand author Jorge Luján illustrator Mandana Sadat translator Elise Amado

upcoming

Work: An Occupational ABC written and illustrated by Kellen Hatanaka

The Cat in the Wall author Deborah Ellis

LORIMER

Lorimer is a division of Orca Books that maintains a diverse cast of characters throughout their hi/lo Sport, Replay, Podium Sports Academy and Lorimer Side Streets series. Some of the newer titles include the following.

Free Throw by Jacqueline Guest

Hat Trick by Jacqueline Guest

Sidelined author Trevor Kew

Big League Dreams: Baseball Hall of Fame’s first African Canadian, Fergie Jenkins author Richard Brignali

TUTTLE

66 year old company founded in Tokyo.

Jet Black and the Ninja Wind authors Leza Lowitz and Shogo Oketani

Revenge of the Akuma Clan by Benjamin Martin

In Real Life by Lawrence Tabak

Korean Folk Songs Stars in the Sky and Dreams in Our Hearts written by Robert Choi; illustrated by Sam Ed

Mei Mei’s Lucky Birthday Noodles by Shan Shan Cen and Heidi Goodman

Ming’s Adventure on China’s Great Wall author Li Jian translator Yijin Wert

The Sheep Beauty author Li Jian translator Yijin Wert

In the Forbidden City by Chiu Kwong-Chiu

This is the Greatest Place: The Forbidden City and the World of Small Animals by Brian Lee

 

Looking In, Looking On

I remember back in the mid 90s going to buy a car with my then husband. While we were initially impressed with the presence of black sales reps who approached us, it didn’t take more than a couple of visits to realize that the black sales reps were assigned to black customers.

I was reminded of this experience when I read Walter Dean Myers’ recent editorial.

Years ago, I worked in the personnel office for a transformer firm. We needed to hire a chemist, and two candidates stood out, in my mind, for the position. One was a young white man with a degree from St. John’s University and the other an equally qualified black man from Grambling College (now Grambling State University) in Louisiana. I proposed to the department head that we send them both to the lab and let the chief chemist make the final decision. He looked at me as if I had said something so remarkable that he was having a hard time understanding me. “You’re kidding me,” he said. “That black guy’s no chemist.”

I pointed out the degrees on the résumé that suggested otherwise, and the tension between us soared. When I confronted my superior and demanded to know what about the candidate from Grambling made him not a chemist, he grumbled something under his breath, and reluctantly sent both candidates for an interview with the chief chemist.

Simple racism, I thought. On reflection, though, I understood that I was wrong. It was racism, but not simple racism. My white co-worker had simply never encountered a black chemist before. Or a black engineer. Or a black doctor. I realized that we hired people not so much on their résumés, but rather on our preconceived notions of what the successful candidate should be like. And where was my boss going to get the notion that a chemist should be black?

Publishing more books out by authors of color seems like such an obvious solution to so many problems, however the problem of not enough books with characters of color does not exist in a vacuum.

Numerous people have suggested ways to change what is published and many of these people work outside publishing as do I. I’ve never attempted to write a book, never visited a publishing house and have never tried to obtain an agent. My criticisms of this industry are a bit like Sandra Bullock cursing the universe when she realizes her spaceship had no fuel.

But, I see things and it makes me wonder.

I’ve read too many books by authors of color where the author is truly skilled, the story is fresh, entertaining and well developed. Yet there were shortcomings that ranged from flaws in world building, lacking character development, or the lack or a good sense of setting. Who edits these books?

I know that when artwork and teaching materials is needed for a book, the preference is to assign the project to a person of the same ethnic group.  I can’t identify the thought process behind this. Is a book so “Black” or so “Latino” that only people from that ethnic group will relate well enough to the story to develop it correctly? Or, do we just not work together if we don’t have to?

Isn’t it the oddest thing that we see so many creating ways to help Whites write books about people of color rather than identifying and publishing more authors of color and Native Americans? And don’t tell me authors of color don’t exist! Where are the new books by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich? Neesha Meminger? Sheba Karim? Padma Venkatraman? Derrick Barnes? Alex Sanchez? Kelly Parra? Torrey Maldenado?

Creating a culture inside any industry where people understand the advantages to themselves as individuals, their company and even society as a whole is something that no one outside that industry can force.

I don’t believe there will be more books by authors of color until those in publishing understand that they can mentor and edit someone of a different complexion, that they can be as demanding of these authors and have high expectations of them. Or unless more companies like Quill Shift Agency, 7th Generation Press, Cinco Puntos or Just Us Books exist to innovate alternative avenues of success.

When CBC Diversity first formed, I wondered why they didn’t reach out to those outside their industry to build an alliance. There are so many people who address diversity from so many perspectives that it would have to be empowering to bring them all together. But, as I’ve come to believe I understand problems within the industry, I can’t help but applaud these individuals for trying to do something that certainly will not increase their popularity in their own offices. They best know the limitations inside their industry and what changes need to be made.

How can I end this on a positive note? Well, I cannot ignore all the voices (predominantly female, I must add) that continue to fight the good fight. In many different ways and in many different corners, there are people who are passionately trying to make a difference for young readers. Because right there, those pages in the hands of a young child will color their entire worldview. We have to keep hoping because there is no change without hope. We have to keep our ear to the ground and listen for those who are beating a new path. We can move beyond talk and take action. And, we have to continue questioning this industry.

