October 15, 2017

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When Publishing and Reviewing Diverse Books, Is Expertise Overrated? | Opinion

At the beginning of 2016, Lee & Low Books released the Diversity Baseline Survey  (DBS), which surveyed publishing and review journal staffs to establish hard numbers that measured diversity in the publishing/review industry. Overall, the industry is 79 percent white*, 78 percent female*, 88 percent straight*, and 92 percent nondisabled*.

After the DBS numbers were made public in January 2016, publishers announced many new initiatives. In February 2016, Simon & Schuster launched a new imprint, Salaam Reads, to focus on Muslim stories for children. In March 2016, Penguin partnered with We Need Diverse Books and introduced the Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry Writing Contest for debut authors of color. In July 2016, Christopher Myers joined with Random House to launch the Make Me a World Imprint, which will focus on diversity. In September 2016, First Book and the National Education Association (NEA) partnered with Lee & Low Books to expand the publisher’s New Visions Award for debut middle grade and young adult authors of color. And review journals such as School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and the Horn Book have been making concerted efforts to diversify their reviewer pools.

All of these separate initiatives are positive steps toward creating a more inclusive industry, but inevitably, some mistakes will be made along the way. Recently several titles have stirred up controversy: A Fine Dessert, for illustrations that showed happy enslaved people; A Birthday Cake for George Washington, for illustrations that also showed happy enslaved people (the book was eventually pulled from circulation by publisher); When We Was Fierce, for using a fictional vernacular and for other problematic depictions that were offensive to the African American community (that book was withheld from release by the publisher); and There Is a Tribe of Kids, for illustrations coupled with the word tribe that created problematic associations of playing Indian that were offensive to Native and First Nations people. Almost all these titles earned significant praise from major reviewer journals before they encountered protests from academics and readers of color for being culturally inaccurate and/or racially offensive. By the time this article prints, more books may be challenged.

Why does this keep happening? Well, two things are occurring at once. Publishers are still making books that showcase talented authors and illustrators, whose writing garners critical acclaim. This is their expertise. At the same time, both publishers and reviewers are inadvertently showing their blind spots.

If you dedicate a number of years to a chosen field, you eventually become good at it. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, states that true mastery can be achieved with 10,000 hours of practice, which is the equivalent of 10 years. Since many people working in publishing have been at their jobs for more than a decade, we could safely consider them experts at many things: crafting beautiful books, crafting books that win awards, crafting books that garner starred reviews. Likewise, many reviewers have spent years training themselves to pick out exceptional books from a literary point of view.

However, few people in publishing would consider themselves experts in diversity issues. I have been working in publishing for nineteen years, but I do not consider myself an authority. When it comes to diversity, most of us are still rookies. Not even people of color are automatic experts.

Here is an example. Let’s say Lee & Low Books was going to publish a book with an Asian theme. I am of Asian descent, so it makes sense that I would have an authentic perspective on the themes in this book. And I do. I know firsthand what the minority experience is like in this country. There are some cultural issues on which I would be able to offer sensitive feedback. But if for argument’s sake, the story delves deeply into Asian history of any kind, for that particular part of the story, I am not your guy. The editor of the book would have to seek out a person with expert credentials to vet this part for historical accuracy. The same kind of vetting is necessary for, but not limited to, parts of stories relating to vernacular, dialect, religion, locale, foods, sexual orientation, fashion/appearance, and politics.

Over the years, editors and reviewers develop strong instincts about what makes a great story from literary and sales perspectives. But they are still in the early stages of developing these instincts when it comes to evaluating diverse content. At the very least, they must develop reliable instincts that notice red flags, alerting them to potential problems in a text or an illustration and the need to consult with someone more knowledgeable. They must be able to see their own blind spots and admit how much they don’t know.

While this solution sounds logical and somewhat obvious, it is not easy. It is difficult for people who consider themselves experts in their fields to admit that they do not know stuff. There is also the lingering problem that if your staff lacks diversity, who are you going to ask for initial feedback? And do not even think of handing all the diverse books to the one person of color you have on staff to do sensitivity reads. One person cannot possibly be expected to speak for his or her entire cultural/racial/ethnic group, let alone for others outside that person’s experience. This is outside the scope of anyone’s realistic expertise.

At Lee & Low, one attempt to increase people’s knowledge and sensitivity has been ongoing staff training. Last year, the majority of our staff underwent diversity training. Initially, when Allie Jane Bruce, children’s librarian at Bank Street College of Education, suggested we invest in diversity training, I was not open to it. Lee & Low has been at the forefront of publishing diverse children’s books for more than two decades. We talk about diversity issues all the time. In my mind, we had paid our dues and had invested the time and money to acquire diversity training on the job. I thought we were already experts, but one thought kept coming back to me. Since I personally push myself to read and learn about racism and discrimination issues anyway, was there really such a thing as too much knowledge? So I changed my mind and we underwent the training. We listened and we learned. It was worth it. Today we reinforce our past training by conducting our own in-house diversity meetings every couple of months to stay sharp on the issues. Our staff is becoming more comfortable discussing what society deems too taboo to be brought up at the dinner table. The learning continues.

Publishing is a super detail-oriented profession. We strive for near-perfection and collectively get bent out of shape when a typo makes it all the way to print without someone catching it. Imagine the horror, not to mention loss of revenue, when an incident of cultural appropriation, a whitewashed cover, or an unintended incident of overt racism makes it to print and readers call you on it. Now imagine that you are a review journal that has just given a star to the offending book. We do not have to imagine these things because they are happening right now. Such incidents make our industry lose credibility. The books that are challenged are questioned about their quality as works of literature and the impact they will have on young readers. But these books have also sparked questions in the minds of some readers about whether or not reviewers are in a position to judge accurately what constitutes good literature, especially when it comes to diverse titles.

There are no shortcuts for the kind of vetting that needs to take place when publishing and reviewing the authenticity of diverse books. As with publishing in general, becoming an expert in diverse publishing and reviewing requires time and effort—perhaps even 10,000 hours.

While many publishers know how to make great books and reviewers are adept at spotting good stories, diversity is still outside most of our industry’s wheelhouse. Given that the majority of publishing staff is 79 percent white and reviewer staff is 89 percent  white, we must ask ourselves whether the current workforce can ever treat the subject matter of diverse books with the same amount of deep understanding, compassion, and respect that books with white protagonists receive.

The data from the DBS revealed the lack of diversity in publishing and reviewing and acted as one of the catalysts that prompted some in the industry to start the long process for change. An increase in diverse staff at all levels will bring more cultural insight and make for better books. Hopefully, public controversies will not deter publishers from tackling diverse books, but will instead have the opposite effect of galvanizing people to rise to the challenge. Controversies should help us see our blind spots better, and inspire us to take the time to become experts in areas where we fall short. We have a long way to go before we achieve any kind of parity of representation. Diversity work is not easy, but worthwhile goals rarely are.

On a macro level, publishing does not operate in a vacuum. Other industries, such as film, television, and theater struggle with their own sets of diversity gaps**. Society at large is at a crossroads when it comes to race and diversity. The issues are constantly and vehemently debated in the news and online. Our future relative to how we relate to one another as human beings is uncertain now that new leadership has been chosen, which will influence the trajectory of progress or retreat for years to come. When we conduct the Diversity Baseline Survey v.2.0, what will the numbers say? Will the current political dysfunction dictate our industry’s lack of diversity, or will we forge our own path? Whatever the survey results tell us, it will be clear where we stand, since the numbers do not lie.

* The data is from the Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS), located at: http://wp.me/p5BWS6-35T

** Lee & Low posted the Diversity Gap series on blog.leeandlow.com, which shows statistics and interviews related to diversity problems in other industries.

Jason Low is the publisher and a co-owner of Lee & Low Books, the largest multicultural children’s book publisher in the United States. Founded in 1991, Lee & Low celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 2016. Lee & Low was named the 2014 Indie Publisher of the Year by Foreword Magazine. The Eric Carle Museum also selected Lee & Low as the recipient of its 2016 Angel Award for the company’s dedication to diverse books and to a new generation of artists and authors who offer children both mirrors and windows to the world.

 

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  1. Michael Grant says:

    Perfect. We’ve just elected a misogynist, racist, fascist wanna-be, every troglodyte pig and junior KKK member is turning handsprings, and over here in kidlit world we’re still prattling on about cultural appropriation.

    Hey: 50% of the country just told people like us to drop dead. Actual children, Latinos and Muslims in particular, are scared to death and with good cause. Maybe time to wonder if we’ve lost the plot just a bit? Maybe start by asking ourselves how good a job we’ve done conveying basic civic virtues and a core understanding of democracy? Maybe wonder why we’re still parading our exquisitely-attuned sensitivities at a point where we writers and librarians and teachers are having the limits of our influence rudely shoved in our faces? Because I really don’t think we’re doing our readers or the country much good getting ever more precious in our detection of error. It is time to cut this academic b.s. and get ready to push back against a very non-imaginary, completely un-nuanced, actual, flesh-and-blood, no-semantic-analysis-required, straight up misogynist and racist.

    That, Mr. Low, is the fight, not sieving for obscure examples of cultural appropriation.

    We are no longer reading The Boy Who Cried Wolf now, it’s The Three Little Pigs and there’s an honest-to-God wolf at the door. We have real evil to deal with, we don’t need the artisanal kind.

    • Michael Grant just spewed a whole of name calling. Sounds like he’s not conveying basic civic virtures.

    • Michael, I understand your anger. You better believe I’m angry too. And the wolf isn’t at the door, he’s in the living room sitting in your favorite chair. I wrote this article weeks ago and while I agree with you that the parameters of the fight have changed since the election results, the work does continue. Think long game and short game. Yes, half the country did vote DT into the oval office, but a good portion of the chatter taking place is emphatically saying: “I voted for DT b/c of the jobs, I’m not a racist”. So if we work with that and separate the callous and very public racism that is taking place from the moderate folks out there, there is still a chance to find common ground. The kind of training I spoke about, and the org Allie mentioned below, will help to change hearts and minds (long game). While the short game does have to do with the midterm elections two years from now, what we say to our kids today and how we say it matters a great deal.

      • Michael Grant says:

        This is a battle. We need to draw defensible lines. Defending the craziest extension of those lines is a losing proposition. It encourages the formation of circular firing squads among those of us on the Left.

        Downstream here I have Debbie Reese ranting about some book she imagines I wrote. I have literally no idea what she’s talking about, I don’t recall writing about Native Americans, but I’ve written 150ish books, so who knows? But without context, or explanation, or justification, Ms. Reese says:

        “That book where you erase Native people right away? That’s messed up. Given other things you’ve said, I think you’re part of the problem. I know you think you’re Mr. Sensitivity, but, nope. Tell yourself that, all you want. I disagree.”

        So, because of some imaginary infraction that has evidently gone unnoticed by any of the millions of actual kids and librarians etc… who’ve read my books over the course of 27 years, I’m “part of the problem.”

        Setting aside the crazies, what we need is Massive Cultural Resistance. Those not familiar with the admittedly obscure notion of the “Overton Window” you can Google it for a more coherent explanation, but in essence it means that events can shift the parameters of what can be considered civil conversation. Trump’s election will shift the Overton Window. Our job is to not let that happen.

        Challenge Number One is for publishers of Trump biographies for kids. Will they or will they not tell the truth? This will be telling.

        We should agree as writers and publishers not to let that happen. We should agree that any writer or publisher who collaborates with the Trump regime is effectively Vichy and no longer to be considered, shall we say, good company. But we need to draw the battle line rationally, along defensible lines.

        “Cultural appropriation” for example, is not defensible, it’s a stupid concept. You know all those Bibles in hotel rooms and churches? Turns out it was all written by Jews! And we’d like our royalties now. Not a defensible idea.

        Nor is treating a picture of a smiling slave as some sort of crime against humanity.

        It’s time for manufactured grievance to give way to the real thing. Because we can fight the real thing, but not if we’re busy looking like hysterical idiots.

        • Still not OK to go off on Mr. Low like this, Mr. Grant.

        • Michael Grant-
          Instead of lashing out at people you think are “prattling on about cultural appropriation” why not channel your anger into joining an ally organization? Why not uplift marginalized voices in the kidlit community? Why not listen to the experiences of those who are marginalized to build some empathy? I’m pretty sure people of color are pretty damn aware of what’s happening to their communities considering they are on the receiving end of hate since Trump was elected. So telling people of color what they should be worried about is the epitome of privilege.

          You’ve listed some things you’ve done to prove that you’re not a part of the problem. You’ve donated, you’ve tweeted, congratulations! Not sure if you only did that to prove how much of a great person you are (and you’ve done such a stellar job might I add), but people like Jason and Debbie have also been doing the work for years, and guess what they’ve received just by defending their humanity? They’ve been threatened, patronized, and silenced by people in positions of power. You claim you are not a part of the problem yet you lash out at people who’s lives are the most at stake? Especially now more than ever?

          I think Allie Jane said it best, you undermine everything you claim to stand for.

          • Michael Grant says:

            “So telling people of color what they should be worried about is the epitome of privilege.”

            And where did I do that?

        • You don’t remember, Michael Grant… That’s telling. That nobody has noted it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. That’s just an indicator of the depth of ignorance out there about how writers like you create Native characters for your books.

          I’m looking at it right now. And I’m not going to tell you what it is. Own it. Look for it yourself.

          • Michael Grant says:

            [This comment has been removed because it violates our comment policy: “Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.”]

        • Mr. Grant,

          Please understand that many of us are also scared and worried. This election has brought out the worst in people and Trump’s hateful rhetoric has emboldened and encouraged this. BUT when you say that talking about cultural appropriation and diversity in the kid lit world is “not defensible” and “a stupid concept,” I feel like you’re missing the point.

          This fight to stand up against misogyny and racism that you mention *starts* with understanding where it comes from in the first place. Here’s a hypothetical situation: what if Donald Trump had read children’s books featuring characters that were different than him? What if his parents read a story to him that featured a boy from Mexico? Or a girl that was Muslim? Children are very perceptive and what they encounter and learn about can shape how they interact with the world for the rest of their lives.

          So much of this fear comes from an unfamiliarity with another culture, society, religion, etc., but imagine if people took the time to learn about and accept these differences. So no, “prattling on about cultural appropriation” is NOT something that should be disregarded and brushed to the side. It should be part of the conversation, along with working alongside the marginalized communities. Putting down others will not move us forward, nor will it help us get through a Trump presidency.

          • Michael Grant says:

            Well, K, I agree. Which is why I’ve been doing it, as opposed to say, sitting on the sidelines taking cheap-shots at decent writers and gloating over the destruction of their books.

          • Derek Broughton says:

            K, I’m very afraid that Trump _has_ read stories about children who were different from him. Just not the sort of stories you’re thinking of. Perhaps stories by people who don’t get that cultural appropriation might be a HUGE (and current) issue.

    • Lydia Eickstaedt says:

      Never have I seen a published author so stridently shout “not all authors” and completely miss the point of the original article.

    • Michael R. Underwood says:

      I hear your anger about Trump’s election, and have that anger myself. There’s a lot to be angry about. But having a big problem doesn’t make smaller problems go away. Especially this one.

      But shutting ourselves off from feedback and critiques of our art due to a craft failure (because that’s what bad representation is – it’s a craft failure) will not make us better creators. It will mean we never get better, we never learn to more effectively affirm the lives and realities of a broader and broader range of humanity. Cultural appropriation is part of a broader set of behaviors and assumptions that marginalize the very people you rightly point out are already at risk. Better representation lets us bridge the gaps of our difference and focus on the core humanity we share and how it manifests in many different, all still human ways. We fight fascism, misogyny, xenophobia, ableism, and other forms of hate in many ways, and one of them is to listen to people when they tell us our work was hurtful.

    • Wow. Cannot believe how completely self-interested some white authors are… It’s times like these that we need more voices and when white authors need to be more aware of cultural appropriation.

    • Michael Grant, I am thoroughly left-leaning and profoundly anti-Trump, and I find yours to be a voice of reason throughout this comments section. The worst I can say for you is that I think you’ve wasted far too much breath arguing articulately with people whose minds were made up against you from the get-go.

      Perhaps you can save some of the comments you’ve made here so that they may be cannibalized for future use, somewhere that doesn’t have this community’s inability to adjust its focus and pick its battles. It’s just a shame for your well-considered words to go to waste.

  2. For anyone interested in doing the work: I highly recommend The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond’s Undoing Racism training (pisab.org). It provides language, connections, and tools to turn our good intentions into concrete, organizing actions we can undertake, and a common analysis.

    Mr. Grant – Surely you understand that this article was written, and scheduled, before the election. I appreciate your anger. I’m angry too. But it is not OK for you to lash out against Jason Low, a person of color who has been working tirelessly for change. You undermine everything you claim to stand for.

