Spotlight on Awards that Highlight Multicultural Books
Not only is it important to find stories that portray a myriad of identities to which children can relate and to cultivate these stories to execute the most authentic voice that will ring true, it is also important to send these tales out into the marketplace with their best foot forward, supported by the sales and marketing teams at houses and reviewed by critics in the industry to gain maximum exposure. One way to gain exposure for these books is with awards.
Below you’ll find three awards highlighted, but there are many more awards that celebrate and “recognize children’s and young adult literature titles that portray an authentic image of a racial, ethnic or religious group; or promote social justice and peace”, according to the National-Louis University Library who have curated a list of just such awards. Cynthia Leitich Smith also provides a wonderful list of children’s literature awards, many of which are specifically for books that focus on diversity in its many forms.
As an editor I don’t expect that every one of my author’s books will receive glowing reviews. It’s certainly nice when it happens, but even the negative reviews don’t take away all the hard work both my authors and I put into their books and it certainly doesn’t take away the immense belief I have in my authors and their work. What does sting are unfair or patently wrong reviews. Earlier this year, one of my beloved authors received a patently unfair and wrong review from a major trade journal. This particular review took issue with my white author’s characterization of a black supporting character. The review described this black character’s role in the book as “unfortunate” and dismissed this character as little more than a role-playing stereotype. I had several categories of reactions to the language used to discount not only the book, but also the appearance of a character of color: my first reaction was that of an editor who felt her author had been greatly wronged; I also reacted as a reader who felt a bit cheated out of a reading experience and finally I reacted as a black woman working in an industry where acquiring editors who look like me are few and far between. I was angry. I was biased. I was hurt. I was discouraged. And I was motivated to find a way to right this terrible wrong. But what could I do that wouldn’t seem like sour grapes?
I thought of writing a private letter to the editor of the journal in question and in fact did draft a letter. In that missive, I pointed out how irresponsible I thought the review was. I suggested that when people see an opportunity to comment on race that they will say the most outrageous and clichéd things without any true thought at all just to seem as if they are somehow socially aware. I affirmed that as a black woman who edits books, I am certainly sensitive to how African Americans are depicted and perceived in books, especially those I personally edit.
One great aspect of the CBC Diversity blog is that we can highlight and celebrate many exciting new voices. We can also offer valuable resources for teachers, authors, librarians, and publishing industry insiders who want to incorporate more diverse and multicultural authors to their curriculum, or collection, or reading list, or professional network.
If you are a teacher or librarian who is looking to diversify your author visit experience, here is a small sample of authors to consider — including a few new names that you may not already know.
This list is in no way comprehensive. Stay tuned to the CBC Diversity blog for a more robust directory of authors — from the many CBC member publishers — who actively promote diversity through author visits to schools, libraries, and state and regional conferences. If you would like to be included in our directory of authors, please comment below or send us an email.
Full Disclosure: It is my job to arrange paid author appearances and some of the authors listed here include authors I represent. I really enjoy working with my authors and take every opportunity I can to promote their amazing work.
I began my professional life as a teacher and have taught the gamut: from preschool to high school. What I found most frustrating was the lack of compelling outside reading available, especially for my students of color. While teaching in Boston, I was also pursuing my MFA at Emerson College. It was there that I discovered Book Publishing as a career option. On a lark I took my first publishing class as a way to build-up the pre-requisite credits I needed in order to take my fiction workshops. I never expected to find myself so taken and invested in the material and the industry. In fact, before my book publishing courses at Emerson, I thought books were a gift from some mythical book fairy that I conveniently picked up at my local bookstore on a weekly basis. I never gave much thought to the industry behind the books I consumed so compulsively. But I caught the publishing bug quickly and left the teaching profession soon thereafter with my sights set on publishing those books that felt missing to me and to my former students.
My first job in publishing was a lucky and invaluable internship at Lee & Low, an independent multicultural children’s book publisher in New York. I learned a great deal about editing, acquisitions as well as marketing and publicity from this experience. While working at Lee & Low, I contacted quite a few publishing professionals requesting informational interviews. I knocked on a lot of doors and was told the same thing over and again: you seem great, but I don’t have a job for you. I was starting to feel a little hopeless, though the truth is I’d spent only a summer looking for a permanent position and that wasn’t very long at all.
Bookstore Spotlight: Got Libros? La Casa Azul Bookstore
A youth mariachi band was the first thing I saw and heard when I got off the 6 train at Lexington and 103rd Street to attend the grand opening of La Casa Azul Bookstore on Friday evening. A large crowd swelled at the entrance of East Harlem’s new bookstore, watching the performers, drinking wine, and chatting.
Begun with the help of a fundraising campaign the store carries adult and children’s books, in both Spanish and English, with an emphasis on local and Latino authors. There is also a nice selection of cards, stickers and other gift items, including rings made from telephone wire that I couldn’t resist buying.
Inside the store, I made my way through the throngs of people shopping and chatting and posing for photos (using fun props provided by the store) and checked out the backyard area, which seems perfectly primed for performances and large groups.
On their website, La Casa Azul Bookstore says, “Our goal is to create a community center in East Harlem for both readers and writers, to create a place where reading, writing and creative expression is encouraged, and a place where ideas, curiosity and community spirit are celebrated.” If the Grand Opening is any indication, they are well on their way to achieving that goal!
Check out all of the pictures I took on the online album.
Stereotypes in the Portrayal of People with Disabilities
Ever since I read this post on The Rejectionist a few years ago, I’ve tried to be more aware of how people with disabilities are portrayed in the books I edit and the media I consume. I mused a while back on my own blog about Toph from the Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series, wondering if she fit the stereotype described by Rachel in that post, the “supercrip” stereotype. As Rachel, who is deaf, put it,
The most crucial error the Able-bodied Narrative makes is the proposition that the disability is the most important and most interesting thing in that person’s life… . Thinking of disabled people as being their disability ignores all the other things that make us fully realized and active human beings; our loves, desires, hobbies, thoughts, fears, hatreds, ambitions, and failures. It ignores the conflicts that have actual meaning to our lives and relationships—conflicts that contain within them the seeds of stories so much richer and deeper than the Able-bodied Narrative could ever allow for.
Instead, The Able-bodied Narrative defines people by their disabilities and results in stereotyped characters in predictable plots: the struggle to overcome our obvious suffering, the search for a cure or at least normalcy, and the inspiring greatness of the “Supercrip.”
How do we approach the portrayal of people with disabilities in children’s and young adult literature? Do we treat them as whole people, whose disability is just one part of who they are?*
This can be especially tough in fantasy literature, because magic can so often solve problems in ways that can’t be solved in the real world. Author Kristin Cashore faced this situation in her first book, Graceling. (Warning, spoilers ahead; the book has been out for several years at this point, though.) A character is injured in a way that we learn in this world is irreversible. It’s devastating. It changes his life forever. Yet somehow, magically, a solution is found for this injury.
Kristin wrote a note in the third book in the series, Bitterblue, that discusses how readers reacted to this, and how she handled it. Her process in acknowledging her mistake and in trying to right it is an example for all of us.