 

 

Monday Meanderings

I didn’t post my usual rambling post yesterday, so here it goes today!

I’m working from home this week, working to get an article completed and ready for submission. I’ve got to clear my mind and my ‘to do’ list so I can concentrate on what I need to get done.

I’ve been stalling.

My mind was struck by wanderlust forever ago and I think of writing in small European city where I can visit markets for fresh meats and cheeses and sip hot beverages at a bistro while working late. Or take a long afternoon walk in a tropical hillside to refresh my thoughts after hours of working. These four walls aren’t working for me right now!

I’ve found other, short projects that might get me started.

It doesn’t help that I’m writing about places in YA lit! Or, does it?!

Around this time of year, I work with Zetta Elliott to complete a list of YA fiction books written and published by African American authors. So, far I’ve identified all of 22 books. We do typically identify books that were missed throughout the year, however, that’s a frightfully small number.

Dr Jonda C. McNair release the current edition of Mirrors and Windows newsletter which features informational texts and a profile of author/illustrator Steve Jenkins.  I’ve placed the pdf in Google Drive to make it available, however if it is not accessible, email me at crazyquilts at hotmail dot com and I’ll be glad to forward a copy.

A completely separate publication that came out this week is Windows and Mirrors: Reading Diverse Children’s Literature by Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen in the online publication Gazillion Voices.

Despite the statistics, today’s diverse children have more options to see their experiences reflected in children’s literature. White children, too, have many more opportunities to learn about experiences other than their own. In this essay, I primarily (but not exclusively) discuss Asian American children’s literature to highlight principles for meaningful multicultural content, as well as point out some of the persisting problems, with the ultimate goal of encouraging you to pick good books for young people, especially during this coming holiday season. Given that 3,000-5,000 children’s books in many different genres for a range of reading levels are published each year, I hope to provide you with some principles and guidelines for critically evaluating children’s literature and thinking about our role in supporting and promoting diverse, high-quality stories for all young people.

I recently wrote about the impracticability of expecting students to express their desire for books with characters of their own ethnicity. This is anecdotal statement is something I hope to research further. Why are some young children able to indicate an interest in a book based upon the race of the character while others are not? How and when do children develop racial awareness? My interest deepened when I read an article shared by @WritersofColour on Twitter. The article written by @hiphopteacher posed a much more reflective analysis into why children of colour are less likely to write about their own ethnicity.

In her essayPlaying in the Dark’, Toni Morrison argues that “the readers of virtually all of American fiction have been positioned as white.” (Morrison 1992:xiv) We might ask if the same is true of children’s literature and how that might affect children’s relationship to story-writing.

All in all, giving the young people in your life a book (or books!) written by authors of color this holiday season sounds like a gift worth giving. It would be a great time to donate books by authors of color to your local school or public library, too. Young adult books perfect for giving can be found on my annual booklists and books for all ages of children can be found on the BirthdayPartyPledge.

Teachers and students will equally appreciate learning apps for those tablets Santa places under the tree this year. Consider these 10 (mostly free) apps for documenting learning.

 #NPRBlacksinTech continues on the Tell Me More blog through 20 December. The series is well worth following because there are continuous ‘day in the life’ posts giving readers insights into real life experiences of Blacks in technology. This is so valuable to young people who need to see real life role models! This linkwill take you to the postings on Twitter and you do not have to have an account to read them.

I have another recent post which lists young adult literature from South Africa. In looking at the list you may wonder why J. L. Powers was included as the only non African on the list. Reading her recent post will help you understand why.

… my classmates and friends were the children of recent immigrants or immigrants themselves–some documented and some undocumented. Migrant workers followed the power lines next to our house to go work in the chile fields of southern New Mexico. I witnessed firsthand the injustices of our economic system that encouraged migrant labor, did not pay migrants sufficient wages to support their families, and made it necessary for those who did bring their families to live in our country in poverty and without the protection of legal rights despite working back-breaking jobs every day. These were people I knew. These were people I went to school with, young men I had crushes on, girlfriends I shared secrets with.

I’ve been getting a lot of blogging done in the past week, however that trend isn’t going to continue. BFYA makes its final selections at ALA Midwinter in January and I have more books to read than I have days to read them. No, I will not be blogging much at all! I will take a break on 21 January for Cookies and Cocktails with my sister. Hopefully, the weather will be mild enough for me to drive over to spend the day cooking, eating, drinking and making merry!

You may remember that my word this year is ‘courage’.  I have a better understanding of this virtue and I’ve become more aware of times when my courage fails me. I’m more unwilling to let myself be a coward. I’m a bit more likely to speak up, lean in and move forward. Yet, I still struggle with picking up that phone. I don’t know what it is about the phone, but using it takes a special kind of courage for me!

I’ve found several people including writers and publishers who are going to write about courage in a series that will appear here beginning 21 December. It’s definitely something you won’t want to miss!

For now, I have some researching to do!

“From caring comes courage.”Lao Tzu