    • Thanks, Jason, for this post. Whether before or after the election, what you’ve said is important.

      And Michael? That book where you erase Native people right away? That’s messed up. Given other things you’ve said, I think you’re part of the problem. I know you think you’re Mr. Sensitivity, but, nope. Tell yourself that, all you want. I disagree.

      • Michael Grant says:

        Tell you what, Ms. Reese, I will donate a thousand dollars to the charity of your choice if you can substantiate your claim that I “erased Native Americans.” I don’t even know what that means. How in God’s name would I have erased anyone? Are you referring to some piece of speculative fiction that failed to mention Native Americans? WTF are you talking about, lady?

        I’m part of the problem? I donated 6k (give or take) to Hillary or to other Democratic candidates. (Yay Cortez Masto. And. . . Okay, not a lot of other “yays!”) I’ve tweeted incessantly, to an unhinged degree against Trump and in support of the values of the Left. I flew myself down to Vegas and walked the precincts knocking on doors for three days. My current work is a rather massive trilogy that re-imagines WW2 with women in combat and deals with race and gender issues in ways that have earned virtually universal praise from reviewers and readers. . . And yet, golly, I’m part of the problem.

        Or. Or, just spitballing here, maybe you’re nuts. And we should all just ignore you.

        Prove your case, Ms. Reese: I dare you.

        • Also not OK to go off on Debbie like this, Mr. Grant. Not OK.
          (I am employing the same tactic here that I use on kids who are throwing tantrums. At some point, I say, OK, the rest of the class needs to move on; from now on I will not respond to you except to name the fact that this behavior is not OK.)

          • Michael Grant says:

            I see, but Ms. Reese’s McCarthyism is OK?

            What do you say to your kids when they accuse someone of something with no substantiation whatsoever? Do you even know what Ms. Reese is talking about, because I don’t? Or are you just assuming I must be wrong because I’m not one of the cool kids? Am I not allowed to defend myself against charges? Are we down to any accused person is guilty?

            Why do you rush to support a random accusation presented without specificity or support? Do you teach anything about the Hollywood Black List in your school? Do you have any independent support for the idea that I am “part of the problem?” If you do, produce it. But let’s cut to the chase: you don’t. Because I’m not. Which means what you’ve done is come rushing in here to echo a scurrilous accusation against an innocent person. With all the condescension you can muster.

            Now, I know in your head you’re the voice of reason. And you probably are most of the time. But in this case, you are not. In this case you’ve just done a somewhat bad thing without intending to. Like, say, a writer making a dumb joke at an award’s ceremony, or an artist drawing a smile on a slave.

            And may I just point out that politically we lost in a near even split, but if I and anyone to my right is now ‘the problem’ the next election will be 99.9 to .01.

          • This is a pretty remarkable moment for me. I’ve been called a Communist many times before (usually jokingly), and now I’m accused of supporting McCarthyism and Black List ideology. And, I’m pretty sure that this is the first time anyone’s EVER called me the voice of reason in any way.

            I have no idea how to tell whether you’re one of the cool kids, having never been one myself.

            How about this: I’ll try to be less condescending in the future, and you try to warrant it less.

            Listen to Debbie and do your work.

            Also not OK to go off on me.

      • Debbie – thank you for reminding me that Jason’s piece matters before or after the election. I just realized that my first answer (“surely you understand…”) implies that I think the election result rendered it less important. I don’t. Personally, I would have rescheduled this piece for a week or two later, and I would have revised it a bit to reflect the election (or at least included something at the top along the lines of “Note that this was written before the election and that is why you will not see any references to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”) but only because I think people would be better able to receive it that way. I am so sorry that I implied that this topic is now less important, because of Trump. It’s not less important, it’s more important. We are not going back to square one on calling racism what it is, or on fighting for a good & accurate representation, or on fighting for equity that would allow for more #OwnVoices. Taking one step back on any of those is not on the table. Thank you for a great article, and I apologize again for my first comment.

        This is for everyone, not just for Debbie, and just because I can’t say it often enough: Get thee to a training! There are many wonderful anti-racist trainings, but the People’s Institute is the gold standard (seriously their trainers are some of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my entire life and I don’t usually acknowledge that ANYONE is smarter than me) and you will come out with tools, skills, language, connections, a common analysis and the principles needed to undo racism in yourself and others. I know I sound like a missionary (apologies). I’ve done 5 myself and have committed to doing another in the next 6 months because I seriously can’t get enough of them.

  3. Crouch C.W. says:

    Yawn. What does “diversity” have to do with “sensitivity”?

    What the publishing world needs is diverse *thinkers* and people willing to engage in strenuous and thoughtful argument and discussion, not “sensitivity” and “diversity” “training” based upon “cultural/racial/ethnic groups.”

    Living, breathing individual human beings are not reducable to mere “cultural/racial/ethnic groups.”

    * * * * *

    • Michael Grant says:

      I think I might have agreed with you before, but if this cycle has shown anything it’s that white people really don’t get what racism is. Frankly, the Left is to blame for some of that since – not to beat the same horse too much – we have managed to define racism down from the genuine evil it is, to a trivial thing about manners.

      Racism is Dachau and the Trail of Tears and the Middle Passage and more examples than I have time to list. I think we have done a disservice to readers and ourselves as writers by defining it down to a question of whether we can find a single crank to be offended. Having reduced racism to mere manners we’ve left kids unprepared to recognize satan when he comes stomping into the room shaking a pitchfork at us.

      But at the same time I spend a lot of my time talking politics (I probably write more about politics than I do YA) and I know very intelligent white guys who still think all that’s required is to say, “I’m not a racist, but. . .”

      • Elizabeth Perry says:

        Listen carefully to what you just said.
        “I think I might have agreed with you before, but if this cycle has shown anything it’s that white people really don’t get what racism is.

        Racism is Dachau and the Trail of Tears and the Middle Passage and more examples than I have time to list. I think we have done a disservice to readers and ourselves as writers by defining it down to a question of whether we can find a single crank to be offended. ”

        In your first sentence, you admitted that white people don’t get what racism is. Then immediately afterward you define racism. It doesn’t work that way. If you admit that people who aren’t white have a better idea of what racism looks like, then you shouldn’t be laying down definitions. You should be listening to people of color, and their experiences, and accepting those experiences as valid, if you want to live up to your first sentence.

        Calling Debbie Reece, a Nambe Pueblo Indian woman who has been working on Native representation in children’s literature for over ten years, “a crank” does not indicate that you’re living up to your first sentence.

      • Jen Nabers says:

        I’m just befuddled by Mr Grant’s thinking that racism only arrives into the world as full-blown genocidal acts. Wondering how millions of people become complicit in those acts is a question that he doesn’t seem to think about at all. As it turns out, we actually know that white-washing and silencing oppressed groups is one of the “steps” along the way to creating a people that will commit atrocities like The Trail of Tears and Dachau. If we want to end racism, yes, we have to be willing to stand up to big, full-blown racist actions and people. But we also need to listen to the voices of marginalized people, not tell them their concerns are for “crazies” or that they are “stupid.”

        What does Mr. Grant tell the kids who ask for books that represent their lives, concerns, and experiences? His comments here are the equivalent of… “Sorry, kid. We’ve got real racism and sexism to fix. Here enjoy another book about a white boy while we grown-ups fix the world. Don’t worry. We got this.” But that’s so patronizing. There’s no better way to tell kids that they don’t matter than to show them they aren’t worthy of being part of the story of America.

        If you can look at the stats in the article above and not be concerned, then you are part of the problem.
        I’m a white person. We must listen when people of color speak and tell us about their experiences in the world, regardless of whether it’s a huge arena like a national election, or a small arena like our classrooms and libraries. I don’t have any influence on elections except with my one vote; my classroom may be small, but it’s the place where I spend 8 hours a day. We all have our spheres of influence. I’d argue we must do the work in every arena if we want to move forward battling hatred in America.

        As for the kid lit world, the most trustworthy people in it seem to be the ones who talk about their students/their kids/their readers. I’m automatically suspicious of Mr. Grant. He’s talked about his donations/his volunteering/his many hours of service/his books/his feelings/his anger/his outrage…etc. I’m going to keep reading and see if anywhere in here he talks about his readers.

        • Derek Broughton says:

          so, THIS.

          Yeah, racism is Dachau. But if we think that anything less than Dachau is NOT racism, the fight is lost. Racism begins with those little acts that anybody could forgive. But shouldn’t have to.

          And yes, I’m a middle aged Male WASP.

  4. Kudos, Jason, for being on the forefront of the effort to share an open-minded vision about diversity and inclusion for almost two decades. It does feel like we’re facing a different national discussion at this moment, but your article is just as relevant, if not more. If I’ve learned anything from the election results, is that for a broad part of the population, race is just not at the forefront of their thinking. The privilege of not having to think about race (or the consequences of their choices on people superficially unlike themselves) is the same privilege that leads to the reviewers/ publishers not being equipped to assess the accuracy or sensitivity of a diverse book. It’s all part of the mindset that racial equality is an afterthought, a check box to check, instead of the central moral issue (inequality in general) in our society. So it does matter that publishers do their best to expand their lists to be more inclusive, and to do it well. And yes, the Titanic is sinking, but Lee and Low is doing a pretty darn good job throwing out those lifeboats, publishing books about inclusion, acceptance, diversity.

  5. For those who haven’t seen Michael Grant’s proclamations on diversity, see his blog post here:
    https://medium.com/@MichaelGrantBks/on-diversity-fa3cefb0e0a7#.n29p22u11

    He started with this:
    “Let me put this right up front: there is no YA or middle grade author of any gender, or of any race, who has put more diversity into more books than me. Period.”

    And then offers to give money to a favorite charity if you can prove there’s someone who has done more.

    And then, he lists all the books where he has diverse characters. But none where there’s a main character who is Native. That he does, in fact, have one in a book and can’t remember tells me a lot.

    • Michael Grant says:

      Name the book, Ms. Reese. Name the book.

      • Andrew Patterson says:

        Actually, she was asking which book it was as it was your original claim. You wrote the book, I would think you would remember a character.

        And I am always very leery of people who state “I have done more X for X than anyone.” I believe our current president elect said “I have more respect for women than anyone” just prior to insulting Secretary Clinton. Not to mention his many previous statements degrading women for one reason or another.

        I agree that we need to stand up to racism, and other intolerance, but screaming at these two people is not an effective use of your time and energy. There are MANY organizations who would love your support. Focus on them, not on yourself.

        • Michael Grant says:

          I do. Believe it or not my political life is not limited to the comments section at SLJ. I’d be happy to detail some of what I do, some of what I spend and contribute, but of course you could just fall back on the facile, “I am always very leery of people who state.”

          In this world accusation = guilt, and defense = compounded guilt, and facts = nothing.

          You are defending a woman who says she is looking directly at a book which she will not name, because naming it means fact-checking, and her whole lie falls apart. And you support that. Got it.

          • Andrew Patterson says:

            I do not doubt that you do contribute to organizations. However, I do take issue with your self-aggrandizing statement suggesting that nobody else could do more than you do for minorities. It’s a false statement that suggests you are some sort of savior. This may not be your intention at all, but it is what people see.

            I would also like to comment on your statement about the kidlit community “prattling on about cultural appropriation.” As a fellow writer, you know the power of words. Words change minds. Books change minds. Part of the reason we have someone like Trump as president-elect is because we turned a blind eye towards these mentalities both in life and on the page. We allowed racism, homophobia, sexism, Islamophobia, and others to because part of the tapestry of our country. This doesn’t happen at the government level. This happens at the word level. Individuals normalizing these behaviors as “this is what happens” and “boys will be boys” etc. So yes, the conversation is VERY important in the literature world. We have to change people’s perceptions at the story level. If we allow appropriation and racism exist here, then it will continue to exist outside of literature.

            Remember, The Bible and Koran are both books that have guided countless people over centuries. Those teachings, those words, have defined the lives of literally millions of people. They have also, in the wrong hands, caused unending strife, wars, and deprivation. For more recent examples, Upton Sinclair’s THE JUNGLE helped expose the horrendous conditions of the meat packing industry and brought about real change.

            So yes, be angry and stand up against the true enemy of intolerance and hatred, not us. We are not your enemy.

      • Michael,
        I could suggest you go read your books and find it, but even when you find it, you’ll argue with me about what you wrote and why it is a good thing.

        Everyone else,
        The book I’m referring to is GONE. On page 23, Grant introduces Lana. She’s in a truck with her grandfather (Grandpa Luke), who is Chumash, an alcoholic with dark brown skin. He is suddenly gone, as are other adults. That’s the premise for the book. Adults are suddenly gone. So, Grandpa Luke disappears–or is gone–from the story. Chumash never appears again in the book. The only thing that appears again, specific to Grandpa Luke is a coyote and what he taught her about coyotes.

        • Michael Grant says:

          Oh. My. God. You really are an. . . no, let’s not. Let’s pretend we’re talking to a rational human being..

          Here’s where you started:

          “That book where you erase Native people right away? That’s messed up. Given other things you’ve said, I think you’re part of the problem. I know you think you’re Mr. Sensitivity, but, nope. Tell yourself that, all you want. I disagree.”

          Erased. That’s the accusation. Erasure of Native people.

          And after repeatedly refusing to tell me what book you’re talking about, you cite a book where every single adult is disappeared. Your ‘erasing” of native Americans also erased African-Americans, Polish-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Norwegian-Americans, French-Americans, Italian-Americans. . . A thousand people or so. And then a bunch more people die, and I “erase” them, too.

          See, the premise of the book is that everyone over the age of 14 disappears. Was that hard for you to follow? Do you honestly intend to defend the idea that a minor adult character in an opening scene where every adult character goes away, is somehow a racist attack on Native Americans?

          You know, in my most recent book I “erase” millions!

          I want all the writers lurking out there to take a good, long look at this. This is ALL it takes to have Ms. Reese single you out and attack your work. This is what a slander by Ms. Reese is worth.

          • Your response, Michael Grant, shows your lack of serious engagement with anyone who has written critically about, in this specific case, Native characters and how they are used by writers.

          • Michael Grant: even if your intention wasn’t to erase a Native-American person in your book but to just erase someone who happened to be Native-American, it can’t be denied that it does happen in your book.. (it’s an almost funny coincidence if not intentional).
            That exchange with Debbie right there was an opportunity for you to acknowledge the erasure of Native-American culture and to help bring light to a marginalized group, but instead you refused to engage with the issue and focused defensively on your hurt reputation, co-opting the discussion to the hurt feelings of a white man, rather than on the genocide of a culture and understanding how we can move forward.

          • Rakesh Khanna says:

            If you’ve only ever included one Native American character in your fiction and that one character is a alcoholic who dies in the first scene, then yes, you have an issue with representation. That should not be hard to see. Please listen to Dr. Reese.

        • Michael Grant says:

          And for every person upstream who huffed about me having no idea what Ms. Reese was talking about, now you see why. That plus the small fact that I have 150 plus books, better than 30,000 published pages, uncounted thousands of characters extending over the course of a 27 year career, and you’re mad at me for not immediately guessing just what the nature of Ms. Reese’s lunacy was.

          • That is really not the impression I’m getting from this comment thread.

          • Mr. Grant –
            Your continued attempts to portray Dr. Reese as a hysterical female, rather than someone worthy of intelligent, rational engagement, belies your claims that you are against misogyny. You are, in fact, actively engaging in misogynistic rhetoric in your attempt to denounce her. I can’t claim to know if this is on purpose or if you are doing it subconsciously, but please stop. It demeans Dr. Reese, as well as every other woman in this forum.

          • Derek Broughton says:

            LOL. That’s an awful lot of words to use to replace: “Oh, I see. I fucked up.”

  6. I’m grateful for people like Jason Low and Debbie Reese, who are doing important work for underrepresented kids and working tirelessly, despite constant pushback, to make things better.

    • Seconded. This is a great essay that does something I’ve never seen in an essay on this topic before: It explains how and why even the most well-intentioned people and projects in publishing can go wrong, and one of the many steps we can take to think (and write and edit and create) better. Thanks, Jason.

  7. Michael Grant says:

    $333,000 in 2014, $68,000 in 2015. You know what that is, aside from an 80% drop in just one year? That’s what the organization, We Need Diverse Books took in.

    Why. That’s the question. Surely they’ve reached out to publishers. Surely they’ve reached out to writers of means. And yet, they took in one fifth of what they took in the previous year. What does that tell you? That the tactics employed by WNDB and its amen corners are working? Or does it maybe just slightly suggest that whatever they’re doing isn’t exactly helpful?

