Guten Tag! My trip with the German Book Office.

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Back in April, Riky Stock, director of the German Book Office in New York reached out to me with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—to join a group of children’s book editors on a trip to Frankfurt and Hamburg to meet with German publishers and agents.  The German Book Office hosts this annual trip for editors to experience the wonders of beer, brats, and books in hopes of building a bridge between our two countries, for both American books that could succeed in Germany and vice versa.

My fellow editors for this year’s trip included Stacey Barney from Putnam/Penguin (and one of the founders of CBC Diversity!), Sheila Barry from Groundwood Books in Canada, Grace Maccarone from Holiday House, Ben Rosenthal from Enslow, and Reka Simonsen from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Our group had a great vibe, and by the end of the trip, we had our fair share of inside jokes and insightful discussion about books and, in particular, why foreign translations are so difficult for the North American market.

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The CBC Diversity Initiative is committed to bringing diverse experiences to our book market, and this includes stories told from a non-American point of view. After learning some eye-opening numbers about the German book market, it’s evident that while the American perspective is pervasive worldwide, we in turn are reluctant to embrace stories from other cultures.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • 24.8% of all new fiction titles in Germany are translations—and more than 70% of those are books from the US and the UK. Meanwhile, in the US, only 3% of all new titles are translations.
  • The biggest bestselling series in Germany mirror the American market:
    • Harry Potter
    • Twilight
    • Hunger Games
  • YA and children’s translations into German have almost doubled in the last five years.
  • In 2011, a total of 46 German translations were published in the U.S.

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Book Spotlight: Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel

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Happiness, anger, love, jealousy, peace, and worry. Everyone has experienced these feelings, especially as a thirteen-year-old, and these are all the emotions Erica “Chia” Montenegro is feeling the summer before eighth grade.

In Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel (coming out this June) Diana Lopez, author of Confetti Girl and Choke, introduces us to Chia, whose life is turned upside down when she learns her mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer and must undergo a mastectomy and radiation treatments. She finds herself juggling the responsibilities of family, school, and friendship, all while keeping up the façade that she can handle it all without help. This story captivated me in its honesty, heart, and humor; the protagonist is funny without forcing it, and the emotions, which as indicated by the title, swing from excitement and anticipation to dread and sadness, are authentic. Chia is a character any reader can connect with. And it doesn’t matter that she also happens to be Latina. 

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NYPL Diversity Panel Recap

imageThis past weekend, authors Zetta Elliott, Sofia Quintero, and I sat on a panel discussion hosted by librarian and School Library Journal blogger Betsy Bird. The panel, titled Diversity and the State of the Children’s Book, was part of the Children’s Literary Salon series, held at the New York Public Library. About 80 attendees filled the seats, which was a great sign—clearly this is a subject that people across the industry are passionate about, enough to get folks to come out on a chilly Saturday afternoon.
 
I have to admit, I was a little nervous about the panel. The CBC Diversity Committee discussion at the American Librarian Association Midwinter conference ignited much conversation, including heated debates on online forums and calls for action. I went into the panel knowing that there were two goals in mind—one, talk about why this issue is important to me, as a reader and editor, and two, to stress the importance of keeping the conversation moving forward, rather than having it hindered by criticism.

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Book Spotlight: Fifty Cents and a Dream

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This December, Little, Brown Young Readers will be publishing Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington by Jabari Asim, illustrated by Bryan Collier. I had the honor of working with these two talented men—Jabari’s text is evocative and lyrical, and Bryan’s collage art is, per usual, stunning. This dynamic pairing already makes Fifty Cents and a Dream a special book. But what makes this book even more special is the story itself—a true and often overlooked piece of history about perseverance and triumph.
Booker T. Washington is a common figure in social studies classes. He’s briefly covered in most schools, particularly during Black History Month, grouped with other influential African American leaders. While growing up in Alabama, I learned and relearned about Washington; we had Alabama History every year, up until freshman year in high school. Here’s what I gleaned from my many years with Mr. Washington:

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Finding Diversity in My Favorite Books

When I embarked on writing this post, I thought about sharing my favorite childhood books. Looking at the list, I was sad at first not to have a shining example that represented diversity. But when I took a closer look, I noticed that each book on my list does convey diversity, or a theme of feeling marginalized, something I experienced growing up. So I changed my focus from just listing my favorite books to examining why they were so special to me.

