A Conversation with Jonda C. McNair, chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee
Can you please tell me something of your background, and your work in children’s books?
After graduating from high school in my hometown of Macon, Georgia, I attended the University of Florida where I earned both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in elementary education. One of my professors at the University of Florida, Dr. Linda Leonard Lamme, really turned me on to children’s books. She introduced me to authors and illustrators like James E. Ransome, Eloise Greenfield, and Floyd Cooper. I remember her sharing books such as Uncle Jed’s Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell with our class.
After graduation, I kept in touch with Dr. Lamme while I was teaching elementary school in Macon and she encouraged me to pursue a doctoral degree in children’s literature at The Ohio State University. She knew about its exceptional program in children’s literature. After five years of teaching students in kindergarten, first, and second grade, I resigned from my position and moved to Columbus, Ohio to attend graduate school. It was there that I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, a leading scholar of African American children’s books. These two women have had a profound impact on my career and life.
Currently I am an associate professor of Literacy Education at Clemson University in South Carolina and I teach reading methods and children’s literature courses for early childhood, elementary, and special education majors. I mainly teach undergraduates but I occasionally teach graduate students working on their master’s and doctoral degrees in literacy education.
“Is there one right way to write? Definitely not. My own process has evolved over time and depending on the demands of each manuscript. But writing defensively tends to be self-defeating. We can’t anticipate every reader’s politics or pet peeves, and even if we could, trying to placate them all would result in bland, banal mush.”—Cynthia Leitich Smith, Writing, Tonto & The Wise-Cracking Minority Sidekick Who Is the First to Die
20 More Authors Who Promote Diversity in School Visits
Coe Booth (New York, NY)
Coe Booth is a graduate of The New School’s Writing for Children MFA program, and a winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction. She is the author of several books including Tyrell (Push/Scholastic) and will make her middle-grade debut this fall with Kinda Like Brothers (Scholastic Press). A life-long resident of the Bronx, Coe often presents to small student groups and teacher conferences.
Christina Díaz Gonzalez (Miami, FL)
Christina Díaz Gonzalez is the author of The Red Umbrella (Yearling/Random House) and A Thunderous Whisper (Knopf Books for Young Readers). Her novels have received numerous honors including the ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults and the IRA Teacher’s Choice Award. Available for in-person as well as virtual visits, her presentations focus on the road to becoming an author and what happens afterward.
Sharon G. Flake (Pittsburg, PA)
Sharon G. Flake is the Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award author of The Skin I’m In (Jump at the Sun/Hyperion). Her most recent novel, Pinned (Scholastic Press), received starred reviews and is included on various state reading lists. During her presentations she discusses her journey to overcome low self-esteem and encourages students to consider writing and publishing as a career.
Eric Gansworth (Niagara Falls, NY)
Eric Gansworth is a Professor of English and Lowery Writer-in-Residence at Canisius College. An enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, he was born and raised at the Tuscarora Reservation. His young adult debut novel, If I Ever Get Out of Here (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic), was selected for ALA’s 2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults and was named an American Indian Youth Literature Award Young Adult Honor Book.
Sherri Smith (Los Angeles, CA)
Her novel Flygirl (Putnam Juvenile/Penguin) was selected as one of the ALA’s 2010 Best Books for Young Adults. Born in Chicago, she spent most of her childhood in Staten Island NY, Washington DC, and Upstate New York. Today she travels all over the west coast visiting schools and libraries.
Tim Tingle is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and a frequent speaker at tribal events. The author of six books, including How I Became A Ghost (The RoadRunner Press) and House of Purple Cedar (Cinco Puntos Press), Tingle was a featured speaker at the Native American wing of the Smithsonian Institute in 2006 and 2007.
Every six months or so, I see an essay devoted to the absence of religion and characters of faith in young adult literature. Google “religion in YA” and you’ll see plenty of posts which rightly address the fact that only a small percentage of the books marketed to teenagers by major publishers include any reference to religion. Most of these are consistently found in historical fiction.
