Have you seen this article over at Publisher’s Weekly? It’s on the blog of bookseller Elizabeth Bluemie. Here’s the opening argument:
It seems to me you’d have to have enormous resiliency, not to mention a generous sense of humor and/or deep ethnic pride, to grow up black in this country. One of the many things I hope will come out of having Barack Obama as President is publishers’ embarrassed realization that, heck, there’s not a whole lot out there in the children’s book world featuring kids like Malia and Sasha. That is, books with black characters who lead 21st-century lives in a vibrant world of ethnic diversity. Books that aren’t about slavery, civil rights, and the struggles of interracial relationships. Those stories are vital and must be told—both the brutal and the inspirational—but just as 2009 American Jewish kids don’t see themselves primarily in the context of the Holocaust, neither do black children live in the past. They, like all children, deserve to be active, lively participants in the children’s literature of the present.
I agree with pretty much everything Ms. Bluemie writes, but I did have some trouble with this passage:
The good that has arisen from the unfortunate Liar incident is that it has initiated a more open discussion of racial representation in books and on book covers. The topic is uncomfortable in a field so overwhelmingly not “of color.” Attend a book show, and you will see a sea of largely white faces; finding editors, publishers, and booksellers of color is more challenging than finding male pre-K-through-3 teachers at a school convention. This is not intentional, but it is a fact, and needs to be addressed. At the 2008 BEA, Josie and I met a dynamic duo of young African-American women getting ready to open a bookstore. They spoke about the need for grants and scholarships to attract people of color to publishing programs at universities and colleges. Sounds like an excellent idea.
It *is* an excellent idea, but I had some trouble with her suggestion that the industry being dominated by middle-class whites isn’t “intentional.” Here’s my response (she let us know some comments are being mysteriously deleted from her blog):
This is a great article, and I, too, am glad that the conversation around race and representation in the kidlit community is continuing…I’d urge you to read Laura Atkins’ provocative essay on white privilege in the children’s publishing industry (which you can find at her blog, lauraatkins.com/blog/tockla.html). I also grew up in the ’70s and Ezra Jack Keats’ wonderful books were the ONLY ones I had that featured children who looked like me. They were fun, “slice of life” books and I do wish we had more like them. I take issue, however, with your suggestion that the homogeneity of the publishing industry isn’t “intentional.” It’s no accident that 99% of editors are white and middle-class; it’s not “natural” or “inevitable,” any more than all our previous presidents being white and male. I’d urge everyone to check out the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, which keeps statistics on children’s publishing: last year, less than 3% of all books published for kids were written by black people. That is NOT because black people don’t know how to write, or write uninteresting stories…it’s no “accident.” And lastly, I would encourage everyone to realize that markets are shaped, they aren’t organic, and at the end of the day WE are the market–so if publishers are tracking trends, check your own shopping habits and make sure you’re buying books by and about people of color.