6 Things I’m Thinking About 11/9

This week’s round-up is focused on celebration – celebrating up-and-coming children’s books artists, Latino American stories, and the young first-gen and immigrant-origin youth that are making the United States a better, brighter place. Read on for more!

  1. We Need Diverse Books announced their 2016 Walter Dean Myers Award Winners! These are the up-and-coming children’s/YA authors to look out for. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for their work!
  2. Are you thinking about holiday shopping for little ones? (Or maybe you’re a children’s lit fan yourself! If so, you’re in good company.) Here’s list of Latino children’s books everyone should have on their bookshelves. Enchanted Air made the list in the YA category!fullsizerender-2
  3. I really resonated with Latina American author Meg Medina’s reflections on Writing the American family: “My parents came to the United States during the mass political exodus of the Cuban upper and middle class in the 1960s. All these years later, I still find joy in writing about families grappling with transition and about how children fit into that dynamic over time.” Lots of great book recommendations here, too!
  4. Dreamers – the young, bright undocumented students protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act – are some of the United States’s greatest assets. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein explains in an editorial.
  5. A study from the U.S. Dept. of Education finds the real, measurable economic gains propelled by… new American graduates! First-gen and immigrant youth reading this blog, your voices are SO important, and you’re going to make us all proud 🙂

    FullSizeRender (3) copy.jpg

    First snowfall! The white-frosted view on the way to my 9am Spanish class.

  6. Last of all, snow has powdered the grounds of my university! Which also means final exams are around the corner. I’m going to take a hiatus for the next week or so as I replace reading YA with some old French philosophers. Wish me luck, and I’ll see you on the other side!
Advertisements

Children’s Publishing and Diverse Books: An Intern’s Perspective (Part III)

Thanks for joining! This week, I’m talking about some of my observations as a children’s publishing intern, with regards to diversity in children’s book publishing.

In the first post of the series, I talked about my summer as a children’s publishing intern in New York City. I wouldn’t have been able to live and work in New York without the support of a grant from the We Need Diverse Books organization. (Which you should definitely consider donating to if you have the means!) I posed the question of how publishers can take action about the lack of books about characters of color, LGBTQ+ characters, and characters with disabilities.

In the second post, I discuss the “gatekeepers” of publishing – specifically, the correlation between the predominantly white world of children’s books and the predominantly white publishing staff.

Next, I’m talking about publishing as a business. We all know publishing is sustained by selling books, and that people need to buy them. Easy as leftover pumpkin pie. But what is there a quantifiable justification for not publishing diverse books? To find out, I took a deeper look into “the Market.”

T (2).jpg

“The Market”: Business model or myth?

I don’t want to under-emphasize the importance of seeing publishing as a business. It’s easy to idealize an industry that’s so closely associated with books and stories. For instance, I was walking through the office of a large publishing house to meet an editor. As we passed through the halls of cubicles, the editor remarked how people outside publishing imagine that she works in some fantastical, rainbow-colored book playground. She turned to me and said, “What do they expect? It’s an office. It’s a business.”

3ed4fc75210c06c1dc63fada0b761eb3.jpg

Although there was plenty of picture book artwork on the walls, this isn’t what a publishing office looks like. Sorry. Source: Pinterest

So publishing, like any business, is market-driven. What does that mean, and what is this Market, specifically as it pertains to publishing?

Something I noticed in conversations about books and diverse books is this amorphous force called “the Market.” In short, it seems like the invisible hand that stops well-meaning, not-racist publishers from publishing books about characters of color and of other marginalized identities. The Market has certain problematic assumptions: It assumes that 1) the majority of readers won’t buy a book with a nonwhite, non-disabled protagonist, and 2) readers of marginalized identities don’t comprise enough of the Market to allocate significant resources toward marketing to them.

I’ve only been able to collect anecdotal evidence to substantiate this Market myself, but it makes a lot of sense as an explanatory factor for some of the problematic practices of publishing, i.e. having significantly fewer characters of color on book covers, even if these books are about characters of color.

One editor recalled an experience when she was a new editorial assistant, and one of few people of color on her team. At a meeting regarding a book cover, someone managed to dissuade the team from accepting a book cover that prominently featured a character of color. This individual insinuated that people wouldn’t be inclined to buy a book with a Black model on the cover.