    Here’s an organization whose slogan easily 95% of writers and editors embrace. As I do. We do need diverse books. Everyone here, everyone at every school library, everyone in publishing, we all agree. And yet, somehow, WNDB is circling the drain.

    But like the Barry McGuire song goes, “You tell me over and over and over again, my friends, that you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.” I’m sure you all know the old saw about insanity being when you do the same thing and expect different results. So, how’s the shame and denounce and wallow in righteousness thing working?

    Publishers and individual donors shy away from WNDB because they think it’s a bunch of Debby Reeses. They think it looks shaky and unstable and it has a bad odor left from bullying Handler out of 100k. They shy away because people who should know better are congratulating themselves on the destruction of books. In short: WNDB allies and supporters have acted and sounded like extremist nuts. The smug circle does not attract new members. Of course it’s not intended to, is it, not really? The Reese et al circle of smug is all about feeling morally superior and owning a status.

    Now, if WNDB had chosen more rational leadership, if they had chosen a more rational path, they’d be cashing nice publisher checks and probably one of mine as well, and accomplishing a great deal more, because we all agree on the goal. But no one is giving money or supporting a McCarthyite hit squad composed of self-appointed inquisitors capable of losing its collective sh-t over imaginary infractions of unpublished rules.

    The people hurting the cause of diversity are those using it for self-aggrandizement or status or profit, and employing the most shameful of tactics in doing so.

    • Going off on WNDB is also not OK.

      • Michael Grant says:

        [This comment has been removed because it violates our comment policy: “Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.”]

    • I’m sorry, I thought I was done, but your accusations against WNDB are truly horrifying and need to be directly countered.

      “Publishers and individual donors shy away from WNDB because they think it’s a bunch of Debby Reeses. They think it looks shaky and unstable and it has a bad odor left from bullying Handler out of 100k.”

      The accusation that WNDB bullied 100k out of Handler is categorically false and maybe libel. (I’m not a lawyer but holy crap that is awful).

      Also you keep spelling Debbie wrong.

      • Michael Grant says:

        If I’ve said something factually incorrect about WNDB’s finances, please show your source. Mine is their annual reports as taken from their website.

        As for spelling Ms. Reese’s name incorrectly, I apologize most sincerely. It proves beyond any doubt that I am a bad, bad man.

        • The accusation that they “bullied” Mr. Handler out of the money is serious and categorically false.

          • By bully you mean Handler held accountable for a racist “joke” made in public at an event which undermined the award acceptance for an author of color. Handler offered an apology and a monetary donation. At least he tried to make up for his blunder.

            We Need Diverse Books is not made up of extremists. These are passionate advocates for children’s fiction. They do not require your approval for how they do business. If you believe they are failing, it is your choice not to support them, or possibly your choice could be to support them with efforts to further the larger cause. Your lashing out here is hurtful to many who’ve put countless hours of work in.

          • This comment directed at you Allie Jane.

          • NOT directed at you Allie Jane. *sigh* sorry.

  8. Part of this discussion seems to be about big racism vs “little racism”. Yes, the Trail of Tears is an example of a moment of horrific racism. But children dressing up as “Indians” for Halloween perpetuate those stereotype and other a group of people that leads to internalized racism that allows these bigger moments of racism to happen. As an example, Mr Grant uses both the idea that “you’re nuts” and calls Debbie Reese a crank in these comments. Those are age old terms used to demoralize and other those struggling with mental illness. They are little moments of bigotry and bias against a people group that leads to a cultural norm that stigmatizes mental illness. “Like a girl” and “don’t be a pussy” are sexist examples that do the same. The little moments do in fact matter because they feed into the big moments. The Holocause couldn’t have happened without years, decades, of stereotyping and accepted anti-Semitic speech and ideals. Our current state of affairs is less likely to have happened if we had all worked harder to call out the little moments of bigotry, racism and sexism that we see and hear on a daily basis. I’m terrified for the safety of my teens given current events. Language matters. Representation matters. The fight for justice must be done on both the micro and the macro level.

    • Michael Grant says:

      No, I’m sorry, but that is simply incorrect. Trivializing X makes cases of genuine X more difficult to confront. It’s the Boy Who Cried Wolf syndrome. If every time someone leaves the stove on for an extra minute you call the fire department, pretty soon they stop showing up. If very time I discover a mole I start freaking about cancer, pretty soon no one listens.

      And as we’ve just seen, all it takes for Ms. Reese to start accusing and slandering is for me to knock off a character who happens to be Native American. I threw the reference to the Chumash in as an effort to at least acknowledge that there are still Native Americans in SoCal. That was it. It’s a throwaway character we see for three pages out of a 1500 page series.

      Now, please ask yourself this: as a result of this approach by Ms. Reese et al, are writers, more or less likely to want to write Native American characters? The answer is obvious: less. And many of the writers who are lurking here and (wisely) staying out of this are thinking exactly the same thing: OMG, is that seriously all it takes to get Ms. Reese to impugn us and attack our decency?

      The stated mission of WNDB: “OUR MISSION – Putting more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children.

      Do you think Ms. Reese is helping that cause? I know she thinks she is. But as a practical matter, no, she’s convincing writers to avoid Native characters at all cost. That – in addition to the minor but real political effects – is why I’m calling her out. She is practicing McCarthyite tactics, attacking her own allies, hurting her own cause, while making herself important in the process.

      • Like I said, you’re using Native characters as decoration. To “knock off.” As a “throw away character.” That “we see for three pages.”

        • Michael Grant says:

          Yes, Ms. Reese, do you not understand how books work? We create many, many characters who are ‘throw-aways,’ there for a purpose and soon disposed of. This one happened to be Native American, but I assure you, I dispose of secondary characters with alarming regularity. You wouldn’t believe how many white, black, Asian, straight, gay, Christian, atheist, Jewish characters I’ve killed off.

          So, let’s parse this shall we? Had I not said Grandpa Luke was part Chumash you’d have had no problem.

          But because I mentioned he was Chumash, you’re upset.

          And you want more Native American characters in books. Right?

          You know how many adult characters make on-camera appearances in the first 5 books of the GONE series? Two. One is Native American. One is not. Both are. . . erased.

          You owe me an apology, Ms. Reese, you have slandered me, you’ve doubled down on the slander, you’re refused even to specify charges, and when faced with facts you simply ignore facts and repeat lies.

      • I’m certain that ‘more subtle X’ (NOT trivializing, as it still contributes to the oppression of POC) and ‘genuine X’ go hand in hand. Both types of ‘X’ are equally as damaging, and just because one is hostile and easily recognizable, doesn’t mean that the other is negligible. In fact, ignoring ‘small’ things like cultural appropriation contributes to the ‘larger’. By you, a white man (who also seemingly is of a higher socioeconomic status, since you’re able to donate almost a 1/3 of an entry level publishing salary post tax) telling POC and/or people supporting POC that they’re focusing on a ‘wrong’ aspect of racism, you are contributing to that unbalanced power dynamic between white people and POC.

        What’s wrong or so hard about listening to what others have to say without getting defensive? What’s wrong with celebrating and championing more, authentic minority stories and to working to have more minorities working in publishing? It doesn’t mean less for white narratives or perspectives or stories, doesn’t mean that white authors cannot write about minorities experiences (although there will be greater scrutiny for it), and it definitely does not mean blatant racism is being ignored.

      • Jenny K Thurman says:

        I know for a fact that Debbie Reese is helping to “[Put] more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children.”

        I know this because when I worked as a children’s librarian in Gallup, NM – a rural city whose population is nearly 50% Native American – Debbie Reese’s work became an invaluable resource for mine.

        Because of her work – which includes lists of recommended books as well as analyses of books that are very much not recommended – I was able to put more books written by Native American authors and / or featuring non-stereotyped Native American characters into the hands of children than I would have otherwise been able to do. Many of whom were Native American themselves. I was better able to think critically about the media I chose to purchase, display, include in programs, and promote in book talks.

        I no longer work in Gallup, but Debbie Reese’s work continues to be invaluable to mine, as it is incredibly important to me that all of the children that I serve and have served see each other as full human beings.

        You have repeatedly proclaimed that the type of analysis that Debbie Reese does is trivial. I would challenge anyone who thinks that to consider what it’s like to work as librarian who serves Native American children. Many more of us do than we realize, but the fact that I did was inescapable when I was working in Gallup. Ask yourself whether these portrayals and hurtful language would still feel “trivial” when you are standing in front of the shelves in your library desperately trying to find enough books to recommend to the children you serve that neither pretend they don’t exist nor insult them, either subtly or outright.

      • Shaun Hutchinson says:

        “No, I’m sorry, but that is simply incorrect. Trivializing X makes cases of genuine X more difficult to confront.”

        Well, that’s it. Michael Grant has spoken. Time to pack up and go home. Come on. Don’t be that guy. You’re totally being that guy right now. Look, I respect your work and I had the opportunity to meet you at a festival last year and enjoyed talking with you, but you’re the one trivializing the issues. Your attempts to prioritize oppressive behaviors stinks of oppression itself. You think calling out books for crappy representation is trivial because there are bigger problems, but it’s not. Crappy representation of gays and lesbians in media when I was a young adult had a direct impact on my life and contributed to my attempted suicide. The only young gay men I saw in movies and in books lived horrible lives, were abused, died of AIDS, or wound up alone, and I thought that was the life I was going to have to lead. I couldn’t be bothered to fight for my right to join the military or for gay marriage or any other gay rights because books and movies taught me my life held no value. I don’t want that for teens today.

        So yeah, I fight the small battles by calling out bad representation in LGBTQIA books so that no kid has to go through what I went through. So that they’ll believe their life has worth and will have the strength to fight the larger battles ahead. I WANT people who write diverse characters to do so more thoughtfully. I want them to think about what kind of message putting a gay character in their book only to kill them off is sending gay teens. Your attempt to brush them aside isn’t just trivializing the issues, it’s trivializing the lives of teens who need good representation. And I’ve lost a great deal of respect for you for dismissing the issues that marginalized groups are telling you are important. I’m gay. I’m telling you that seeing crappy representation of gay characters in media is harmful and can have devastating effects. You can call that trivial if you want and you can dismiss it with the claim that there are bigger issues, and you can give all the money to organizations that you have, but you’re failing to do the one thing people like me are asking you to do: listen. If you’re not willing to do that, then I don’t know what it is you hope to accomplish.

        • Also, the thing is, people can care about more than one thing.
          I can care about the “trivial” things and still do something to stop the big things too.

          I can listen and learn about how to portray LGBTQIA and POC and disabled and neurodiverse characters in books, while also calling my senators and donating money and marching in protests and canvassing my neighborhood. These things are not mutually exclusive.

          And, spoiler! A lot of times the people who do strive to make the “trivial” things better are ALSO the people who work really hard to stop the big things, too. We’re just aware that if you want to protect people’s houses from a flooding river, you pile up some sandbags. But if you want to stop the river from flooding you have to start at the source. (hmm, I don’t know if that metaphor totally works)

      • Michael, you write: “Now, please ask yourself this: as a result of this approach by Ms. Reese et al, are writers, more or less likely to want to write Native American characters? The answer is obvious: less. And many of the writers who are lurking here and (wisely) staying out of this are thinking exactly the same thing: OMG, is that seriously all it takes to get Ms. Reese to impugn us and attack our decency?”

        This is ridiculous, because it blames Debbie’s repeated calls for better representation of indigenous characters, cultures and history in children’s literature for non-indigenous writers’ choices. You comment as though this is some kind of censorship. If it were any other aspect of writing, would you complain that a similarly expert critic called for better writing? If a critic pushed for better dialogue, or plot structure, or what-have-you, and pointed to good examples of those as well as critiquing the poor ones? Any writer actually interested in writing better books would listen to such critiques carefully.
        However, even that analogy doesn’t address the real issue, which is the audience for those books and what they are getting. Poor, careless, cliche-ridden and outright racist portrayals of any people not only harm readers not from the group portrayed (by cultivating or continuing stereotypical and/or prejudiced ideas in their perception of others) but they actually harm the people whose group is being portrayed in that way. They have to see themselves in a story that tells them untrue things about themselves and often that they are lesser, not important, or other negative things. Sure, no writer is perfect and even someone writing within and about their own cultural group or heritage is open to criticism — that’s fine. That’s how a culture moves forward or articulates what it is or is not. But when one group is essentially controlling the narrative about another, which is generally the case in North American publishing when it comes to portrayals of indigenous people, then that is more serious. Criticism such as Debbie’s is essential to changing this. It’s not a sideshow or irrelevant compared to what is going on in U.S. politics and whether a kid-oriented Trump biography is slanted. For the indigenous and non-indigenous kids out there, this is central — and it should be to adults, too. And it should be of utmost importance to writers, especially if they are writing outside their own culture.
        It’s irrelevant whether getting something “wrong” scares non-indigenous writers. If they are scared and want to do better, then that can result in better books being written. If they are scared and don’t want to bother, that’s up to them. The point is better representation, and you don’t get better writing without critique of what has gone before. That’s not censorship, that’s dialogue. If you personally want to treat anyone disagreeing with you as a bully, it’s clear you’re not interested in doing better in regards to representation.
        Also, it cannot be stressed enough: diversity in the books by non-marginalized writers isn’t enough, what is needed is true diversity in who is getting to write and tell their own stories.
        As Jason writes in the piece above:
        “Given that the majority of publishing staff is 79 percent white and reviewer staff is 89 percent white, we must ask ourselves whether the current workforce can ever treat the subject matter of diverse books with the same amount of deep understanding, compassion, and respect that books with white protagonists receive.”
        — it is central to the discussion that we should be listening to voices like Debbie’s, who is of course not just a champion of good representation but of #ownvoices indigenous writers.

  9. Please refer to SLJ’s comments policy and refrain from personal attacks. Focus on the ideas, not the person, and please be respectful.

    SLJ Admin

  10. Michael Grant says:

    Tell you what, let’s have the whole scene and see whether it is evidence of some anti-Native bias, or whatever other crazy is running around in Ms. Reese’s head, shall we?

    Her grandfather turned on the radio. Country music.
    He was old, Grandpa Luke. Lots of kids had kind of young grandparents. In fact, Lana’s other grandparents, her Las Vegas grandparents, were much younger. But Grandpa Luke was old in that wrinkled-up-leather kind of way. His face and hands were dark brown, partly from the sun, partly because
    he was Chumash Indian. He wore a sweat-stained straw cowboy hat and dark sunglasses.
    “What am I supposed to do the rest of the day?” Lana asked.
    Grandpa Luke swerved to avoid a pothole. “Do whatever you want.”
    “You don’t have a TV or a DVD or internet or anything.”
    Grandpa Luke’s so-called ranch was so isolated, and the old man himself was so cheap, his one piece of technology was an ancient radio that only seemed to pick up a religious station.
    “You brought some books, didn’t you? Or you can muck out the stable. Or climb up the hill.” He pointed with his chin toward the hills. “Nice views up there.”
    “I saw a coyote up the hill.”
    “Coyote’s harmless. Mostly. Old brother coyote’s too smart to go messing with humans.” He pronounced coyote “kie-oat.” “I’ve been stuck here a week,” Lana said. “Isn’t that long enough? How long am I supposed to stay here? I want to go
    home.”
    The old man didn’t even glance at her. “Your dad caught
    you sneaking vodka out of the house for some punk.”
    “Tony is not a punk,” Lana shot back.
    Grandpa Luke turned the radio off and switched to his lec-
    turing voice. “A boy who uses a girl that way, gets her in the middle of his mess, that’s a punk.”
    “If I didn’t get it for him, he would have tried to use a fake ID and maybe have gotten in trouble.”
    “No maybe about it. Fifteen-year-old boy drinking booze, he’s going to find trouble. I started drinking when I was your age, fourteen. Thirty years of my life I wasted on the bottle. Sober now for thirty-one years, six months, five days, thank God above and your grandmother, rest her soul.” He turned
    the radio back on.
    “Plus, the nearest liquor store’s ten miles away in Perdido
    Beach.”
    Grandpa Luke laughed. “Yeah. That helps, too.”
    At least he had a sense of humor.
    The truck was bouncing crazily along the edge of a dry
    gulch that went down a hundred feet, down to more sand and sagebrush, stunted pine trees, dogwoods, and dry grasses. A few times a year, Grandpa Luke had told her, it rained, and then the water would go rushing down the gulch, sometimes in a sudden torrent.
    It was hard to imagine that as she gazed blankly down the long slope.
    Then, without warning, the truck veered off the road.
    Lana stared at the empty seat where her grandfather had been a split second earlier.
    He was gone.
    The truck was going straight down. Lana lurched against the seat belt.
    The truck picked up speed. It slammed hard into a sapling and snapped it.