Studies show that a lack of religious content in YA books is not due to a lack of adolescent interest in matters of faith. According to Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (2005, Oxford University Press), 60% of teens say that religious faith is an important part of their lives, and 40% pray every day. Thirty-five percent attend weekly services of some kind, while another 15% go to church at least once a month. One in four report that they are “born again.”
I know these facts to be true—not only from survey data, but from personal experience.
4 Ways to Add Diversity to Your Intern Poolthestreet.com
Participate in a diversity career fair.
A diversity career fair is a great place to find a wide range of candidates for your internship program. No matter if the diversity career fair is hosted by a university or a diversity-focused organization, it’s important to attend in order to find diverse candidates. These recruiting events, which can either be in-person or virtual, can turn around your diversity initiatives and bring you closer to a more well-rounded team.
CBC Diversity attended the Baruch College Career Fair in NYC on Friday and was delighted by the diverse student body in attendance. The four hours went by quickly and students with backgrounds from accounting to international affairs came up to check out the careers in children’s book publishing.
What other opportunities are available for CBC Diversity to promote jobs in publishing to help create a more representative industry?
Editor Cheryl Klein's Insightful Breakdown on the Complexities of Publishingchavelaque.blogspot.com
There’s an intense discussion going on right now on CCBC-Net, “a listserv encouraging awareness and discussion of ideas and issues critical to literature for children and young adults”. If you don’t currently subscribe, we urge you to think about it. Some really great information comes out of the discussions.
The aforementioned heated discussion centers around multicultural literature. Contributors have talked about the various awards for specific groups (and the promotion or lack of promotion of those awards), the terms we use to describe multicultural lit (casual diversity, culturally specific, culturally generic, culturally neutral are just a few terms to ponder), and how everyone involved in kid lit can and should take action to promote the creation and celebration of more of these books.
The above link is to the personal blog of children’s book editor and founding member of CBC Diversity, Cheryl Klein. Last year there was a similar discussion on CCBC-Net and, in light of the current topic on the listserv, Cheryl felt it prudent to share her letter to the listserv readers in 2013 with the wider population. We wholeheartedly agree.
Hundreds of kids showed up for the African American Children's Book Fair, and that makes us happycitypaper.net
“I’m on a picture walk right now,” said a young girl at the African American Children’s Book Fair Saturday afternoon as she paged through a book with a jaguar on the front. “That’s where I just look at the pictures to see what book has the best ones.”
Judging by the cover aside, she was one of hundreds of African American kids lining up around the block — literally, the line to get in extended nearly a complete block out the door of the Community College of Philadelphia’s gym down 17th Street — to meet authors and buy books that are for them and about them.
C.J. Farley, author of Gameworld, a YA fantasy novel due out on Feb. 4, said his book aims to give kids a different take on fantasy — one in which people of color are actually there.
“I love The Hobbit, I love Narnia, but when I see the movies and when I see no people of color as the heroes, I think to myself, ‘Are we fantasized out of existence? Is it a fantasy not to see us?’ I want to show [black children] as the heroes of their own stories,” he said.
Pam Tuck, author of As Fast as Words Could Fly, a historical fiction picture book about school desegregation, and Marion T. Lane, author of Patriots of African Descent in the Revolutionary War, also a historical fiction, both called the book fair “empowering” for the children there.
"They are able to read books that they can relate to,” Tuck said. “The authors and illustrators that they see, they too can become one of those.”
Millicent Bland, who brought her children to the fair for the first time, said it was overwhelming to see how many books — from romance fiction for teens to Gabrielle Douglas’ second memoir — had a focus on people of color.
“It’s encouraging,” she said. “As an African-American parent, I want our children to explore authors just like them.”
The little girl on the picture walk (there was hardly a moment to catch her name) did add, after breathlessly declaring how much she “loved to read,” that she would be spreading the literacy love around.
“I’m gonna go buy this book for my sister, bye!” she yelled as she ran away.
For more, check out theafricanamericanchildrensbookproject.org.