I was a non-traditional hire when I began my editing career in 2001. My job qualifications included 12 years working with children and families in urban and rural classrooms. This meant I had a deep understanding of the transformative power of picture books. It also meant I understood the huge need for more diverse books for America’s children. But the third thing I learned from my teaching career was that most people have a story to tell, and some of those stories are pretty amazing. This knowledge has proved very valuable in my work as an acquiring editor. From day one on my job, I decided to cultivate an inclusive attitude towards submissions. My goal has been to find not only the right story, but the right story-teller. Happily, this approach is one that has worked well for our company over the years. As an editor, you never know who will author the next best-selling children’s book. More to the point, that “next book” you are hoping for may not even arrive as a written submission!
I’m so pleased to be asked to contribute to the CBC Diversity blog and talk a little about how audiobooks fit into the bigger picture. Much of our conversation about diverse literature for children and teens has focused on books in print, but I ask us to remember that audiobooks have a critical role to play in connecting diverse books to their young audiences. In all kinds of ways audiobooks facilitate, enhance, and sometimes constitute the reading experience, making stories come alive for children and teens in deeper and more profound ways.
We know how important it is to make diverse books available to children and teens, but for some kids that is only the first step. Many young people lack the decoding and fluency skills to unlock the stories contained within these wonderful books. Audiobooks are able to bridge this gap, bringing the stories to life for struggling readers. Jason Reynolds, whose wonderful novel When I Was the Greatest is featured among the Hear Diversity titles, has traveled across the country to talk with young people, including visiting young men in juvenile detention facilities. Listening Library has distributed hundreds of copies of audiobooks to many of these institutions, and Jason talks about hearing from these teens how the availability of the audiobook allowed them entry into a story that would otherwise have been closed to them.
Contributed to CBC Diversity by Tamara Ellis Smith
Early in the fall of 2011, Tropical Storm Irene swept through my home state of Vermont, my town, my street and my home—and all of a sudden I was inside Another Kind of Hurricane, my debut middle-grade novel (Schwartz & Wade, 2015) about Hurricane Katrina, in a way I had never imagined.
I began to write Another Kind of Hurricane
in September 2005. The story was born out my then four-year-old son
Luc’s question, “Who is going to get my blue jeans?” as we dropped off a
bag of food and clothing for the Hurricane Katrina Relief Drive at the
Vermont State Police Barracks. I didn’t know how to answer his question.
I didn’t know who would get his blue jeans. But he stayed with me, this
mystery person. And so I began to imagine: What if a Caucasian boy in
Vermont named Henry donated his blue jeans to the relief effort in New
Orleans? And what if an African-American boy named Zavion got them? What
if Henry put his lucky marble into a pocket of those jeans? And what if
Zavion found the marble and wondered who had given him this magical
Because I was writing outside of my experience, I did my
homework for this story. I read articles and blogs and books—first-hand
accounts of what it was like to be in New Orleans during and after
Katrina. I interviewed people. I watched documentaries. I felt as though
I knew—as best I could—what it had been like during those harrowing
days of the hurricane. I felt emotionally connected to the incredible
people who had survived such a tragic disaster. It was from this place
that I wrote my novel.
Then Tropical Storm Irene hit and Another Kind of Hurricane became exceedingly more personal.
In an odd, reverse sort of process, life imitated art.
Associate Publicist at HarperCollins Children’s Books
Let’s get this out of the way first.
Yes, I work in publishing. Yes, my name really IS Booki.
Sometimes I joke that I got hired because of my name. Who knows, that might be kind of true.
To be honest, I didn’t plan on working in publishing. Actually, I didn’t plan on studying writing or literature, or anything book-related at all. At one point, I was heading towards biochemistry and pharmacy school. To be fair, at another time, I was thinking pretty seriously about becoming an elephant trainer.
One constant, though, is that I have always been a book person. When I was forced, (as we all eventually are) to really consider the future, I thought about what I liked and what I wanted to spend my time doing. It always came back to books.
Author Matt de la Peña’s “Silent Revolution”cbcbooks.org
Children’s book author Matt de la Peña is a champion of diverse
storytelling, fueled by his own experience growing up in a mixed-race
family that struggled with poverty. His goal is to spark a “silent
revolution” by getting diverse books into as many hands as possible. In his interview on YALSA’s The Hub, he discusses this and much more.
The Importance of Giving a Voice to the Voiceless (Human and Animal Alike)
Confession: it takes a lot to make me cry.
It’s not that I’m not an emotional person, or that if I’m having a drink with you and your heartbreaking story doesn’t bring an immediate tear to my eye that I’m not moved. I just don’t do the whole crying thing (complete with pretty tears) very often. I have consistently tested as a “Thinker” (as opposed to “Feeler”) on the Myers Briggs’ personality test, so I tend to digest and process most life experiences and the sad things I see in the world logically. While I do get upset from time to time, I muddle through life for the most part with dry eyes.
That said, when it happens, it’s never pretty.
When the world of social media blew up last week with the details following the death of poor Cecil the lion, I was amazed at how much of a strong, visceral reaction I had to the entire situation almost immediately. I’m talking ugly crying - angry tears. It…wasn’t attractive.
Here was an animal I didn’t know (my only encounters with lions being at the zoo behind glass walls), and yet the reaction I felt was almost as if this animal was a close, personal friend. The logical part of my brain reasons it quite simply. Here was a beautiful, majestic fellow creature in the world, one who inspired and delighted generations, served as an invaluable research subject for the University of Oxford, and brought in needed wealth and support for Zimbabwe, all sacrificed for the benefit of one man’s ego. Cecil’s life ended horribly, and there was no one there to protect him, to speak up for him, or to save him in the end. And that made me very upset.
Why am I talking about this on a diversity blog? Because in the midst of this horribly sad story, there emerged a small silver lining that I think pertains to the diversity conversation. Following Cecil’s death, there was an incredible, powerful, and immediate wave of support for the poor creature that emerged from humans worldwide. From financial donations (almost $500,000 raised within 48 hours after the story broke), to social media outrage, to petitions and movements demanding both justice for Cecil and protection for his pride, it was incredible to see just how quickly humankind jumped in line to offer a voice for a fellow creature who suffered in silence.
The Sexual Violence in LGBTQIA+ Young Adult Literature Projectcbcbooks.org
Throughout the next two weeks, Teen Librarian Toolbox — a professional development website for teen librarians — will feature posts focusing on sexual violence in LGBTQIA+ young adult literature. This series is part of the blog’s ongoing sexual violence in young adult literature project, SVYALit.