    Sorry about the layout but it’s from a PDF.

    So. This is the entirety of Ms. Reese’s grounds for accusing me of “erasing” Native Americans. And it makes me “part of the problem.”

    Okay, I want to learn so show me. Show me what is anti-Native in there. Show me the erasure.

    • Michael, you are throwing a public tantrum because someone criticized you. As a writer, I am grateful for Debbie’s work, because it helps me try to write books that follow the first rule: First Do No Harm. It is you that is impugning and insulting the decency of people. It is the bestselling white male author trashing a Native woman all over the internet and derailing a comment thread on a post about making our industry better that is silencing. For POC and Native scholars and writers, there is such a great cost to speaking up. My endless admiration to those who do it anyway, despite this kind of bullying.

      • Michael Grant says:

        You’re absolutely right, I should totally submit without question to any slanderous remarks made about me. How dare I defend myself!

        I’m sure you feel the same about yourself. Right?

        • From what I can tell by what you posted, the criticism is about a book, which is hardly slander (nay, libel). If it were, book review sections would need many more lawyers. You are the one making personal attacks.

        • riley redgate says:

          hi mr. grant –

          so like, forgive me if i am completely missing something, but why is it slander for debbie reese to describe the parts she does not like about a book, for any reason? would it be more valid if she said she didn’t like your book because she didn’t appreciate the worldbuilding?

          if we can all step back a moment and take a breath: from the outside, here, it seems like you may be extrapolating some sort of moral judgment that ms. reese was never originally trying to make about you as a human being. that you are A Racist or something.

          so look, regarding that. nobody’s denying what you’re doing. it is great that you donate to all these groups. great that you make stands against trump etc. etc. (although regarding your claim that publishing folks were quiet about trump: i will note that virtually everyone i follow in the kidlit world was about as vocal regarding trump’s candidacy as everyone in my office, and i worked for the hillary campaign). it is awesome that you write diverse characters. but when you hold up this stuff as a defense of you as a human being, it doesn’t seem to make sense, because as far as i’ve seen, your perceived morality or whatever was not the original issue.

          ms. reese said there’s an aspect of one of your novels she disagrees with. people are pushing back against you not because of that aspect. there are a million books with aspects that people will disagree with.

          you’re getting this pushback because of your outsize reaction to ms. reese’s critique. if, as she says, you’re “part of the problem,” it’s less because of anything in your novels at this point and more because of this frighteningly aggressive need to combat or deny everything she’s saying.

          critics are allowed to lambast our work however they see fit. unless you also try to counter every other critic who has something negative to say, and i really doubt that you do, why on earth is this special?

          r

    • I support diverse books. Publishing absolutely needs to do much, much better on issues of representation–as do writers like myself. There’s a long way to go. I certainly try to keep improving, though I still often drop the ball. But if a scene like Michael Grant just posted draws our ire, we’re not part of the solution. We’re more invested in self-aggrandizement than improving the industry.

      I’m not successful enough to express this opinion with my real name, so apologies for the pseudonym. I’ll cosign, this, though: “And many of the writers who are lurking here and (wisely) staying out of this are thinking exactly the same thing”

      • riley redgate says:

        hi wisely – i don’t think it’s the scene that has people worked up, but more the fact that when someone questioned it, mr. grant blew up in the way we’re seeing here? like, if someone calls something in one of my books problematic, i will be upset, both because it’s my hard work and because it might be bad for young readers. but taking that discontentment back to the person who’s saying it’s problematic is just so not productive. why not just be like, “ok, i note your concerns and will do my best to do better next time”?

        i’m sure a lot of lurkers are afraid to raise the ire of the people trying to highlight (and thereby reduce, longrun) racist content. but if you want to write more diversely then we are all on the same side. dedication to improving the content we’re putting out is the main thing. and that dedication must necessarily mean that we fairly consider the criticism we get – not just knee-jerk disagree because we don’t think we’re racist. in my time on this earth i feel like i have learned that every person has internalized some level of racist behavior. all we can do is try and unlearn it.

        i feel like this has very little to do with self-aggrandizement, or (as mentioned somewhere here) smugness. it’s not about moral superiority. it’s literally just “hey look this might be bad for a kid somewhere who’s reading this.” and if other people agree, and thank someone for speaking out – what the hell else was going to happen, lol, it’s the internet.

        as echo chambers go, one that’s built around the endgame of decreasing racism is one i am fine with.

        • Thanks for your thoughtful response. These issues are so important, and so complex. I agree that we’ve all internalized some degree of racism, and that we’re all on the same side, but I don’t think we can outsource our moral agency; do _you_ think that the particular scene is racist, or is ‘erasure’?

          If the scene is fine, and someone (on our side) is being attacked as racist by someone else (on our side) for writing it, not OK. It’s also not OK to say, ‘I’ll do better about this particular racism’ if there is no racism in this particular thing. That doesn’t just minimize racism, it … erases it.

          If the scene is not fine, I’d be interested to hear why.

          I know that one particular scene in one particular book isn’t the issue. But as it’s already here, it strikes me as a useful map through which to explore the territory.

      • “I’ll cosign, this, though: ‘And many of the writers who are lurking here and (wisely) staying out of this are thinking exactly the same thing'”

        That’s not true for me. I haven’t spoken up because Anne Ursu and Riley Redgate have already said, and with much more insight, everything I was planning on saying.

        I think if you assume everyone else is thinking the same thoughts as you, that’s when people get into trouble.

        Pointing out problematic rep in a book should be done. It’s how we can learn to do better in the future. I don’t know why this is a problem with so many people. I’m thankful for it (and I say this knowing, without a doubt, that one day I will make a mistake and someone will point out something problematic I’ve done in one of my books.)

        • Thank you for your reply. I apologize if I gave the impression that I assumed everyone agrees with me. The vast majority of comments on this thread certainly disproves that!

          But I will say that agreeing with Ms. Reese on this thread, using my real name, would not come at any possible cost to my career. Agreeing with Michael Grant, on the other hand, very well might. I am afraid to use my real name with my honest (though perhaps misguided!) opinion. So given the costs attached to various statements here, I think it makes sense to assume that many (though not all, and not even necessarily a majority) lurkers who agree with Michael are nervous of speaking up.

          I agree that pointing out problematic representation should be done. It’s hugely important. People have pointed out issues in my own work, and I’m extremely grateful.

          However, do you think the actual scene posted here is ‘problematic representation?’

          • riley redgate says:

            so, well, it’s a pretty well-known stereotype for native americans to be considered drinkers, so that takes me aback a bit to be the only concrete characteristic delineated for the guy. honestly tho, in general i don’t trust myself to be an authority on cultures that aren’t mine, so i can’t say for certain? i watch a lot of this stuff happening between other parties and a lot of the time i don’t get where critics are coming from at first. so when somebody brings something up as a possible issue and i don’t get it, my first step is googling it to see if i can get a better understanding.

            if it were directed toward me and i couldn’t turn anything up on the ol’ googs, then i might ask the critiquer privately if they had the time to elaborate a bit, or maybe someone else from the same community who isn’t as personally involved with the reading experience.

            it’s rare that both of these things together don’t turn up anything that explains an issue, and once you get it, you can be like OK, i get it, i’ll revise away from that in the future.

            but i think it’s still worth saying that if one just ignores a criticism about representation, unless it’s truly a massive structural issue (e.g. the recent talks over when we was fierce), the book likely won’t suffer at all for it, and nor will an author’s career. for instance, gone is still doing fine. mr. grant, as he reminds us, has not suffered financially in the least.

          • I’ve agreed with Debbie on numerous occasions in the past, and likely will again in the future. I think when she raises specific points about specific books they’re always framed within the larger context of societal patterns, and how widespread perpetuation of micro-level offenses affects us on a broad-based, systemic level. The trope of the Native person who appears briefly, vanishes, and never reappears is one that resonates strongly with me; it’s no secret that Asian American characters too often suffer the same fate. The patterns are real, and collectively form a narrative in and of themselves, and that larger narrative, which is part and parcel of our collective body of work, sends an unmistakable message to Native kids and kids from a plethora of other marginalized communities: our stories don’t need you. And that message gets heard, loud and clear.

          • ^ Mike Jung: wonderful comment.

  11. Sarah Hamburg says:

    Thank you, Jason, for the article.

    The comments here illustrate just how much work this industry still has to do. Following the election results, I’ve seen many white people in children’s publishing talking about the need to better understand those who voted for Trump. I’ve seen soul searching about living in “bubbles” and calls to reach out in empathy across political divides. But, I’ve seen little soul searching from white people in children’s publishing about how the election connects to our own professions, and few calls for empathy, humility, and openness in listening to what people of color and Native people are saying — and have been saying — in our field right here. If those people want to understand how Trump was elected, they really need look no further than this comment thread. I don’t say that as hyperbole (or as accusation.) The aggressive, reactionary response to people of color sharing plain facts about the industry, or to a Native woman stating a critique, or to the idea that expertise and knowledge aren’t solely the province of overwhelmingly white reviewers and editors … the anger driving this election isn’t some unfathomable entity beyond the comprehension of “good white people” in children’s publishing. It’s ours, too. It’s always been here. And it’s ours to own and change, at this moment more than ever.

    (For the record, Debbie Reese is not a member of We Need Diverse Books. I am, but the views expressed here are my own.)

    • Michael Grant says:

      (This has been edited to remove links that put it in moderation. You can Google.)

      And now this. Yes, Sarah, I am the reason for Trump. You got me. It’s on me.

      Not quite sure why I wore myself out attacking Trump publicly while about 90% of YA writers stayed silent. Not quite sure why I maxed out contributions to HRC or to Cortez-Masto or Tammy Duckworth or I forget her first name Kirkpatrick in AZ and Ross in NC. Not sure how exactly flying to Vegas to canvass for Democrats was part of that, or why I’ve been writing diverse casts since before most of the members of WNDB were out of high school, but I’m sure in your head it all makes perfect sense.

      I wonder why I give money to gay and trans rights organizations and Hispanic legal defense groups. Well, obviously it’s all part of my master plan to. . . I don’t know. What is my master plan here, Sarah?

      Since I seem to be the only person here concerned with reality, the only one presenting facts as opposed to random unsupported slurs, here’s the link to me on Open Secrets: (Google it. opensecrets dot org. search “Michael Reynolds” under the donor tab.)

      Michael Reynolds is my legal name, and as you scroll down the list, any person of that name shown as living in Tiburon is me. Now, for extra fun, why don’t you see how many writers you don’t see on OpenSecrets. Here’s my Twitter: MichaelGrantBks. Scroll down over the last six months. See if you can make out how I feel about Trump. Now go check on some other midlist and better YA writers’ Twitters.

      On the other hand, I’m a clever boy, and it’s just possible I’ve lived my entire career and life as a lie, spending tens of thousands of dollars and tens of thousands of hours and writing dozens and dozens of books that all rather tend to indicate that I’m probably not a Trump voter.

      But there you go, Sarah, winning friends and losing donors by raising scurrilous accusations against your allies. Always against your allies. Because that way it’s safe. I scanned your Twitter and you know what? I may have missed something but you don’t seem to have said a word before the rise of Trump. Whereas, this is a tiny piece of my Tweets::

      Michael Grant ‏@MichaelGrantBks Nov 8
      .@goldberry70 @AlanKestrel750 When you vote with the KKK to support a racist, woman-hating fascist, you define yourself. #ImWitHer

      Michael Grant ‏@MichaelGrantBks Nov 8
      American soldier on Omaha Beach. Killed by the Nazis who today support Trump. Died so you can vote. #electionday

      Michael Grant ‏@MichaelGrantBks Nov 8
      Goodman, Schwerner, Cheney: murdered by the KKK that supports Trump today. They died so you can vote. #electionday https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi_civil_rights_workers%27_murders

      Michael Grant ‏@MichaelGrantBks Nov 8
      Black Union soldiers fought and died so you can vote. #electionday What was your excuse again? Vote and get others there too. #ImWithHer

      Michael Grant ‏@MichaelGrantBks Nov 8
      Race hatred has been used as a tool by the rich to divide black and white working folks since plantation days. Oldest con in the books.

      Michael Grant ‏@MichaelGrantBks Nov 8
      #ElectionDay I hope all my US readers know how important today is. If you’re 18: vote. If you’re not: make sure others vote.

      But yeah, it’s my fault. Clearly I’m only pretending.

      • Michael, the fact that you have made this post about you speaks volumes. This isn’t about you or your grievances. If you think 90% of YA writers have stayed silent about Trump, you should probably expand your circle. These comments prove that point. I’m asking you, as one writer to another, to back away and let people do their important work.

        • Michael Grant says:

          Important work like reduce WNDB income by 80% in a single year, Anne? That important work? Or is it the important work of sticking knives in allies and gloating at the destruction of their work? And no, that’s not about me, but we both know some of the names.

          Your ‘work’ is bullying your allies while rallying negative numbers of people to your organization. Despite the fact WE ALL AGREE with the goal. How do you even do that? Hell, I could have given you more than the 68k you made last year, and there are a whole bunch of authors further up the ladder from me that could write you six figure checks and not blink. So if you are just so very right, Anne, and so far beyond being questioned by mere mortals, how have you managed to fail?

          You employ self-defeating tactics, Anne. WNDB (and its approved allies) makes enemies of friends. You are academics by nature and I’m sorry, but you know nothing about politics or how to attract support. But you are a genius at alienating people. You evidently honestly believe that the way to increase the number of minority characters – your stated goal – is to attack writers who write diverse characters because they’ve failed some obscure test of perfection that exists only in the heads of a self-appointed elite. That’s quite simply nuts.

          I don’t think you’re bad people, on the contrary, I think you’re good, well-intentioned people busy burning your own house down because you lack the humility and self-reflection to look at what you’ve done. 333,000 to 68,000. Some folks might not believe that points to capable leadership.

          • I do not claim to speak for WNDB, though I have no idea how or why you brought them into this comment thread, beyond thinking that all POC/Natives belong to the same organization. It is your response to that questioning that is on display here. This isn’t about you, or me. I’m just trying to listen and learn, and maybe trying to help another writer see that it’s time to step away from the keyboard.

          • Andrew Patterson says:

            Dude. Chill. The only one destroying your reputation is you at this point. Stop and look at what you are doing. You are jumping on everyone and claiming to be the “victim.” News flash, you aren’t. You claim to support diversity but when anyone questions that you blow a gasket.

            Also

            YOU, AS A PRIVILEGED WHITE MALE, DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO DETERMINE WHAT IS AND IS NOT HARMFUL REP. YOU, AS A PRIVILEGED WHITE MALE, DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO DETERMINE WHAT IS RACISM.

            Not shouting there, but wanted to make sure you understood.

  12. Kate Barsotti says:

    This article was reasonable and well-stated. As a white writer, I expect I’ll screw up in horrible ways. I can try; I’ll need help and expect to pay for expert advice. I don’t find anything in this article that’s in any way threatening or over-the-top.

    Jesus, people. We are kidlit folks and supposed to be better than this. Please stop attacking Dr. Reece. I’m begging you here.

  13. Thanks for this, Jason. It seems like diversity training for publishers and reviewers is one immediate way toward making children’s books safer and I hope more places follow your lead. I don’t want any kid harmed by books. Like Kate, I am grateful to Jason, Debbie, and so many other people–Edi Campbell, Dr. Ebony Thomas, Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen, Justina Ireland, Swati Avasthi, Ellen Oh, among many others–for teaching me about structural racism, and the direct connection between messages sent inadvertently in books and the harm done to people of color. I can see this myself in autism–the way harmful stereotypes get into books, the way these books are praised and awarded and recommended again and again as good portrayals by good, smart, caring people who just don’t know what they don’t know. If we can all open our eyes and our ears and listen to the people who speak up, at risk of everything from being trashed online to career consequences to death threats, that would be a good first step.

  14. I also want to add my thanks to Jason Low, Dr. Debbie Reese, Edith Campbell, Dr. Ebony Thomas, all the folks at Lee & Low and WNDB and Reading While White, for the tireless work they/we do to educate, make and teach good books, teach people how to think critically about the literature we provide to young people, etc.

    I appreciate these public communications between and among authors, scholars, librarians, etc. They help me decide which books I should assign to my students, which ones I shouldn’t, and why.

  15. Elisa Gall says:

    This page shows how ugly and damaging racism – whether implicit or explicit – can be when it is functioning in a space. That it shows itself in the comments section of an article about making the industry more inclusive (or anywhere for that matter) is not okay. I am grateful and motivated by people who are working tirelessly to keep the world of children’s literature more responsive and accountable to our readers and learners every day. We White people have work to do.