By framing their input as a business decision, the individual presented this choice not as an opinion, but as a fact of the Market. The cover was rejected.

83369._UY462_SS462_.jpg

I use an example of my favorite middle grade book (because even our dearest books can be racist, and we as critically conscious readers just have to accept that). In The Mysterious Benedict Society, one of the four protagonists, Sticky Washington, is a young Black boy. But why are all four children white? Where did he go? Now that’s mysterious. Source: Goodreads

 

I also spoke with an agent at a well-established literary agency about the Market. He was a publishing veteran, one of few men of color in the industry. He told me that only small percentages of book buyers are comprised by Black and Hispanic readers – so publishing staff are less incentivized to invest in stories about Black and Hispanic characters.

I couldn’t find a citation for this agent’s statistics (somewhere in Rhode Island, my journalism professor cringes). But the implicit biases of this intangible Market, the biases this agent alluded to, are more explicitly demonstrated by children’s book author Christopher Myers, who writes about his father’s experiences attempting to sell a children’s book about a Black child:

The Market, I am told, just doesn’t demand this kind of book, doesn’t want book covers to look this or that way, and so the representative from (insert major bookselling company here) has asked that we have only text on the book cover because white kids won’t buy a book with a black kid on the cover — or so The Market says, despite millions of music albums that are sold in just that way.

Myers’s experience highlights the contradictions inherent in the Market. With more reflection, it becomes clearer that the Market is actually a self-perpetuating cycle.

Here’s the cycle: Publishing operates on a tight budget, with limited resources to allot to a list of several books per season. If publishers believe that, for example, communities of color don’t buy books, they won’t devote as many marketing and promotional resources to this book that might appeal to an audience of color. If publicity is scant, potential readers won’t know about the book. Consumers can’t buy books they aren’t aware of. And so publishers assume that people of color do not buy books. Looping back to the beginning of the book-making process, editors accept few, if any, manuscripts with characters of color, and the myth continues. But here’s the thing: People of marginalized identities will buy books if their stories are properly invested in. In fact, there is no proof to substantiate the claim that people of non-marginalized identities won’t buy diverse books.

card_34-e1405906263588.jpg

Source: We Need Diverse Books

In fact, quite the contrary. If there’s anything that the wild successes of Tony Award-winning musical Hamilton, Emmy Award-winning TV series Master of None, and New York Times bestselling YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian can tell us, it’s that stories with diverse characters and experiences are powerful. With proper investment, they perform exceptionally among consumers. Not that market value is the only reason why we should value diverse stories, of course, but it’s a metric that can sway decisions at meetings about pitches and cover designs.

Clearly, the Market is not a tenable excuse. It’s incumbent on publishers, editors, marketers, and publicists to take responsibility for their undoing the vicious cycle, and to stop blaming this nebulous force that the industry engenders and perpetuates.

In my experience interning, it seemed like the conversation about diversity, propelled by the efforts of We Need Diverse Books, was becoming more open. Based on conversations with numerous editors in a variety of companies, there is a tangible push to look for and publish books about characters of color, LGBTQ+ characters, and characters with disabilities. It’s clear that stories about people of marginalized backgrounds not only sell, and sell robustly, but the challenge is to make sure that diversity is not a trend. Diversity isn’t the new paranormal romance. Diversity isn’t the new Harry Potter. Diversity should be a change in the status quo, and that’s what publishers should really be striving for in the long-term.


This is all to say that once problems are identified, it’s easier to mobilize and come up with effective, actionable steps to solve the disparities in children’s book publishing. Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about what publishers and everyday book lovers can do (and, in many cases, have already begun to do) to make the children’s/YA stories a more inclusive world.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section! I’m excited to see your ideas and insights.

Children’s Publishing and Diverse Books: An Intern’s Perspective (Part I)

For the next few posts, I want to write about the publishing industry’s responsibility to make literature a more inclusive space for young readers who have not been historically represented in children’s/YA books in the United States – that is, minority characters, characters who identify as LGBTQ+, and characters with disabilities. Catch up on why diverse books are important here.