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I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, at the tail end of the Appalachians. On one of the streets near my house, you could count ten churches, most of them Baptist, along a one-mile stretch. The Catholics were considered the liberals, Confederate flags were sold at Wal-Mart, and paddling (yes, hitting kids on their heinies with a paddle) was allowed in my middle school. When people learn where I grew up, they always ask, “There are Asians in Alabama?” To which I reply, “Yes. Four. My family.” I’d jokingly tell them about how the Asians lived in yellow trailers and how I walked barefoot until I was fourteen. And oddly enough, sometimes people would actually believe me.
 
Truth be told, Alabama was just home to me, and I didn’t know anything different. It’s also worth noting that Huntsville wasn’t backwoods at all. It was a medium-sized city that was fairly diverse, with a NASA research hub and an Army base that attracted people from all over the world. It had a bustling downtown area with a children’s bookstore, owned by the mother of fellow children’s book editor and Huntsville native Sarah Dotts Barley (HarperCollins). It was definitely not the scary den of racism most people associate with Alabama or the Deep South. In fact, many residents considered themselves downright cosmopolitan. But even in the relatively open community of Huntsville, prejudice often hovered beneath the surface.

While blatant racism did exist, I found that silent judgment, underlying ignorance, and a deep-rooted sense of “White Man’s Burden” were just as difficult to deal with and even tougher to identify. I learned that oppression can come from misguided intentions, from those who want to help but end up hurting instead—just as much as it can come from the more sinister, obvious sources we tend to think of first.

My first memory of this was in first grade, when we began our reading comprehension lessons. I eagerly looked forward to reading out loud. As an avid reader, I was excited to show off my skills, so I was floored when I found out that I was put in the remedial level. I couldn’t understand why. I later realized that the problem was my accent. My family spoke Mandarin at home, and, at my preschool, my teacher had been Indian. While I could understand the words I read, I wasn’t pronouncing them correctly. My teacher couldn’t quite grasp that though, and asked me to stay after class, making me read a paragraph over and over again, each time asking me if I understood what I was reading. I wished I could tell her that I did, but I couldn’t find the right words to say so. I began to hate school, reading, and anything else that made me feel stupid or different. So while my experience of subtle, well-intentioned prejudice was small peanuts compared to what others have faced, it did affect me greatly, which is why many of my favorite books featured diverse characters or characters that were criticized for being different.
 
Luckily, my parents loved going to the library and often used to children’s section as a babysitter while they wandered off to find the Chinese books. There were miniature dollhouses to stare at and a good collection of MAD magazines, but eventually, I wandered over to the books, where I picked up Sweet Valley Twins, and, as you can see in my previous post, I was hooked. Those books became pivotal in my journey towards book publishing, and I am thankful for them, even if I’ll never have Elizabeth Wakefield’s long blonde hair, blue eyes, and tiny mole on the left shoulder. (Okay, if I was stretching this, I could say that Elizabeth was also marginalized to a certain extent. I mean, Jessica was so popular. She was head of the Unicorns! Meanwhile, Elizabeth struggled under the weight of her intelligence. Right?)
 
Coming from Alabama became a badge of honor over the years, jokes aside. I had shoes, lived in a nice home, and people overall were pretty kind to me, but I do feel proud of growing up in a place where being different was noticed and pointed out to me. I still sometimes mispronounce words and mix up idioms. It took me forever to understand, “Six eggs or half a dozen.” (Wait, is that even the right saying?) And this is who I am… different, strange, and proud of it!
 
Without further adieu, here’s a list of some favorites, featuring the covers from my youth!
 

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Connie Hsu: How I Got into Publishing

imageI wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Sweet Valley Twins series. When I was a young girl in Alabama, I was put into a remedial reading group, which was pretty discouraging. I didn’t want to love reading, since I was told I wasn’t good at it. But then I discovered the Sweet Valley Twins, and oh boy did my life change. I couldn’t stop reading those, and when that series was exhausted, I bounced onto more. I challenged myself to read at higher levels, sometimes horrifying myself when I dipped into something too sophisticated for me. *spoiler alert!* When Ginger died in Black Beauty, so did my innocence!

By the end of high school, I had done poorly enough on the math portion of the SATs to know that my path lay in something English-related. But I was afraid to major in English—what was I going to be, a writer? I might as well have gone into art!
I ended up majoring in advertising, after switching from psychology, which involved more math than I could stomach. However, upon graduation, I had a Say Anything moment, during which I realized I didn’t want to sell anything. So I went to grad school for a Masters in journalism. After internships at Chicago and Atlanta magazines, I was ready for the world, and I moved to New York City, the city of big dreams. My first job was at Starbucks!

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