  16. Jason — thank you for this post. As a writer and as an Asian American, thank you for all the work that you and Lee & Low have done and continue to do on behalf of diversity (and Asian Americans in particular) in children’s books.

  17. People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond Undoing Racism training: http://pisab.org/workshops
    Border Crossers training: http://www.bordercrossers.org/form/
    SEED seminars: nationalseedproject.org
    Robin DiAngelo on White Fragility: https://libjournal.uncg.edu/ijcp/article/viewFile/249/116

    • Seconding the People’s Institute recommendation. As a Lee & Low employee, I attended this after years of teaching myself via reading people of color’s thoughts about structural racism and representation, and still learned quite a lot, particularly thinking about my job as a “gatekeeper,” which editors already do, but thinking about what that means in relation to truly being inclusive in my work.

      I especially recommend the seminar, though, for people who feel like they have no idea how to talk about racial issues. I dove into the deep end with very little education on this subject by starting a small press–then an imprint–dedicated to diversity in MG and YA literature. I had to seek out voices of people of color to feel like I had any clue what I was talking about when I talked about my books, or when I sought out authors. A huge number of friends of color taught me so much along the way, through their writing and just by being friends with them. For people who don’t know where to start, this workshop is a must.

  18. I taught first grade for 17 years in a very white school district. Most of my students came into my classroom believing that “Indians” meant ALL Indians (no tribal differences) and that they were all dead. Even in 2015! I very much understand and appreciate why Debbie (and many others would notice and report any and all erasures.

  19. Chelsea Couillard-Smith says:

    I want to add my thanks to Dr. Debbie Reese and the many others who work tirelessly to push authors, publishers, librarians, and reviewers to be better for children.

    I think Anne Ursu said it best: “It is the bestselling white male author trashing a Native woman all over the internet and derailing a comment thread on a post about making our industry better that is silencing. For POC and Native scholars and writers, there is such a great cost to speaking up. My endless admiration to those who do it anyway, despite this kind of bullying.” Thank you, Anne Ursu, for putting it so eloquently.

    This is not how to be an ally, Mr. Grant, no matter how much money you throw around. And please, Debbie Reese, WNDB, and others who are brave enough to keep asking difficult questions of the children’s literature community, don’t stop. I will do my best to continue to listen and learn and speak up when you are attacked. And thanks to Allie Bruce, Sarah Park Dahlen, Anne Ursu, Reading While White et al, and others who I know are often the first to stand up for those being attacked for asking difficult questions. You set an example for the rest of us to be more courageous allies.

  20. Vansetters says:

    Michael,
    You are doing the Lord’s work here. Wish that others had the bravery to stand up to this nonsense.

    • Many people agree with Michael, including myself. We just prefer to stay away from useless and infuriating discussions with people who have demonstrated again and again to be unreasonable.

  21. Megan Schliesman says:

    “There are no shortcuts for the kind of vetting that needs to take place when publishing and reviewing the authenticity of diverse books. As with publishing in general, becoming an expert in diverse publishing and reviewing requires time and effort—perhaps even 10,000 hours.

    “While many publishers know how to make great books and reviewers are adept at spotting good stories, diversity is still outside most of our industry’s wheelhouse. Given that the majority of publishing staff is 79 percent white and reviewer staff is 89 percent white, we must ask ourselves whether the current workforce can ever treat the subject matter of diverse books with the same amount of deep understanding, compassion, and respect that books with white protagonists receive.”

    Yes, this is an industry-wide issue that demands we respond as both an industry and as individuals. The fact that it’s messy and painful to challenge let alone change the status quo is obvious, but that makes it no less essential and perhaps all the moreso. Thank you to all who do this work each and every day.

  22. Have a Snickers, Michael.

    The idea that small instances of erasure and prejudice are irrelevant in the scheme of larger acts of racism fundamentally misunderstands how racism, and socialization, works. Those small acts of racism work to other out groups and make it easier for the big acts of racism to occur. So, yes, it’s all important.

    But don’t take my word for it, Google the cycle of socialization and do some honest to goodness reading. I’m happy to provide texts once you climbed out of your white fragility rage spiral.

  23. Vansetters says:

    “It is the bestselling white male author trashing a Native woman all over the internet and derailing a comment thread on a post about making our industry better that is silencing.

    Wait a sec. Michael Grant only defended himself against an unprovoked (and entirely untrue) accusation of erasing Native people in a book. Now tell me who was derailing the comment thread?

    • riley redgate says:

      wait, but that’s not how criticism works. critics are allowed to say whatever they want about books, that’s the point of reviewing. it is also “unprovoked” if i read a book and say WELL, I HATED X CHARACTER. but that doesn’t make it ok for the author to come after me like “you’re wrong for hating X character!”

      mr. grant’s private behavior, personal character, and even the original scene are all but tangential at this point. his rage and defensiveness have become the point by virtue of his centering them, and i (and a lot of people on this thread) are totally bemused at their sheer volume, tbh.

      • Vansetters says:

        “wait, but that’s not how criticism works. critics are allowed to say whatever they want about books, that’s the point of reviewing.”

        I’m talking about derailing a comment thread, not book criticism or reviewing. When a person comes into a comment thread and references another commenter who has had zero previous interaction with them on the thread (i.e. unprovoked), accusing him of the “erasure” of Native people in one of his books, you don’t find that in the least bit “derailing”?

        • riley redgate says:

          right, i see. but unless i’m missing something, the very first comment is mr. grant saying that we should no longer “prattl[e] on about cultural appropriation” and should instead care about these other types of misogyny/racism/etc. that he brings up. as i understand it, the definition of derailing is dodging an existing conversation to try and grind one’s own axe.

          jason low’s original article was on the question of whether publishing experience is necessarily an indicator of expertise when it comes to diversity specifically. mr. grant’s introductory comment wasn’t an answer to that question, but a claim that it was the wrong question, and that instead our concerns should be directed elsewhere. to me that looks like classic derailment – and since he wanted to speak about the “correct” way to battle racism, then ms. reese’s comments look frankly right on the topic of his choice. hope this addresses your points more clearly, happy to discuss further though.

          • Vansetters says:

            Yes, let’s discuss further. In acting as a critic of the article, Michael Grant, in the very first comment, criticized the focus of the article, relative to what he believed was the more important focus. Namely, Trump and his ilk, and the real and immediate danger they pose to our country, as opposed to a lack of “diversity” in YA publishing. As you’ve written yourself, “critics are allowed to say whatever they want about books, that’s the point of reviewing”. Is the same not true of comment threads on opinion pieces? Derailing is when someone on this thread made the objectively false accusation that Grant wrote a book wherein he “erased” Native people. Completely untrue accusation. Do you disagree? Do you think the accusation has merit?

        • Michael Grant’s very first comment on this article was a derailment tactic: shifting focus away from publishing’s blind spots when it comes to diversity and accusing Jason Low of “sieving for obscure examples of cultural appropriation.” If we want to point fingers at who derailed the discussion first, perhaps we should look to the timestamp on the first comment on this thread.

          • Vansetters says:

            Disagree. It was not derailment. It was focus. What’s the bigger danger? Publishing’s blindspots when it comes to diversity? Or President Trump? Which one is more important to you?

          • Welp, one can make the argument that they’re BOTH important. AND I DO, MWAHAHAHA! I can engage with both at the same time, being the many-splendored creature that I am.

          • Kelly Van Sant says:

            “Disagree. It was not derailment. It was focus. What’s the bigger danger? Publishing’s blindspots when it comes to diversity? Or President Trump? Which one is more important to you?”

            And this a big problem. People can focus on many different aspects of an issue. People can care about multiple issues at once. Calling out poor or harmful representation in fiction does have a direct impact on acknowledging and dismantling racism in America. It’ is far from the only work that needs to be done. But to dismiss it as unimportant or a waste of time is to willfully ignore that systemic racism exists and thrives precisely BECAUSE of all the small ways that racist beliefs and stereotypes are built into the very fabric of our culture.

            Michael Grant or others may feel that their donations and time are best utilized by other organizations focusing on other work, and they should gladly put their dollars and energy toward those causes. But no one is forcing them to support WNDB, and to come onto a post, as Michael Grant did, and rail against an organization that he admits has the same ultimate goal that he does, just because he disagrees with the work they do to reach that end? That’s uncalled for, and his condescending behavior toward the people who have tried to engage him on this comment thread and the related discussion that has spilled on to Twitter is inappropriate.

    • The very first comment shows Grant derailing, which has continued throughout the comments. His “defense” against a non-existent attack is making it impossible to actually discuss the article and its valuable and thoughtful points.

      • Vansetters says:

        “Non-existent attack”
        “That book where you erase Native people right away? That’s messed up.”

        ok…

        • That’s not an attack. It’s criticism. An attack is the language Grant has used repeatedly in this comment page against other authors, scholars, and critics.

  24. Well, I personally don’t know what all the fuss is. Mr. Grant is absolutely right! Now is NOT the time to care about things like BOOKS or messages media can send. There’s plainly NO VALUE in those messages. I mean imagine if we had studies that proved that children were impacted by media/books. Imagine if any of us had ever actually observed that. Thankfully, we know that has NO IMPACT and books/media are just diversionary, ephemeral entertainments that really don’t matter to anyone at all and certainly have no real consequence. Whew!

    I’d also like to thank Mr. Grant for pointing out unless THE TRAIL OF TEARS is happening, we can’t really KNOW it’s racism! That’s the exact kind of reasoning I KNOW Donald Trump isn’t a racist. I mean has he ever come right out and burned a cross while shouting WHITE PRIDE, WORLDWIDE? He hasn’t, has he? SO how can I possibly be expected to know he is racist! Caring about SMALL details in books and writing or things like “cultural appropriation” is the same. If you don’t write I’M RACIST after every paragraph in your book you could NEVER prove the author is racist. Great example, Mr. Grant!

    Oh and if you buy any of this – I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

    In solidarity, always, with Debbie Reese, Jason Low, We Need Diverse Books, and all the POC/FNN people working to make our field better.

    • Vansetters says:

      Now is not the time to get into a circular firing squad with people that agree with your goals. Simple point. Shame you don’t recognize it.

      • So if now is not the time to get into a circular firing squad with people that agree with your goals, why do you support Michael who took the first shot (especially, when his shot was to complain that an article wasn’t written about something that hadn’t happened yet?)
        Why do you think it is okay for Michael to criticize Jason, but not for people to criticize Michael?

        And, again, shockingly, we can care about these things AND still care about the other horrible things going on. Example, I’m writing this comment while making calls to my senator. If now isn’t the time to care about not harming children with problematic rep, could you tell me when IS the time I’m supposed to care about that? Because, again, this article was written BEFORE trump was elected. So, I guess we weren’t supposed to care about it then, either?

      • heidi heilig says:

        I think we’re you’re going wrong is to think we all agree with you.

        Your goal is to silence people when it comes to racism in publishing.
        Ours is to speak up against racism in publishing.

        Does that help clarify?

  25. On the topic of publishing professionals who need to be trained to recognize problems with regard to racist content, upholding stereotypes, etc.: I personally have benefited from the kind of education that Jason discusses in the article. I’m a better editor for having worked at Lee & Low and had the kind of education I’ve gotten from writers and friends of color writing about diversity and representation and inclusion, particularly thinking about our audience: the children and teens we’re publishing books for.

    I am a white editor who grew up on a farm in the Midwest who was pretty clueless about racial issues. In my first years of editing, I heard a lot from librarians that their teen patrons were more and more diverse, and I knew about the changing demographics of our country, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

    Being able to read blogs like Debbie’s made me more aware of issues relating to Native American representation. Reading African American writers and critics’ blogs and academic work did the same for issues of representation in that vein. And so forth.

    Being an editor means becoming a lifelong student. When I edit a book about a historical event, I seek to learn as much as I can about that historical event so I can edit the book more effectively. The same applies to subjects of race and culture, or even editing cross culturally.

    For example, there was a lot I had to learn about editing cross-culturally. Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein and I discussed this on a podcast with our authors, Joseph Bruchac and Eric Gansworth, a few years back (see http://www.thenarrativebreakdown.com/archives/698)—we both had a lot to learn as we edited authors whose cultures were different from our own experiences.

    It is our responsibility as publishing professionals to seek out ways to grow professionally. Our craft is improved as we educate ourselves.

  26. It’s nice to find such an oasis of calm during our current firestorm of aggression and fear–OH WAIT, SORRY, WHAT WAS I THINKING

    I appreciate Jason Low’s words here very much; at a time when white supremacy, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and xenophobia have been installed in the highest seats of power in our country (and, in fact, the entire world), it’s easy to lose sight of the nuances and complexities of the work we’ve been doing to make children’s literature a truly inclusive field. But we can’t, can we? If we decide to put our focus solely on the most visible and unmistakable markers of hatred (and to be clear, we must put a LARGE part of our focus on them), we risk letting slip the boundaries on what we consider normal and acceptable in our society, do we not? Shifting the Overton Window (and I’ll have you know I looked it up in an academic database, no Google for this future librarian, no ma’am) doesn’t happen solely on the bomb-detonation level of a presidential election, does it? It seems clear to me that the window gets moved incrementally, bit by bit, through obfuscation, subterfuge, and misdirection.

    It happens through use of verbiage, doesn’t it? Otherwise, why would any of us unreasonably liberal types be concerned that the media makes such free and easy use of the term “alt-right” when what they really mean is white supremacy? Why would it matter that respected mainstream news outlets describes Steve Bannon as a “media provocateur” when he can more accurately be described as an anti-Semitic propagandist? The fact that neo-Nazis are very deliberately using the coded phrase “you and your ilk” when sending attacking messages to Jewish authors matters. Of course, there are people who disagree with me on that, who believe that kind of verbiage use DOESN’T matter, that those are just more examples of namby-pamby hairsplitting.

    I don’t think so, however. I don’t think the old O.W. shifts only when a leering horn-headed devil shows up in the living room with a pitchfork; it happens in so many more subtle ways too, and seeing the reality of those subtle, covert, painstakingly crafted things still matters. It still matters. Mustering up the will to probe our own internal biases, even when it’s painful and exposing, maybe especially when it’s painful and exposing, still matters. Working to support people from marginalized communities as they break into the publishing industry still matters. Questioning the value of defending ourselves and our work as beyond reproach still matters. Cultural appropriation still matters. Microaggressions still matter. We Need Diverse Books matters. The words of Jason Low, Debbie Reese, Allie Jane Bruce, Anne Ursu, Malinda Lo, Sarah Park Dahlen, and many others who’ve left comments here, and many others who haven’t, still matter. In fact, they matter more than ever.

    • “Cultural appropriation still matters. Microaggressions still matter. We Need Diverse Books matters.The words of Jason Low, Debbie Reese, Allie Jane Bruce, Anne Ursu, Malinda Lo, Sarah Park Dahlen, and many others who’ve left comments here, and many others who haven’t, still matter. In fact, they matter more than ever.”
      Yes, definitely more than ever. Small erasions and microaggressions are to racism as cents are to dollars. They add up. They are the same thing on a smaller scale. You don’t get to say “Well it doesn’t matter how you spend pennies, they aren’t ‘real’ money.”

  27. I’m grateful to everyone who has steadily invested in conversations about accuracy, authenticity, and diversity of representation both within the industry and on the page. Lee & Low deserves a great deal of credit for largely taking point within publishing, and speaking as a Muscogee author, I especially appreciate Debbie’s ongoing analysis of children’s-YA books by and about Native/First Nations peoples.

    Jason speaks to diversity and sensibility gaps in the expertise of publishers and gatekeepers.

    I would like to build on what he says by pointing out that the expertise itself is grounded in mainstream western literary traditions, their idiosyncratic standards and point of view.

    It’s not only that most reviewers and publishing pros are struggling to identify problematic content, it’s also that they may be under-appreciating literary achievement and/or content insights grounded in traditions and perspectives outside their own familiarity.

    That under-appreciation may result in rejected manuscripts and less acclaim than is merited. This, in turn, reduces sales, the number of books reaching kids (those who’ll “get” what’s great and those who’ll join them only by more exposure), and the number of titles from underrepresented communities.

    And that of course means fewer authors from those communities who’re able to sell, teach, and raise the much-needed awareness.

    Or put another way, I’ve had more than one POC/Native writer ask me something along the lines of “To succeed in publishing, do I need to write this like a white person? Or for white readers first?”

    Right now, the pragmatic answer arguably may arguably be “yes,” but it doesn’t have to be and we’re all less enriched from that result.

    The best antidote is (a) publishing/reading more books originating in the reflected communities; (b) centering own voices; (c) engaging in a respectful dialogue with members of those communities.

