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July 24, 2014

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Diversity 101: Addressing the Need for Diversity in Materials for Kids | ALA Midwinter 2014

diversity image Diversity 101: Addressing the Need for Diversity in Materials for Kids | ALA Midwinter 2014Approximately 50 librarians and educators joined the Children’s Book Council’s (CBC) Diversity group in a lively discussion about the need for diversity in children’s books in a program that took place on January 25 during the American Library Association’s (ALA) Midwinter meeting. In a panel moderated by Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein, three children’s book editors and one librarian shared the CBC Diversity’s goals to promote diversity in the content of books for young people; their latest initiative, “Diversity 101” blog series; and to promote ALSC’s (Association for Library Services to Children) Día de los niños/Día de los libros literacy event on April 30.

Klein opened up the program with an introduction to the CBC Diversity and its initiatives, emphasizing the group’s latest blog series, “Diversity 101,” which aims to dispel the common misconceptions and missteps of writers trying to create books with diverse characters. Among the acclaimed authors contributing their thoughts were Andrea Davis Pinkney, who addressed the trend of relegating a character of color to sidekick roles; Joseph Bruchac, who touched upon common stereotypes for American Indian characters; and Kayla Whaley, who pointed to the The Disabled Saint pitfall of characterization, in which characters with disabilities are often portrayed as perfect beings and not multidimensional. The series revealed a variety of ways that readers, educators, publishing professionals, and aspiring authors could become aware of their own microaggressions—interactions between those of different races, cultures, or genders that can be interpreted as small acts of mostly non-physical aggression—when it comes to differences in others.

diversity committee badge 200 Diversity 101: Addressing the Need for Diversity in Materials for Kids | ALA Midwinter 2014Wendy Lamb, publisher and editor of Penguin Random House shared that in the course of working with the committee, and in her professional career, she has learned that diversity encompasses not only people of color, but also members of other marginalized groups, such as people with disabilities, mental illness, and weight issues. The editor of books such as Christopher Paul Curtis’s Bud, Not Buddy, (1999), she often works with authors writing from an outsider’s perspective. “Graham Salisbury who writes about Japanese Americans in Hawaii in Under the Blood Red Sun (1994, both Delacorte), grew up in that community and always has his books vetted by members of that community,” she said.

Dan Ehrenhaft, editorial director at Soho Teen spoke about the importance of authenticity in teen books with diverse characters. When working with an author who is writing about an underrepresented group, he feels the responsibility as an editor to familiarize himself with the community. Ehrenhaft has found that in his research, there are usually more universalities than differences. He says, “There is no normal. Let’s embrace it and not be afraid to have that conversation.”

Panelist and Little, Brown editor Connie Hsu considered herself “White” for most of her childhood and began to confront issues of race and ethnicity when she went to college. Hsu encourages aspiring authors to hone their craft and apply for agent Barry Goldblatt’s scholarship for writers of color. She pointed out different successful fantasy series, such as Malinda Lo’s “Inheritance” books (Little, Brown), Marie Lu’s “Legend” trilogy (Putnam), and Marissa Moss’s “Lunar Chronicles”(Macmillan), that feature diverse characters and settings, but have become universally popular.

Klein, who is an executive editor at Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine imprint, mentioned that often writers of color don’t even send submissions to her, even though she’s been looking for manuscripts with diverse points of view for years. Last year, she received only two submissions from people of color and ended up acquiring one of them.

Ana-Elba Pavon, children’s librarian at the Oakland Public Library and a leader REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking) tries to incorporate diversity in a variety of ways in her urban community. She uses social media, book displays, and book lists to increase awareness about books that celebrate diversity. Pavon also relies on publishers, authors, and illustrators who traditionally create books for the Latino and Spanish-speaking community to incorporate in her library, especially in preparation for Día. Now rebranded as “Diversity in Action,” Día is an opportunity for librarians to celebrate children of all backgrounds, Pavon emphasized. At her library, a bilingual musician will be singing in English and Spanish and all of the children will receive a book from the library.

The panel also presented practical ways that librarians can raise awareness about diverse books and promote and use them in their programming. Attendees were encouraged to write letters to publishers about successful diverse books, promote state book lists that feature multicultural titles, continue to curate lists and be active on social media and blogs, incorporate titles by people of color in book clubs and book fairs, and get involved with ALA’s five ethnic caucuses.

During the question and answer period Oralia Garza de Cortés, a leading member of REFORMA and cofounder of the Pura Belpré Award, passionately spoke about the need for transparency between publishers and librarians.  “I know a lot of you are doing good things, but if you want to make a difference you have to talk to us. A lot more conversation needs to be had: How are publishers being held accountable?”

Garza de Cortés called for more substantial changes and goals. She added, “Show us the statistics. Put a target: ‘This year we’re going to publish two books and start from there.’ Let’s have a meeting with REFORMA. What are you doing to promote the Belpré [Award], if they’re all out of print? We know the Latino community. We know the writers that are getting the door shot on them and they are now turning to self-publishing.”

