Growing up in South Jersey, my dream was to work in a record store. Remember those? Specifically, the Wee Three Record store in the Moorestown Mall. The closest I ever got was a summer job at Kay-Bee Toys. Going to the mall in those days was THE EVENT. First with your parents, hoping you’d be able to spend time in YOUR stores, and then getting a little older, riding your bike across forbidden busy roads to get to … THE MALL. Wee Three wasn’t a great store if you compare it to bigger brothers like Sound Odyssey and the epic Tower Records in Philly, but it was ours. This was the place my friends and I would go to get the music we loved to hear on FM radio. Among the other stores in that mall was a little shop at the Sears end called, appropriately, The Book End. They had a robust selection of my favorites: Mad Magazine books, Beatles books, and Zander Hollander Baseball Annuals. I never thought about working there. It all seemed too intimidating.
Flash forward to the late 80s. Armed with a History degree from Rutgers, I was living in Philadelphia and needed to get a GRE test book. I went to the Encore Books store in Rittenhouse Square. This was a beautiful split-level store in Center City. They had everything. They had the Barron’s book I needed. They had a sign in the window for their Management Trainee Program. They also had a beautiful girl working behind the counter with a Welsh accent. I was interested in all of the above. The Management Trainee program sounded great, especially if it would help me on the Welsh front. I had lots of questions about the job, most of them revolved around whether this would be in the same store. Answer: “For now, yes, but there is an opportunity to work in lots of stores!” Who wanted that? I got the job, worked there for a month, and was transferred to the store in North Philly on … Welsh Road. Oh, the irony.
Hiring Methods for a Representative Work Environment Panel
In February we attended a highly diverse college fair introducing qualified candidates to the many jobs in publishing. We plan to do more career fairs, virtual and in-person, in the future. This, however, is only one part of the equation.
On March 12, 2014, the CBC Diversity Committee hosted a Lunch & Learn Panel for hiring managers and human resources professionals within children’s book publishing to come together and explore key ideas focusing on how to bring about a more representative industry. The amazing panel was moderated by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Vice President and Executive Editor of Trade at Scholastic, and the panelists included David Bronstein, Cheif Talent Officer at Perseus Books Group; Amy Brundage, Human Resources Director at Hachette Book Group; and Carolynn L. Johnson, Chief Operating Officer at DiversityInc.
The takeaways were fabulous and below you’ll find just a few that were captured.
LGBTQ-Friendly YA Novels Get Award Nods, But Are They Getting a Crossover Audience?bustle.com
On March 6, the finalists for the 26th annual Lambda Literary Awards were announced, and they set records for the number of LGBTQ books submitted. The Lambda awards, or “Lammys,” include several categories all geared toward rewarding new books that explore LGBTQ themes or characters. This year, the finalists were chosen from a selection of 746 submissions from 352 publishers — a Lammy record, and up from 2012, which had 687 and 332, respectively. These awards, along with other recent award nods may suggest a changing tide for LGBTQ lit, finally finding a strong foothold in the mainstream fiction and nonfiction YA marketplace. But the numbers may not be as clear as they seem.
According to the website GayYA, 5-6 percent of American teens identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and 80 percent know someone who does. However, the overall representation in publishing may not reach those percentages.
Let’s look at the 2013 finalists for the Lambda Literary Awards in the Childrens/Young Adult category, which show some familiar titles and authors, as well as major publishing houses:
Better Nate Than Ever, Tim Federle (Simon & Schuster)
Boy In Box, Christopher R. Michael (Hubbub Publishing)
Girls I’ve Run Away With, Rhiannon Argo (Moonshine Press)
If You Could Be Mine, Sara Farizan (Algonquin Books)
Openly Straight, Bill Konigsberg (Arthur A. Levine Books)
Rapture Practice, Aaron Hartzler (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Secret City, Julia Watts (Bella Books)
The Secret Ingredient, Stewart Lewis, Author; Rebecca Short, Editor (Penguin/Random House)
The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Arthur A. Levine Books)
Two Boys Kissing, David Levithan (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)
What Makes a Baby, Cory Silverberg (Seven Stories Press/Triangle Square)
The day I got my first interview in publishing, I was kind of a disaster. I really wanted to be an editor—or at that point, an editorial assistant. I wasn’t thinking as far ahead as editor since I could barely get my foot in the door.
From the outside, publishing can seem like an insular industry, where entry-level employees are hired based on who they know—whether through personal connections, internships, or a graduate level publishing course. And certainly, people do get hired via those methods. I had none of those things, and really worried that I wouldn’t be able to get hired because I wasn’t connected enough.
I’m one of those people who has a hard time asking for help, and really what I should have done is get in touch with my college professors—some of whom were published authors and undoubtedly knew editors and agents—and ask for introductions. My shyness kept me from doing that.
So I dutifully sent my resume to publishing houses and magazines (I was interested in both at that point) via their online job listings. I’d been temping at an investment bank in the HR department for several months, and there was a moment where I could have stayed on there full-time, but I knew that I needed to at least try to work in publishing, or I would always regret it. After all, I had a real love of reading, and nothing resembling even liking for either investment banking or human resources. Finally, I got two interviews scheduled for the same day: Scientific American magazine, and Harlequin.