  28. Give it up, Michael Grant. Decadence only goes one direction, before a full stop; you are powerless before it.

  29. Kara Stewart says:

    I am a Native person and as yet unpublished author who also greatly appreciates Debbie’s work. We very much need her thoughts and reviews to be seen by authors, agents and editors to increase accurate representation of Natives. And a big yes to Cynthia’s comments, also! Spot on.

  30. Guadalupe Garcia McCall says:

    I would first like to thank Jason for this very important post, which sparked this heated discussion because it shed some light on exactly how much work still needs to be done to keep this boat from sinking. I would say Lee and Low, at this point, is more than throwing out lifeboats. Lee a Low is a beacon, a safe zone, welcoming writers of colors and diverse voices home. I personally commend them for not sitting on their laurels, but continuing to train themselves, seek guidance, commit to learning, and staying current and true to their cause. I for one am thankful for this post and all that it makes me think and reevaluate as I tread these dark political waters on this journey as a writer of color.

  31. Vansetters says:

    Realize that for all of this, there will one day be a reckoning. There are screenshots galore. For Andrew Smith, Tommy Wallach (and his mom), E Lockhart, Keira Drake, Michelle Madow, Michael Grant, eE Charlton-Trujillo, Lane Smith, JK Rowling (?), John Green (again ?), etc. Diversity in publishing is a noble goal. Destroying authors (who are extremely liberal and very good people) is not and should stop.

    • Oh you better believe I have screenshots. Of the whole thing. Especially the part in which Mr. Grant, I’m pretty sure, libels a non-profit organization working towards equity (disclaimer: I am not a lawyer). For which he still has not apologized, although he’s said plenty ELSE since then… I also got screenshots of Mr. Grant’s comments about me and Debbie (before SLJ took ’em down). Yup. I got receipts. So don’t worry about us on that day of reckoning. We’ll be fine.
      (BTW I can’t wait for the day of reckoning. Just promise there will be good background music.)

    • “Realize that for all of this, there will one day be a reckoning. There are screenshots galore. For Andrew Smith, Tommy Wallach (and his mom), E Lockhart, Keira Drake, Michelle Madow, Michael Grant, eE Charlton-Trujillo, Lane Smith, JK Rowling (?), John Green (again ?), etc.”

      A day of reckoning? For what? Criticizing their books? Saying their poor behavior isn’t okay?

      This isn’t kindergarten, and we’re all adults, in an industry where criticism is the norm and one of the foundational tenets. And none of those authors (or their moms) have been injured or imprisoned because of their bad behavior. In fact, I tend to believe most of them are doing just fine.

      No one had been destroyed. Criticism isn’t life threatening. Do you also go around decrying authors who careers are ruined because their books and plots are subpar? If so, you must be very, very busy.

    • So, in other words, the people of color who are fighting for inclusive literature and pointing out content in books that hurts readers are going to face a “Day of Reckoning?” That sounds like quite a threat. It sounds like you are trying to tell people, Don’t talk about racism, Don’t Talk About Representation Problems in Books, Or Else. But who are the McCarthyites?

      It’s funny that you should mention E. Lockhart, who I’m guessing would be pretty horrified to be used in your example. She is my friend, and she is one of the best people I know. Writers and scholars of color criticized her book, and she listened, with respect and humility. Because that’s Emily–a woman of deep wisdom and integrity who is committed to kids, and to anti-racist work,. Imagine if all of us white people in the industry did what she did–be quiet, listen, vow to do better, redouble our efforts. We might have a way out of this mess.

      We in the dominant culture are going to make mistakes; we live in a racist society. We are then dependent on the people who know better than we do to point out our mistakes and ask us to do better. When they do, we can either cover our ears and throw tantrums and run all around the internet derailing discussions and threaten people with days of reckonings, or we can listen and grow. Who do you want to be?

  32. It’s not up to us privileged people to call ourselves “allies”. That is literally not ours to decide. We can show donation receipts and “proof” of our activism, but it is still not our place to call ourselves “allies”. That’s up to the marginalised people we’re trying to help to decide.

    “Performative allyship” is linked with “fake allyship”. The “ally” in question will roll out their “proof”, yet won’t listen, research, learn, reflect on their own behaviour, or believe when marginalised people say the words and actions are harmful. The “ally” will demand that people explain to them what they’re doing wrong (“Prove it!”).

    Dismantling racism needs to happen on ALL levels. Not just the big stuff like elections and donations. But in our everyday interactions, in our thoughts, in our opinions. In our reading, writing, and communication.

    If you really are an “ally”, you won’t defend your actions or attack others for calling you out on your problematic behaviour. (SLJ has deleted at least two comments here for attacks.) If you’re really an “ally”, you won’t claim you’re being “victimised”/”libelled” by the people you’re supposedly trying to help.

    Are you really an “ally”, or are you really just trying to collect “ally cookies” as “proof” of your “allyship”?

    Mr Grant says that we all have the same goal: of fighting racism. So why is he quick to antagonise Indigenous and People Of Color for trying to fight against microaggressions that contribute to racism?

  33. “Mr Grant says that we all have the same goal: of fighting racism. So why is he quick to antagonise Indigenous and People Of Color for trying to fight against microaggressions that contribute to racism?”

    I’d suggest he was defending himself against scurrilous accusations from neo-McCarthyites. Being a person of color doesn’t give anyone license to hurl baseless charges at another human being. Everyone is required to present evidence of their charges no matter the circumstances of their birth.

  34. This conversation has been hard to follow because of the way the comments thread. Because the convo turned into a he said/she said by/about Michael and me (Debbie Reese), a summary might help those who are trying to figure this out:

    Nov 9, 8:29 PM — Michael dismissed Jason’s article, saying things like “prattling on about cultural appropriation” and “sieving for obscure examples of cultural appropriation.”

    Nov 13, 8:40 PM — I thanked Jason for the article and said this to Michael: “That book where you erase Native people right away? That’s messed up. Given other things you’ve said, I think you’re part of the problem. I know you think you’re Mr. Sensitivity, but, nope. Tell yourself that, all you want. I disagree.”

    Nov 15, 12:31 — In a reply to Jason, Michael said “Downstream here I have Debbie Reese ranting about some book she imagines I wrote. I have literally no idea what she’s talking about, I don’t recall writing about Native Americans, but I’ve written 150ish books, so who knows? But without context, or explanation, or justification, Ms. Reese says: “That book where you erase Native people right away? That’s messed up. Given other things you’ve said, I think you’re part of the problem. I know you think you’re Mr. Sensitivity, but, nope. Tell yourself that, all you want. I disagree.” So, because of some imaginary infraction that has evidently gone unnoticed by any of the millions of actual kids and librarians etc… who’ve read my books over the course of 27 years, I’m “part of the problem.”

    Nov 15, 12:39 PM — Michael asked me to substantiate what I said, offering to donate $1000 to the charity of my choice if I could provide him with proof of having erased a Native character. He said “WTF are you talking about, lady” and “maybe you’re nuts.” He then dared me to prove what I’d said.

    Nov 16, 8:30 AM — I replied to Michael, saying “You don’t remember, Michael Grant… That’s telling. That nobody has noted it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. That’s just an indicator of the depth of ignorance out there about how writers like you create Native characters for your books. I’m looking at it right now. And I’m not going to tell you what it is. Own it. Look for it yourself.”

    Nov 16, 8:43 AM — I wrote: “For those who haven’t seen Michael Grant’s proclamations on diversity, see his blog post here: https://medium.com/@MichaelGrantBks/on-diversity-fa3cefb0e0a7#.n29p22u11 He started with this: “Let me put this right up front: there is no YA or middle grade author of any gender, or of any race, who has put more diversity into more books than me. Period.” And then offers to give money to a favorite charity if you can prove there’s someone who has done more. And then, he lists all the books where he has diverse characters. But none where there’s a main character who is Native. That he does, in fact, have one in a book and can’t remember tells me a lot.

    Nov 16, 11:24 AM — Michael replied: “You are a McCarthyite bully, Ms. Reese. I rest my case. Totally unsupported accusations about some book you say you won’t name. Do you have a list of communists right there in your hand, Ms. Reese? Can you wave it for the cameras? I offer 1000 dollars to any charity you care to name – would buy quite a few books for some struggling reservation school library – but you won’t even attempt to collect the money because. . . Because, Ms. Reese, you are a liar, a fraud, and a bully.” [Note: his reply was subsequently removed by the moderators. I still have a window open that has that comment.]

    Nov 16, 11:28 AM — Michael said “Name the book, Ms. Reese. Name the book.”

    Nov 16, 12:16 PM — I said “Michael, I could suggest you go read your books and find it, but even when you find it, you’ll argue with me about what you wrote and why it is a good thing. Everyone else, The book I’m referring to is GONE. On page 23, Grant introduces Lana. She’s in a truck with her grandfather (Grandpa Luke), who is Chumash, an alcoholic with dark brown skin. He is suddenly gone, as are other adults. That’s the premise for the book. Adults are suddenly gone. So, Grandpa Luke disappears–or is gone–from the story. Chumash never appears again in the book. The only thing that appears again, specific to Grandpa Luke is a coyote and what he taught her about coyotes.”

    Nov 16, 12:30 PM — Michael said “Oh. My. God. You really are an. . . no, let’s not. Let’s pretend we’re talking to a rational human being.. Here’s where you started: “That book where you erase Native people right away? That’s messed up. Given other things you’ve said, I think you’re part of the problem. I know you think you’re Mr. Sensitivity, but, nope. Tell yourself that, all you want. I disagree.” Erased. That’s the accusation. Erasure of Native people. And after repeatedly refusing to tell me what book you’re talking about, you cite a book where every single adult is disappeared. Your ‘erasing” of native Americans also erased African-Americans, Polish-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Norwegian-Americans, French-Americans, Italian-Americans. . . A thousand people or so. And then a bunch more people die, and I “erase” them, too. See, the premise of the book is that everyone over the age of 14 disappears. Was that hard for you to follow? Do you honestly intend to defend the idea that a minor adult character in an opening scene where every adult character goes away, is somehow a racist attack on Native Americans ? You know, in my most recent book I “erase” millions! I want all the writers lurking out there to take a good, long look at this. This is ALL it takes to have Ms. Reese single you out and attack your work. This is what a slander by Ms. Reese is worth.

    Nov 16, 12:43 PM — I said “Your response, Michael Grant, shows your lack of serious engagement with anyone who has written critically about, in this specific case, Native characters and how they are used by writers.”

    Nov 16, 1:15 — In a response to Karen Jensen’s comment that what he’d done with the Native character was a micro level misrepresentation, Michael said “No, I’m sorry, but that is simply incorrect. Trivializing X makes cases of genuine X more difficult to confront. It’s the Boy Who Cried Wolf syndrome. If every time someone leaves the stove on for an extra minute you call the fire department, pretty soon they stop showing up. If very time I discover a mole I start freaking about cancer, pretty soon no one listens. And as we’ve just seen, all it takes for Ms. Reese to start accusing and slandering is for me to knock off a character who happens to be Native American. I threw the reference to the Chumash in as an effort to at least acknowledge that there are still Native Americans in SoCal. That was it. It’s a throwaway character we see for three pages out of a 1500 page series. Now, please ask yourself this: as a result of this approach by Ms. Reese et al, are writers, more or less likely to want to write Native American characters? The answer is obvious: less. And many of the writers who are lurking here and (wisely) staying out of this are thinking exactly the same thing: OMG, is that seriously all it takes to get Ms. Reese to impugn us and attack our decency? The stated mission of WNDB: “OUR MISSION – Putting more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children. Do you think Ms. Reese is helping that cause? I know she thinks she is. But as a practical matter, no, she’s convincing writers to avoid Native characters at all cost. That – in addition to the minor but real political effects – is why I’m calling her out. She is practicing McCarthyite tactics, attacking her own allies, hurting her own cause, while making herself important in the process.

    Nov 16, 1:33 PM — I said “Like I said, you’re using Native characters as decoration. To “knock off.” As a “throw away character.” That “we see for three pages.”

    Nov 16, 2:00 — Michael said “Yes, Ms. Reese, do you not understand how books work? We create many, many characters who are ‘throw-aways,’ there for a purpose and soon disposed of. This one happened to be Native American, but I assure you, I dispose of secondary characters with alarming regularity. You wouldn’t believe how many white, black, Asian, straight, gay, Christian, atheist, Jewish characters I’ve killed off. So, let’s parse this shall we? Had I not said Grandpa Luke was part Chumash you’d have had no problem. But because I mentioned he was Chumash, you’re upset. And you want more Native American characters in books. Right? You know how many adult characters make on-camera appearances in the first 5 books of the GONE series? Two. One is Native American. One is not. Both are. . . erased. You owe me an apology, Ms. Reese, you have slandered me, you’ve doubled down on the slander, you’re refused even to specify charges, and when faced with facts you simply ignore facts and repeat lies.

    Right now (Nov 17, 2016, 8:53 AM) I am working on a review of GONE. I read it last year and should have done the review them. When it is done, I’ll be back with a link.

  35. Yo, Michael Grant, learn when to take a fecking seat.

    No one is going to kiss your hands because you feel that you have succeeded in writing diversity into your books. In fact, it seems several people here–in particular those who have read your books, are people of color, and are women–have come out and said they didn’t feel your treatment of women/girls and POC in your writing was all that great. Take a moment to sit down and consider the criticism they’re handing you. It isn’t empty. It isn’t petty. It’s genuine feedback from people who matter, the very same people you are trying to include in your work. We can pretty much always do better.

    Name-calling won’t get you anywhere here.

  36. Correct me if I’m wrong but what this sounds like, Mr. Grant, is that your position is that representation of characters in fiction either it doesn’t affect racism, or it’s a lesser battle, because it’s not as egregious a Halloween costume and intent matters. Stories, however, have power whether they’re fictional or not. Stories are what have been used to dehumanize entire populations of people to justify harm against them. It intentionally happened in the 19th century, both intentionally and unintentionally in the 20th, and now here we are. White people didn’t think racism was as big of a deal any long, and now we recognize that it has been there all along–and what’s more? We’re the only ones who are surprised by this.
    The biases we grow up with, either on a conscious or subconscious level, are reflected in the works we write. We may never intend to infuse them into the work via authorial intent, but the problem is that once a book leaves our computer authorial intent is regulated to what scholars think of our words. We write to establish an emotional connection to the reader, but if we get an identity wrong? That causes actual harm to people, because they feel those biases manifest through our stories–even ones that have potential, ones they may have enjoyed. When someone affected reaches out to you, they’re doing so because they’ve read 1,000 other descriptions that have done the same thing. Those internalized biases are real, regardless of our intellect and talent in the craft, and when someone speaks up it’s our job to listen. To not regulate those comments to the internet, or to pass them off as ridiculous. Right now, internet channels are giving underrepresented and marginalized peoples a voice they have never had. When they reach out, they aren’t doing so to hurt people. They’re saying: “We are hurt. Please help us.” How you choose to respond to that is up to you, of course, but being defensive only makes the situation worse. I’m surprised you don’t consider the genuine feedback you’re getting as a gift. It hurts, yes, but as writers don’t we always seek to improve our craft? And, when the lessons we learn are hard to hear–doesn’t that make the end result that much better? If nothing else I’ve said is ringing with you, please consider this: when times get dark, as it appears they will be, many people look to books for hope. That’s why representation matters. One book can be a balm to someone who’s hurting, but it can also show someone who’s confused or questioning supremacist propaganda that everyone deserves equal human rights because, through the lens of our art, they see that we’re all human.

  37. Tibby Wroten says:

    To start with I want to thank Jason Low both for the above article and his years of hard work in the kidlit publishing industry. As a librarian I appreciate the books Lee & Low publishes. I agree with his points and found a lot of food for thought, including and especially the formal diversity training. And thank you Allie Jane Bruce for giving out the name and link to the organization you used. I will be taking that to my diversity committee at school to push for that. We desperately need it.
    To jump into the fray of Michael Grant, as others have said I also understand your anger over the election and what is going on in our country. I also understand your need to do something about the person who will be president soon and the people he’s brought out of the shadows. But ultimately you derailed the conversation here. It was not okay to go off on the people who jumped into point out flaws in your work, nor was it okay to go off on the people who have jumped in to speak up for the PoCs/Natives, like Debbie Reese. You are certainly welcome to disagree with any and all of them, but please do so offline, in your own head or with friends, and after taking to heart what they have said. You do not need to prove in a thread of comments on a tangentially related article that you are trying to get more diverse books out into the world or that you are an ally. If you know you are, let that be enough. That can be really difficult, but it’s something white people need to learn to do.
    Part of the point of the article was that we need more diverse voices in the publishing industry so that they can identify those throw away moments in books that might seem trivial to white people, but feed into the seemingly endless stream of microaggressions. I also know that doesn’t seem like enough in such dire times, but it is something and changing the hearts and minds of our youngest is ultimately no small action. Jason Low is talking about expanding the field and making everything produced higher quality. From at least some of your comments here I believe that is a cause you can get behind.