T.jpg

I’ve been simmering on these thoughts for quite some time. Last May, I received a generous internship grant from the We Need Diverse Books foundation that changed my life. The grant lends support and an invaluable, empowering network to people of marginalized backgrounds who aspire to work in children’s publishing, with the hopes of being advocates for diversity in books. I interned at LEE & LOW Books, the largest multicultural children’s book publisher in the country. My colleagues taught me a critical awareness of a book’s impact on young readers, and how publishing can support more authentic, equitable representation for every reader.

Over the summer, I met with a number of children’s publishing professionals, almost all women of color, and asked them: How has the conversation about diversity changed? How can we make sure that the traction we’re making with We Need Diverse Books doesn’t fade?

My experience as a young woman of color in the publishing industry propelled me to do the work that I do with this blog, highlighting and generating discussion about marginalized stories. The discussion about diversity in publishing continues here.

Across the next few posts, I’ll be reflecting on what I learned throughout my summer in publishing – it was a short time, but the question of diversity and inclusivity was at the center of all of my learning. Namely, I want to discuss the actors in publishing (publishing professionals) and publishing as a business.

Taking action to publish and promote diverse books on an industry-level is important work. I believe that there are few social problems that cannot be solved by providing avenues to foster empathy in young people. We grow up loving books because, somehow, we have been changed by them. We are, in the span of a book, entrusted with the consideration of humanities other than our own. By books, we are made kinder.

The past summer ingrained a critical lens on how the publishing industry can operate to disempower young readers, and how publishers can realize change. And we need positive change, now more than ever.

So it’s with this goal in mind that I draw from my personal learning within publishing. But if you are involved in the publishing industry, I invite you to comment with your insights, suggestions, and steps for the future.

A Literary Weekend in Providence, RI

Since coming to college, Providence has become a beloved second home. But as a newly minted book blogger, I often find myself longing to be in New York, the storied center-of-it-all where everyone seems to be brushing shoulders, having deep and impassioned conversations beside a cupcake spread.

But this weekend, Providence showed its love for children’s books in this city’s own, quietly eminent ways. Read on for more about the Rhode Island Festival of Children’s Books Authors and Illustrators and a reading from an author who brings authentic, diverse stories to children’s bookshelves across the country.

Image-1.jpg

Continue reading

6 Things I’m Thinking About

The 6 things that intrigued me from this past week. Read on for diversity in literature news and how schools can support immigrant/first-gen children!

image-1-1

  1. October is Filipino American History Month! Celebrate with these books by Filipino authors. Look out for Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz on this blog soon.
  2. Diverse books meets Netflix:  Publishers Weekly reports the We Need Diverse Books organization will soon be launching OurStory, an app that curates #ownvoices stories written from traditionally marginalized perspectives. One of my favorite picture books, Juna’s Jar, is in the database!
  3. If you’re looking for new ways to visualize “mirrors” and the need for diversity in children’s books, ReadingSpark has a thought-provoking  infographic. The illustrations underscore the fact that kids do take notice. So let’s do better!

  4. A Nashville middle school that specializes in nurturing the needs of recent immigrant students is the topic of this story from Chalkbeat. How do they do it? “Creative teaching,” article explains, so that teachers “aren’t just relying on English to help students master grade-level material.” But isn’t it so that creative, adaptive teaching methods benefit all students?
  5. I encourage readers from California to consider Proposition 58, which would give schools more freedom to expand bilingual programs for some of the most linguistically diverse kids in the country. So proud of my multilingual home state.
  6. The latest episode of the This American Life podcast follows a Somali refugee who wins a lottery that could make his dreams of living in the United States come true. Gripping, honest, and told with journalistic integrity above all, “Abdi and the Golden Ticket” invites reflection on the privilege of citizenship, and what it takes to become a naturalized citizen.
14610599_10206990243065858_1413191264_n.jpg

A corgi walks onto campus and suddenly life is filled with new meaning. Have a happy Indigenous Peoples Day weekend!

Representation & the YA Novel

Let’s be clear: Representation matters.

In a 1990 essay on the paucity of representation of children of color in children’s literature, Rudine Sims Bishop wrote of books as windows into others’ worlds and doors into new experiences. Anyone who grew up a lover of stories can attest to this joy, the sparking of wonder in a book.

Sims points out that books are also mirrors. Children can see themselves in positive, empowering light, reflecting their possibilities. But what happens when we consider children of color, who comprise 50% of public school students but who only populate roughly 13%  of children’s stories? Where are their mirrors, and what possibilities do they see?

Continue reading