In response, Hsu acknowledged that in the future, panels about diversity should be arranged in a more conversational format, instead of having an invisible wall between attendees and speakers. In the coming weeks, a full recording of the event will be posted on CBC Diversity’s website.

 

 

Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is Senior Editor of School Library Journal's Reviews. She recently received her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

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  1. I am a mixed-race writer of color and I sent a manuscript to Cheryl Klein last year. I am apparently not being counted in the two writers of color who sent her manuscripts, since I did not mention my race, and my manuscript had nothing to do with race, Why would Ms. Klein assume that all the people sending her non-race-related manuscripts are white? I am more than my ethnicity.

  2. ps, That was not intended to be a dig at Ms. Klein, I think this assumption is pervasive in the children’s book world and beyond. I may choose at some point to write about diversity and ethnicity (in fact I have, but not my own ethnicity, so far, I chose to write ), but I also want to write funny animal stories and such. Simply being a writer of color is diversifying the children’s book world. Writers of color are free to tackle any subject matter. We can write about people of color of any color, just as white writers write about minorities. It’s all good. If we are to go toward a color-blind society, we should accept the diversity of interests within the diverse body of writers. An editor can’t know what color the writer is who sent a story, and that is as it should be.

    • pps I mean the editor won’t and should not know UNLESS the author chooses to tell the editor, which is fine too, and which would likely only happen if it were relevant to the manuscript. I know lots of writers and illustrators of color who are writing and illustration ethnic-neutral work. When I wrote about a different ethnicity, I did not tell my agent, whom I only knew through online/phone contact, about my ethnicity, as I saw no reason to. Were I to write about my own ethnicity (-ies), or a story about being mixed, I’d mention it, as it would be relevant.

      Do publishers like to know when authors are people of color, even if the stories don’t reflect their ethnicity, or have no connection to ethnicity?

  3. I cordially invite Cheryl Klein to push her management to include Latina-owned publishing firms in the Scholastic universe, like the one I founded three years in the San Francisco Bay area. We exclusively publish books and eBooks for the K-12 market that showcase the contributions of Latino Americans in the USA. We believe Latinos and Latinas are best positioned to write about Latinos and Latinos instead of the typically-contracted authors “studying up” on how to incorporate characters of color into new books.

    And there’s the business side of things to consider: by starting publishing companies to publish Latino Lit, we join the ranks of publishers collecting the “publisher’s compensation” portion of global sales and distribution, and not the crumbs left over for authors in the traditional publishing model who must wait years for an agent and big publishing house to move on their ideas. No thank you. Some of us choose to be entrepreneurs as we deliver award-winning books into the world.

    Scholastic has proven, so far, to be too paranoid to engage in negotiations with independent publishing firms like ours, preferring instead to work with “established” agents and publishers. That’s NOT a recipe for diversity, inclusion and change….that’s the exact opposite. That is what is REALLY going on – the big, rich boys wanting only to continue to do business within the club. Ms. Klein’s comment that only two writers of color submitted manuscripts is a nice attempt to shift the blame and assumes too much.

    I’d love to see her leadership in hosting a Scholastic event that invites small publishers whose OWNERS are from populations typically excluded, to showcase our award-winning books. That would greatly expedite getting to REAL diversity in your catalogs and book fairs and less Harry Potter/Lego/ Star Wars offerings that are no longer literature but toy catalogs disguised as book. (I’m the mother of 3 school-aged kids – can you tell?)

    Thank you. I look forward to a call from Scholastic to discuss.

    Graciela Tiscareño-Sato
    http://about.me/gracielaTSato

    CEO, Publisher, Speaker, Military Veteran
    Gracefully Global Group LLC
    http://www.GracefullyGlobal.com

  4. Cheryl Klein says:

    Thanks to Shelley for alerting me that these comments came up here. I’m sorry that either I misspoke or Shelley misheard my remark on the panel about “only two _______” (and panels move so quickly, either could easily have happened); what I should have said was that I received only two submissions featuring African-American boys as protagonists in 2012 — a number that came easily to mind because I’d been part of an online discussion about that subject last year. Again, I’m sorry for the mistake, and I am glad to say that I have received submissions from many more writers of color than just two!

    As to your larger point about this, Vicky: I agree with everything you say. I do personally like to know when an author or illustrator is a person of color, because that authenticity counts for something if they’re writing about a subject related to or a protagonist of their ethnicity, and because I’d like to see the number of such authors and illustrators in the industry increase no matter the subject matter. But I can see why writers might feel uncomfortable with that, and other editors may feel differently, and it’s absolutely your right to share that information or not.

    Graciela, the issue you write about is a matter for a division other than mine, so I don’t know enough about it to make an informed response; but I will pass your comment on. I wish you and your publishing company the best of luck.

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