    • Sabrina Carnesi says:

      Libby I echoed your comment at the bottom of this thread and we used the same word box to build our story.

      It’s going to be hard to pass by the Dystopia section Monday morning and not get rid of Michael Grant work. I so like his work, but his personality on this thread has skewed my vision. I know I can’t book talk him to the kids because they are definitely going to ask who is the author and what’s he like. Farther down Mike has been directed to close down the vocal chords, turn around, walk away, and sit down (classroom directions).

  38. Thank you Jason, and Debbie, and Justina, and Ellen, and everyone who has taken time to raise awareness on the importance of diversity and sensitive representation in our books. I have learned so much from listening to what you have to say and appreciate that you continue to speak up, despite being continually attacked by the very people who need to hear your message most urgently.

  39. Jennifer Laughran says:

    This article was thoughtful and great. Much appreciated, Jason.

    Off to quadruple my donation to We Need Diverse Books’ internship program. Thanks for the impetus.

  40. Jonathan Bell says:

    The strength of a group comes from its diversity, not its specialization. Rather than train those in the system to “Think Diverse”, why can they not move the money spent on training to actually including other worldviews at the table, and listen to what they have to say? Keep your decades of knowing where the punctuation goes, but recognize that diversity training will not solve the problem.

  41. I enjoyed this article — I think Jason Low makes excellent points about the publishing industry’s blind spots without finger-pointing and name-calling. Books create empathy. TV shows act as surrogate friends. The more diverse/ books we can get into children’ hands, the less likely we are to have kids who grow up voting for a racist, sexist, ableist candidate. And if those books are made into TV series and movies? People who don’t live in diverse areas of countries will have diversity in their living rooms anyway.

    There’s room for protesting now and laying the groundwork so future protests will be about something besides racist candidates and policies.

  42. Simon Curtis says:

    Having a conversation about what we can do within our industry to better the minds and enrich the lives of an entire generation in the face of tyranny does not preclude our ability to stand up and fight that tyranny as well.

    One of the biggest topics of conversation in the world of books right now has been started by non-white members of this industry;

    “Let’s make sure we represent a wider array of stories, but more importantly, let’s make sure we represent them well.”

    These aren’t mutually exclusive conversations, and if we *really* want to better our world, then we are all going to have to figure out how to have several conversations like this, all at once, no matter how uncomfortable they may feel at times.

  43. First of all, I want to say that I appreciate Mr. Low for writing this article. In my efforts to bring talk about diverse books into the academy, I often use the resources Lee & Low provides on its websites. I also want to briefly respond to Mr Grant by echoing what Justina said.

    Microaggressions are an ever-present issue for all marginalized people, and including them in books is dangerous because it teaches the privileged that is an ok way to act.

    Also, criticism is an important part of the creative process. By publishing a book, you are automatically opening yourself up to criticism. Learn from it so you can do better next time. There is no point in acting like people are attacking you for pointing out problems in your work.

    It’s our duty as readers to choose books with diversity and support diverse authors and publishers. It is also our duty to critique problematic books

  44. Leigh Bardugo says:

    When so many PoC and marginalized voices are saying that better representation and a move away from cultural appropriation are important to them, it isn’t our job to step in and claim, “THE THINGS YOU THINK ARE IMPORTANT AREN’T IMPORTANT.”

    Educating publishing professionals on these issues can only be a boon to authors. People aren’t going to stop doing their jobs because of the way this election went, and Jason’s post advocates learning to do our jobs better. Not sure why that required putting him or WNDB on blast.

  45. Jews: they almost singlehandedly invent the Left, but as Jews never get any street cred somehow. That’s the most salient thing in this comment thread. But maybe people aren’t interested in that old story.
    Well, that, and for language buffs, the curious intonation “It’s not okay to go ‘off’ on …” which after the umpteenth iteration, has the whiff of both catechism and a junior high counselor’s office somehow. But then people really into kids’ books, may be those lucky “kids at heart” type people.

    • I have no idea what is going on in this comment (nor do I particularly want to) but for the record, I’m Jewish. Thanks for this, though–I laughed out loud at the catechism thing.

      • Oh, it’s not important. I just take note who’s usually on the receiving end when when the trifecta of wealth, power, and “tackiness” are lobbed forth as accusations. It seems to be a fatal strain in populism that never disappears entirely. He’s probably perfectly good-natured about it, appropriately penitent about his status even. Speaking of disappearing: really, I think the fellow just feels he’s in cloud cuckoo land because, in a genre book with the sci-fi “everyone disappearing” trope, he wasn’t supposed to “disappear” a certain character due to ethnicity. Genre fiction perhaps holds some unpredictable hazards. And sure, you can tell people all you want that *their* feels are beside the point or permanently subordinate to those of others – I don’t know anyone who lives that, though.

  46. I would just like to register my support of Jason, Debbie, and so many others saying important things in this thread.

  47. Diversity is not the dirty word some people seem to think it is. Diversity is a way for people who have been ignored and marginalised – sometimes vilified – for too long, to be seen, to be heard. It’s about making people equal. And that’s not dirty. That’s beautiful.

    That starts at the grass roots. Media, and yes I include literature in that, shapes the way we perceive the world from the time we’re kids. If we only ever see one view of the world – how do we know what else there is? And unless we learn to see the world from the perspective of others – to listen to *why* people object to certain things, then that’s all we’re going to get.

    Look, we’re going to make mistakes – we’re all human. It’s the apologising and learning from those mistakes that count.

    And to Michael Grant, I say this: Po callaf y dyn, anamlaf ei eiriau. The wiser the man, the fewer his words.

    Listen to the people you are shouting down. Take in what they’re saying. Stop silencing people who have been silenced for too long. You do nothing for diversity by ignoring the people you are supposed to be including.

  48. Thank you, Jason, for this thoughtful essay and for the training resources. One of the trends that’s troubled me deeply in the wake of the election is the claim by Trump supporters that they aren’t racist despite glaringly racist behavior. Case in point: the W. VA mayor who made vile comments about Michelle Obama. It’s clear that a significant percentage of the population believes that there is a distinction, both in definition and moral implication, between ‘real’ racism and the racist language, ideologies, and behaviors they’ve somehow normalized. This pervasive attitude demonstrates how dangerous it is to neglect microaggressions, appropriations, and all manner of things people can deem small, not a big deal, a joke, and thereby legitimize their racist behavior and defend it, automatically claiming themselves victims of ‘political correctness’ when called out. But it’s irresponsible and dangerous to separate or create a hierarchy of racist behavior – to do so assumes that each act occurs in isolation. Any ‘small’ incidents of racism are the seeds that grow into the atrocities Mr. Grant wants to receive our exclusive attention. I believe especially in children’s literature careful attention to these issues is imperative. Books may be the only counter a child has to a home or community where ‘small’ racisms are the norm. Diverse stories may be the only window to a better society. To discount the value of each intervention a book can make is to neglect the worth of dismantling racism at its roots.

  49. Michael Grant, the fact that in your first comment alone you tried to tear down what many people, including Jason Low and Debbie Reese care about says a LOT. Debbie didn’t display lunacy. You tore Debbie down repeatedly. That isn’t okay. She made no false accusations against you and it’s really awful you kept telling HER to point out your problematic issue to you.

    Humans are capable of caring about multiple things at the same time. I know this is a really hard concept for some people, but I promise you, it can be done. People can be upset about cultural appropriation and negative representation AND be upset about how the election happened. The fight can be BOTH of these things.

    You know why? They’re not mutually exclusive. When you have a president who is openly racist and does not denounce the racism, you can clearly see how it’s important books show GOOD representation of different cultures. If you don’t clearly see this, then I have nothing more to say on that front.

    “Trivializing X makes cases of genuine X more difficult to confront.”
    No. It doesn’t. It doesn’t for those affected. It’s hard for you as a CISHET White Male to understand the layers of racism, sexism and homophobia, but it’s not for those that deal with these issues. It’s not hard for those that deal with these problems in their day lives.

    “Nor is treating a picture of a smiling slave as some sort of crime against humanity.”

    The nerve of you. You, as a white male, do not get to say how a Person of Color gets to think about certain things. Especially not what hurts them.

    People are not taking “cheap shots” and gloating over “the destruction of their books”. It’s not fun for POCs and other marginalized people to have to see issues with books. I assure you, if marginalized people never saw another issue in a book with people like them, they would be satisfied. It’s not fun to call out books because you, being the prime example you are, and others like you simply shoot people down.

    It’s not okay that Debbie mentions a native american character to you and you assume she’s lying. What kind of entitled person are you? Why would anyone have to lie about your books to get their point across? You do not get a free pass at “diversity” for simply including characters in a book. You definitely don’t get a free pass for criticism for having them.

    “And as we’ve just seen, all it takes for Ms. Reese to start accusing and slandering is for me to knock off a character who happens to be Native American. I threw the reference to the Chumash in as an effort to at least acknowledge that there are still Native Americans in SoCal. That was it. It’s a throwaway character we see for three pages out of a 1500 page series.”

    If THIS is how you write your “diverse characters” as throwaway characters, as characters to at least “acknowledge” their existence, then THAT is why you are part of the problem. You want cookies for including a Native American, it doesn’t matter if their portrayal hurt people even if YOU don’t think it should have been hurtful. You included a Native American character, you did your job. It doesn’t work like that.

    Debbie IS helping the cause. Just because you cannot see it, it doesn’t mean she’s not helping. She’s helped countless people, she’s surely helped me see issues in books that I may have not seen as clearly before. She’s helped countless other people and the way you’ve been putting her down in the comments this entire time is really disgusting and shows that you aren’t a feminist. If you were, you wouldn’t be trying to knock her down so much because she’s saying something you (the white guy in power) don’t like.

    How dare you shut down those that are criticizing your books by assuming they’re reading them wrong. People are ALLOWED to not like your books. Just because you write a character with autism or you wrote POC character, it doesn’t mean people HAVE to like the book. It doesn’t mean people have to cosign the book and get behind it. Especially not if they were HURT or OFFENDED by it, which you don’t care about. You really seem to not care if people were hurt by your books because you included diversity and, well, they must have something wrong with them. So clearly Debbie and I must have something wrong with us to not like you erasing the only Native American characters in Gone. It must be our bad, right? No. You cannot take criticism and I suspect you haven’t had to deal with it much in your life. What people want is more proper representation of themselves, it’s not wrong. It’s not wrong to want to be positively represented. It’s not wrong to be upset when your race or religion, when portrayed in few books, is shown in a negative light. I don’t care if it makes people want to write those characters less. They need to go confront themselves and ask themselves why they don’t want to put forth the effort into doing so. I don’t care if writers are scared about including characters from a different background. They should be more concerned with portraying that character as best they can. They should be more concerned with their READERS than their writer feelings.

    If they’re writing for someone that isn’t themselves, anyway.

    I’m not even going to touch the money card you played several times here because it was just so incredibly tacky of you. Actually, I am, later in my comment.

    You want to feel good because you have money? You want people to jump for you because you’re privileged enough to wave money in front of their faces You want to brag about your privilege and money and how great you are, we get it. There was no need for you to talk that way to Debbie with money. There was no need for you to talk about how you and other writers (I’m sure white) could write out six figure checks for We Need Diverse Books. There was NO reason for you to tear them down as well or even bring them up in this conversation. It’s really none of your business how much money WNDB brings in and it’s certainly not your concern that it dropped. How dare you wonder why and then think it must be the creators. We can’t all write six figure checks. WNDB is a great organization that is helping the YA community as well as teens. Just because all you see is negativity (I don’t blame you, you seem to be a very on the edge person) doesn’t mean they don’t help. And just because you see Anne as a bully it doesn’t mean she is.

    Yes, you ARE a part of the problem. Why is it so hard for you to own up to ANYTHING on this thread? Why do you have to keep pushing People of Color down to feel like a good person? You want a participation trophy which I’m sure you’d complain about “all the kids” getting for being a decent human being and showing a world that isn’t CISHET White. Guess what? You do not get a participation trophy. You do not get kudos or applause. You especially don’t get them when your books have hurt or offended people.

    You can’t say “white people really don’t get what racism is” and then before say how drawing a smiling slave isn’t a crime against humanity or doing a bad thing without meaning to. It doesn’t work that way. You do not get to decide what racism is. You don’t get to cherry-pick what People of Color can be offended about. They can be offended by smiling slaves AND being called a slur AND a multitude of other things.

    “Not quite sure why I wore myself out attacking Trump publicly while about 90% of YA writers stayed silent.”
    Were these white authors? Because I have seen countless YA authors and writers speaking up this entire time. You need to expand your circle and maybe think about why ‘you’ have to be the only one to have “attacked Trump publicly” as if you’re some type of White Savior when POCs have been doing this work for a while. Maybe you should look into what other YA Writers and just people in the community (pubs, bloggers, editors) are doing regarding the election. It could be eye-opening for you because you are not seeing very far.

    Congratulations because while you donate buckets of money to this organization and that organization, you are the problem because you think you’re saving everyone when really, you’re not. It’s nice to donate money, it’s really generous, but in the end, actions and words speak louder. It’s easy to donate money and then portray a character that would benefit from the organization you donated to, poorly. And you do not care.

  50. Kate Elliott says:

    Jason, thank you for this reasonable and measured piece, which I would say comes in a timely manner except all the time is the right time to speak out about diversity issues. Thanks also for the continued work of Lee & Low.

    That Jason’s very mild and restrained essay was met with immediate pushback is a measure of how much work there is to do, and how important it is to listen to and respect the voices of the marginalized speaking about their own experiences and expertise.

  51. Debra Johnson says:

    Basically, Mr. Grant said the white Trump vote is a response to multiculturalism. That if people of color would just sit down and be quiet this would not have happened. He is right. The Trump vote was a vote in favor of white privilege and white supremacy.

    The problem lies not in his analysis, but in the proposition that the return of marginalized groups to quiet obscurity is a cure for racism. His prescription requires that marginalized groups sacrifice themselves to make white people feel safe. This is victim blaming of the first order.

    Mr. Grant might be better served by tackling the racism that fueled the Trump vote, rather than screaming we must go back. Which, by the way, was exactly what Donald Trump promised his supporters.

    But we have entered a new phase in the fight for diversity. And building a respectful body of diverse children’s literature is paramount. If we can get diverse stories into the hands of children, stories that help children empathize with those who do not look like them, or worship like them, or whose culture is different; we can begin a process of inclusion. We can off-set the racism and “Othering” that they will encounter in classrooms, churches, and their segregated neighborhoods.

    Now is not the time to step down, back away, or be quiet. This fight is too important. This is a fight for the hearts and minds of the next generation. To hush now, is to let bullies win and to fail all children.

    For those on the front lines, many of whom are present on this thread and too numerous to mention by name, I am eternally grateful. As a mother, a grandmother, a reader, writer and a woman of color: thank you all.

  52. Regina Griffin says:

    Dear Jason, Thank you so much for this piece and for all the work you do. Your essay makes me wonder what publishers are doing in terms of hiring practices now. Forever ago at Scholastic (late ’80s, early ’90s?) the HR department advised us that we HAD to open the net more widely during the hiring process. I don’t know how long that initiative lasted, but it made a difference and was of great benefit to the company. (I could name some terrific editors who joined us and the field then.) The firm also collaborated with other media companies (ad agencies, etc.) on a paid internship program to broaden their work force. That was another era, but it did seem that a more organized, defined effort paid back, not only in creativity and quality of books, but also to the bottom line, which we know speaks to the corporations. In this era of smaller staffs, is anyone taking the time to do this? It’s only one tiny step, but I remember Walter Dean Myers saying that initiatives such as these, or others for writers, helped open doors, and when they are dropped, we lose the momentum, and fall back, which was one of the reasons he wrote that NYT piece before he died.

  53. I just want to give a huge shout out to everyone (Debbie Reese and Allie Jane Bruce, in particular) challenging Michael Grant on his fauxgressive “ally theatre” performance. I’d also like to point out that Michael Grant has sucked up a tonne of emotional labour from those opposing him, especially Ms. Reese and Ms. Bruce. Educating and challenging aren’t without emotional cost, especially when it’s something you have to do as a regular part of your existence. Thank you, Jason Low, for a marvelous article and reminding me that it’s not just about buying books that showcase diversity, it’s also about supporting publishers and authors to even produce these works in the first place – and challenging those who get it wrong and should do better. Representation matters – thank you for doing the work.