In the 2013 Census, nine million people selected more than one race. In states like California, where I grew up, as well as Texas, and New York, half a million or more people, in each of these states, marked multiple-races. Yet when I became a mother of two beautiful daughters, Isabella and Juliana, I looked around and couldn’t find books that represented the multiplicity of our experiences as a family of two continents, many races, and diverse cultural traditions. We are a nation of boxes, and until the 2000 census, we could mark only one. It is unfortunate that many of our children’s books mirror only part of our culture and that many voices still go unheard.
My Personal Connection
My daughter, Isabella (named in honor of my mother Isabel Maria) was born in 1997 in Tennessee. We were living in a region of Tennessee where there were very few Latinos and race was defined in terms of black and white. In the hospital, the nurses informed me that they adored my daughter, with her shock of black spiky hair, and that they called her “our little Eskimo.” My own family said, “She sure looks like a Valdivieso!” and yes, with in her dark eyes, light olive skin and beautiful black hair, I saw the face of my mestiza Peruvian Grandmother. But she also shared roots in Jewish Romania and Hungary, Scotland, and Italy. From my husband Jeff, came Sweden, Norway, Ireland, and Germany. Surely a citizen of the world was born on that day in 1997.
“The little Eskimo” was the first box my Isabella was put in. Because if you look “ambiguously ethnic”(and here I borrow Sherman Alexie’s phrase), people want to place you.
Recently, my daughter’s teacher used her as an example during a class discussion of Nazi Germany, stating “Because of her global ethnic origins, Isabella is an example of what the Nazis would have classified as Negroid.” He then pointed out blond students as examples of what the Nazis would have called “Aryan superiority.” I am sure the teacher intended the exercise to illustrate the absurdity of white supremacy, but I am still struck by the ways my multiracial teen, and other ethnically diverse students, are still put in boxes and on display.
Over the month of February, the CCBC Listserv has had a very involved conversation around diverse children’s and young adult literature and, among other things, how to support what’s out there, how to understand the nuances involved in artistic creation, and how to encourage more authors and illustrators to create/publishers to produce.
The lovely Sarah Hamburg–we don’t know her personally but can only assume the loveliness because of her thoughtful and truly lovely suggestion–put to the group to think about ways in which we can not only continue to keep this conversation going, but moving forward through action and activism. She asked the listserv contributors to put on their thinking caps and come up with ways in which to 1) put their words into actionable goals as well as to 2) think of other organizations and people involved with increasing the representation in kid lit that are already moving the needle with their presence and behavior. Well, that’s at least what the responses were about to her question:
What does/would activism on these issues look like to you?
Below is the living/breathing document that Sarah put together on the CCBC Listserv for all to comment on and add their thoughts to. It has truly already started much conversation as this document lives on many blogs with thoughts being contributed across the web. Below are just a sampling of the ones we’ve seen so far:
Elizabeth Bluemle’s PW Shelftalker Column–“Money, Meet Mouth”
Edi Campbell’s Sunday Morning Reads Post
Uma Krishnaswami’s Blog Post–“From a Joint Discussion, Belonging to Everyone: Diversity in Children’s and YA Literature”
Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s Blog Post–“It’s All Good! How You Can Create Diversity in Publishing”
American Indians in Children’s Literature–“CCBC-Net Action Items”
Thaddeus Andracki’s Blog–“Taking Action to Make Children’s Literature Better for People of Color”
Be sure to check out the comments under each listing and feel free to place comments here as well as we all work towards a more inclusive children’s book industry.
Lives Undocumented: An Interview with Maria E. Andreu
Interview contributed by Lyn Miller-Lachmann
Maria E. Andreu’s debut novel, The Secret Side of Empty (Running Press Kids, March 2014), offers an honest, authentic portrait of an undocumented high school senior who carefully hides her circumstances even from her closest friends, and cannot apply for college despite her near-perfect grades. Even before publication, the novel received glowing reviews and accolades, including a spot on the Junior Library Guild’s spring 2014 list. In this interview for CBC Diversity, Andreu talks about her own life as an undocumented immigrant and how things have or haven’t changed for these bright, promising young people who live in the shadows.
You have stated publicly that much of M.T.’s story is based on your own experience as an undocumented immigrant from Spain in the 1970s and 1980s. What are some of the specific parallels between your own story and that of your protagonist?
I like to say that the facts are all different but the feelings are the same. I felt the same isolation and hopelessness that M.T. feels. I didn’t know how I would go to college. I felt the economic disadvantage. But I was a teenager during the 1980s so of course I didn’t connect with my high school boyfriend on Facebook and didn’t have a cell phone. I felt it was important to make M.T. a modern teen so that readers today wouldn’t get bogged down in the 80s references. But the experience is genuine, if fictional. And, fun side note, the post-it scene and the “slow speed chase” both really did happen.