  54. I just want to thank Allie Jane Bruce for the link to pisab.org in this thread. Undoing Racism sounds like the best way forward, so I’m looking into what that will take, for me, to take my steps. Privileged white female here.

  55. I’m late to the discussion. I’m working my way through the comments.
    Specifically for Mr. Grant and his defenders – there are some resources to read, people to listen to and work you need to do. I wrote about some of this here. http://wp.me/p2UYFX-dSz. In addition, Dr. DiAngelo’s piece in The Good Men Project will also be helpful for you STAT — https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/white-fragility-why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism-twlm/

    For Mr. Low – thank you, as always.

    Laura Jimenez

    • Sabrina Carnesi says:

      I’m such a late owl, but I am so happy to see someone write on white fragility. It needs to be addressed if we are to heal. Thank you for sharing this important content. It will be well referenced.

  56. I finished my review of Michael Grant’s GONE. I wrote it in a Dear Michael format and invited him to reply. He did. His reply is beneath my letter. I’ve also inserted my thoughts on his reply at the top of the letter.

    https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2016/11/dear-michael-letter-to-michael-grant.html

  57. Michael Grant had the temerity to challenge a basic assumption of Jason Low’s, and look what happened. Note that it wasn’t he who brought up GONE, it was Debbie Reese. Grant simply did what most writers know it is not in their best interest to do, which is to defend a non-identity-political point of view about their own work. His main political point is still not refuted, which is that we got spanked in the last election, and if we continue to center left-wing identity politics in the next four years, we’re going to get spanked again, but worse. It is true, of course, that some people like spanking. Every smack is a reason to despise the person doing the smacking. But when critics can find an oppression narrative in GONE, they can probably find one in CHARLOTTE’S WEB, too. When all you have is a hammer, and you feel better when you swing it, everything looks like a nail.

  58. Sarah Hamburg says:

    Anonymous: There has (perhaps predictably) been a recent spate of articles arguing that the lesson of the election is that the left needs to move away from “identity politics.” In one of them, Mark Lilla writes, “Identity politics…is largely expressive, not persuasive. Which is why it never wins elections — but can lose them.” To which Adam Serwer replied, “What nonsense. White identity politics has won elections, just won an election, and will continue to win elections. The political power of whiteness is so immense that most people do not regard appeals to white identity as ‘identity politics.’ But it is.”

    As many others have already said, the work Jason Low is doing in this article very much connects to the larger political landscape. Thanks again to him for the piece.

  59. Sabrina Carnesi says:

    This conversation needs to get refocused. The primary issue that impacts determining more diverse books starts way before the author presents manuscript for publication. The solution to more diverse representation in children’s literature can find it’s root cause in the majority white female employed publishing houses, which gives reason to the rise in the fluidity of white female authors flooding the children bookshelves across the age ranges. This however has nothing to do with efforts at cultural diversity representation, unless you look at the shortage of guy protagonists in YA as part of the cultural subcategory. The chamber for diversity is not only empty, but many of the early books produced have now taken on classic status. Youth of color are in need of contemporary titles reflective of the world they live and know today.

    Using my own personal accountability checks, I can only say that up until this year, the Big 5 have moved two steps forward from go since Larrick’s 1965 ​analysis, based on the following:

    ​​ 1. ​there is now no need for publishers to ask if there are diverse authors and illustrators available to write and illustrate books for diverse populations of youth. They know this and have maintained an overall disproportional production rate that averages out to approximately 10% annually over the past 50-years;

    2. I liken the past 50 years of lethargic efforts to the placement of a bandaid on the “cultural lobotomy” that was systemically implemented during the years leading up to Larrick’s mid-sixties analysis.

    3. This practice can be observed in the way information is documented in the MARC records used for online public access cataloging. An example of this is Kathryn Erskine’s “Seeing Red” which covers how a white family in 1972 handles their past family history involved with the murder of a black person in their town and how they are being pressured to leave their home in present day because they no longer see fairness in the segregation of races. Set in the southwestern corner of Virginia, the historic fight against school desegregation in Virginia is a central theme, but there is no mention of this in the the MARC records . There’s only “race relations” in the MARC and “racial tensions” in the summary. “School desegregation” and / or “Virginia Desegregation” should be listed for access in the card catalog. This is similar to actions publishers chose to take in an effort to hide controversial issues covered in books prior to the Civil Rights Bill.

    4. A final point is to focus on the component parts that make up the pipeline that feeds children’s production. It’s basically made up of the editorial staff which, in my novice position from the outside looking in, I divide into acquisitions and production:

    —The acquisitions editors are the gate keepers and decide who gets the contract and who base decisions on their vision for market sale not the need for a balanced diverse world vision for our youth:

    —then there’s the content editor who determines what goes in each chapter and/or if any chunks of content has to be removed (this could change authentic representation of the story character interaction, language, settings, solutions, and place POC in typical after thought positions of powerlessness; and

    —the line editors, who are the last to check for typos, punctuation, and grammar and can also cut paste and move parts around within a smaller field. Each phase of editing can tamper with the authentic delivery of diverse children’s literature if people, with vested interests in the books’ outcome and who share a familiarity with the lived experiences in the story, are not present throughout the book’s project life.

    It is my sincere hope that the initiatives take hold and grow and the two imprints are given the proper and fair support needed to take root. I am thankful to Jason Low’s unwavering focus. If we want to move forward, we of color must be the change agent. We should understand that we can use the strengths of each other to pull us forward. Lee & Low have become masters at multicultural publishing and staff training, for they are inclusive of multiple representation. There is no harm in using them as advisors and guides. There is also no harm in giving them the credit for what they are excellent at doing.

    AND, I believe, from deep down inside, that this is not the time for us to attack each other. . This is the time to be humble in our gifts and skills we possess in order that clarity might reign when we implement the strategy needed to release multiple stories to our children who are so in need of being exposed to. It is time to move out of our sylos, in order to work and dialogue together for greater understanding and respect. The only way to raise our profile is through us and by us. It is our responsibility to get the work done, and based on the exchange in this thread, it will take a variety of degrees of sacrifice, based on who does what. But as we all know, without sacrifice there is no gain in whatever endeavor we seek to accomplish.

    • Sabrina Carnesi says:

      Larrick

      Larrick, N. (1965). The all-white world of children’s books. Saturday Review, 48(11), 63-65, 84–85. Retrieved
      from http://www.longwood.edu/staff/miskecjm/384larrick.pdf

    • Sabrina, just for the sake of accuracy: I believe some adult publishing houses have separate acquisitions, content, and line editors. But most children’s/YA houses have only (1) acquiring editors, who read submissions and acquire manuscripts, then work with the authors on the content editing and line-editing; and (2) production editors, who oversee the copyediting and proofreading processes, and help coordinate the book’s physical production with the design and manufacturing teams. At the house I work at, the author has a voice at every stage of the editorial process (seriously, I consult my authors on commas in proofreading), but that may not be true at all houses. Also, MARC categories are set by the Library of Congress, not by publishers — though I find your point about that really interesting, that more specific categories would be useful to help readers of color find the books they need. . . .

      • Regarding MARC records: Catalogers are able to alter MARC records. In fact, it happens all of the time. We frequently add subject headings (granted, devised by LOC) and other access points to better help our patrons find materials. School Integration is an LOC subject heading. If a MARC came my way that should include it but didn’t, I’d add it. Now, that isn’t to say that there aren’t problems with some LOC subject headings – there are – but there are many times when the MARC records that we upload into our catalog that come from vendors need to be adjusted. Subject headings and genres need to be added, information about the item is incorrect…sometimes even the Dewey number that’s been assigned is incorrect. All of this is to say that we, as librarians, can expand access when we catalog. And, if the LOC subject headings are insufficient, we can at least add access by making sure keywords are included in the 520 field, which is where the book description/summary goes.

  60. Beverly Slapin says:

    All right, Michael, please go over there and sit down and listen up. There are many people—including Debbie Reese, Jason Low, Allie Jane Bruce, Anne Ursu, Chelsea Couillard-Smith, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Laura Jiménez, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Nina Lindsay, Mike Jung, Sam Bloom, Sarah Park Dahlen, Stacy Whitman, and many, many others—trying to talk with you (directly or indirectly), and you need to take your hands away from your ears and stop screaming, “I can’t hear you!” And you need to stop bragging, bullying and victim blaming. Those are not proper behaviors, either. It’s very important to listen and respect everyone’s voices. When we’re convinced that you’re ready to be quiet, and pay attention, and show respect, you may rejoin our circle. There’s a lot of work to do, and we’ll be here for a very long time. We’re not going anywhere.

  61. A sequence of fairly random internet links brought me here.
    This discussion has amazed me.
    Michael Grant vs. the Order of the Eternal Sunshine.
    I feel like I’ve just visited a gathering of some cult (Mr. Grant excluded) impervious to logic, reality, and common sense. A somewhat more sophisticated version of 1984 with a shiny new book cover.
    Forgive me for going off on a tangent, but let me just say that when (and IF) you succeed in getting rid of/”reforming” every supposedly “insensitive white male” out there, it will eventually come down to you vs. some version of the Taliban — and at that point I think I’ll be rooting for the Taliban (with them, at least there is some hope 1000 years down the line).
    FWIW, that’s coming from somebody who until recently has voted 100% Democrat (and twice for Obama), just so that y’all can put the race card back into the pocket.

    • Sabrina Carnesi says:

      Correction, you don’t get the point. We /or at least I don’t care if Micheal Grant, you, or anyone else gets reformed. Unless you are the head of Human Resources for one of the Major 5 publishing houses in this country, please sit aside, because you are distorting the objectives and spinning the conversation away from what needs to be addressed. The Grant conversation has skewed the objectives of this conversation which are centered around the need to increase the volume of books in this country with protagonists of color in children and YA books. Our youth have been damaged by the mass production of 4 to 6 thousand children and YA literature of which the average annual count reflective of the lived experiences of Indigenous People, black Americans, Latinix, and Asians is not even 10%. The highest amount published is usually by black American authors and the next highest Latinix, followed by Asian and then Indigenous authors. We need the writers of children’s books across all groups of color in our American Diaspora to increase beyond the disproportional production levels it has existed at for the past 50 years, if not more.

      Your response is poisonous, rhetorical, and demeaning. It serves to only spin this conversation back to a skewed political landscape that stopped working decades ago. We are not here to fan the selfish angry attack venum you have brought back up. It needs to cease. Please take several seats to the right of Mike, stay quiet and listen to the central logic of this conversation before it went so tangential.

    • No way am I getting rid of my race card! After every ten uses of it I get a free donut from the SJW Bakery’s downtown location!

      • Sabrina Carnesi says:

        I’m with Mike Jung, Alex. Most Americans are combinations of one or more racial or cultural combinations. My DNA marks me with European genes, NW African and Indigenous components. Where did I miss out on the directions to forget who I am, forget my cultural history in this country, forget that I was to not wish to see myself reflected in the literature of the books i read as an adult or child? As a member of CSK and all that it stands for that is absolutely not negotiable, nor will it ever be. You cannot throw your race card out at a person of color and expect them to shrink into the background. Nor can you use it to say a person of color should not consider their position as a person of color in a society that does not consider or value them in the society.

        Your reaction is the perfect example of what happens to generations of youth who are not exposed to each other’s stories and not given the chance to have dialogue with each other to better understand the various world views represented. This type of dialogue is what happens when our youth grow into adults without reading the contemporary literature of others not like them but like other cultures in the society they live in.

        It takes more than the authors of any color to present their readers with diverse characters. There’s a need for more authors of color. There’s a need for more contemporary stories of people of color, particularly for older readers.

  62. Casey Rogers says:

    @Alex

    There is not such thing as the race card.

  63. Of course there’s a race card. Andrew Patterson plays it big time when he wrote above,

    “Also

    YOU, AS A PRIVILEGED WHITE MALE, DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO DETERMINE WHAT IS AND IS NOT HARMFUL REP. YOU, AS A PRIVILEGED WHITE MALE, DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO DETERMINE WHAT IS RACISM.

    Not shouting there, but wanted to make sure you understood.”

    We understand. Play the card, win the game, conversation over. Not that anyone of any group has a monopoly on determining racism. I’m sure that Prof. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas and Justice Clarence Thomas, both African-Americans, might read racism differently. There’s nothing more to be said once the card is played except by a Michael Grant who has the guts to speak up, realizing that even if he now writes the second coming of SPEAK, LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET, and BUD, NOT BUDDY put together, he’ll never win a literary award with a WNDB’er on the committee. He clearly doesn’t care, which makes him a hero to many people.

    It’s a year after the imbroglio over A FINE DESSERT, and the conversation still gets stopped with the race card. We haven’t progressed a lick, or learned jack crap about how to treat people on the good guy side. And now, Trump is in the White House. Until we get our act together and learn the difference between a traffic ticket and termination with extreme prejudice, expect more of the same. Serves us right, probably.

  64. Did the conversation get stopped? When was that, exactly? At comment 175, maybe–OH WAIT THIS IS COMMENT 176, THE CONVERSATION HASN’T STOPPED AT ALL

    But you know what, there ARE people trying to stop this conversation. Michael certainly is, as are the various hey anonny nonnys supporting him. I mean, that IS what you lovely nameless and faceless people are now explicitly saying, you know. Stop the conversation. Stop talking. Stop talking about cultural appropriation. Stop talking about microaggressions. Stop talking about privilege. Stop talking about representation, identity, gender, sexuality, disability, and race. Stop talking about racism. Stop talking about diversity in publishing at all.

    But if we look at the marvelously cordial discourse we’re indulging in here, we can see that the conversation isn’t stopping, and one of the reasons for that is pretty obvious, at least to me. The conversation isn’t stopping because when those who favor a return to silence say “stop talking about diversity in children’s publishing,” a lot of stellar human beings who understand the complexity of the effort to better our reality have a direct, concise, and deeply principled reply:

    No.

  65. Gwen Tarbox says:

    I want to begin by stating my solidarity with Dr. Debbie Reese and any other scholar who pushes back against persistent patterns of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia in cultural artifacts for young people. I want to underscore the power of the *accrual* of such negative patterns, especially as a counter to the claim that any such incident that appears in a text cannot possibly harm a young reader.

    Children are more than capable of picking up on negative patterns, no matter how subtle, and in this society, the patterns are often not subtle at all. As one example, we just witnessed a World Series that went to 7 games, and the young fans who watched those games were forced to view a caricature (that’s a nice way of putting it, because Chief Wahoo is an outrageous, leering, racist concoction) that inaccurately groups hundreds of indigenous societies into one term: “Indian,” and, once that act of erasure is complete, goes on to depict what remains as a buffoon, creating a de facto double insult. And, of course, the Cleveland baseball team is just one of hundreds of institutions that have racist mascots, and racist mascots are just one tiny aspect of the inaccurate and hurtful messages that our culture puts forward regarding American Indians.

    Against this backdrop, the choices that authors make regarding the depiction of American Indians are always already tied up in dialogue with erasure, ridicule, and racism; therefore, the burden rests with authors to ask themselves what their choices reflect about their own motivations, and they also have to think about impact their choices might have on all types of young readers. For instance, an author might ask why it is that so many characters from American Indian nations appear fleetingly in children’s and YA texts, only to be erased. This is a persistent pattern, and it seems logical that an author who sets out to write for young people would not only be aware of the prevalent patterns in this category of literature, but would also take the time to consider whether their text were perpetuating these patterns.

    Authors should also be able to recognize that some of these patterns are so widespread that they have become invisible to the dominant culture…and maybe even to themselves. And if a person points out that an author has, either intentionally or unintentionally, fallen into one of these patterns, then it is up to that author to LISTEN.

    In this case, Dr. Reese has spent her career reading, studying, and writing about the persistent patterns that emerge in the depiction of American Indians in children’s literature. She has provided countless examples of the reactions of actual child readers who have been hurt by witnessing these patterns or seeing educators gloss over or ignore pejorative depictions of American Indians. She has also wisely pointed out that ALL children are harmed by these depictions because everyone deserves to become acquainted with depictions of this country’s history that are as factually accurate as possible and that include the voices and lived experiences of more than just the dominant culture.

    In an ideal world, authors who learn that their work has raised questions among experienced scholars and librarians would LISTEN and would LEARN and would try harder next time. That’s not a lot to ask, especially when one thinks about what is at stake: the right of all young people to see themselves reflected thoughtfully in texts, to see others reflected thoughtfully in texts, and to feel the relief that comes from knowing that there are adults in this world who have taken the time and the care to write informed, well-researched, and well-edited texts. Of course, those children might not express it in that way; instead, they are more likely to say, as one my own university students did last semester, after reading Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, “this was the first time that I ever saw a family like mine portrayed in a book for children. I love this book.”

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