February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJ to Publish Dedicated Issue on Diversity


SLJ's April 2009 cover. Illustration by Gene Luen Yang.

SLJ’s April 2009 cover. Illustration by Gene Luen Yang.

“Straight Talk on Race” declared the headline of a powerful feature story in School Library Journal (SLJ), written by author Mitali Perkins, with the subhead and subtext of the piece urging librarians and teachers to critically examine the stereotypes in literature for children. That piece ran on our cover back in 2009, yet the issues around representation persist.

The paucity of kids’ books by and about people of color has, in fact, remained relatively unchanged for decades, according to recent reports. This despite the fact that the U.S. has grown increasingly diverse, with the population of young children under age five reaching 49.9 percent minority in 2012.

Beyond “kid lit,” the lack of diversity, not only racial, has broader implications within education and libraries, challenging the core missions at the heart of these institutions: equity of learning opportunities, especially for children, and equal access to information.

If we have, for example, fewer girls and minorities engaging STEM—or seeing themselves represented in those fields—we’ll have educational outcomes like this, contributing to an ever-burgeoning gap in technology industries and our society as a whole.

This May, SLJ will dedicate an entire issue of the magazine to the topic of diversity in various forms. We’re joining an already dynamic discussion.

Consider the following:

Our responsibility as a magazine

SLJ has covered the topic, but we’ve considered carefully how we can help advance the conversation. A dedicated issue, only the second in our history, is a statement in itself and thanks go to the entire team, who supported it.

There is an economic issue at play here. “Multicultural books don’t sell” is a long-held assumption in the publishing industry. Challenges to that notion notwithstanding, the serious consideration of diversity is even more vital when creative content across all media is bound by an increasingly conservative view (and fall-back assumptions, see above) spurred by a tight economy.

There’s evidence that diversity is actually good for business (“Contact With Other Cultures Makes You a Deeper Thinker” by Annie Murphy Paul). But it’s more than that, of course.

For Americans, the very basis of the republic was founded on the premise of diversity as our strength. E pluribus unum: “Out of many, one.” Holding to that has proven a difficult and evolving challenge. But we need to get there, starting with our little corner of society.

If you’d like to share your thoughts, particularly about what we might cover, the challenges you’re seeing, and diversity efforts we should know about, I’d like to hear from you. Email me at kishizuka@mediasourceinc.com.




Kathy Ishizuka About Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka (kishizuka@mediasourceinc.com@kishizuka on Twitter) is the Executive Editor of  School Library Journal.

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  1. Beth Valentine says:

    I hope you will include books about kids with disabilities in your diversity. I didn’t see it mentioned in the article. Our kids need to see themselves in these books. Not as objects of pity, but empowered and “normal”. Thanks!

    • Kathy Ishizuka Kathy Ishizuka says:

      Indeed, thank you, Beth, for your suggestion. We do need to address how to better serve kids with disabilities generally in the magazine, as well as in this issue. There’s a spectrum of disability, which we’re considering how to cover.

  2. Isn’t this sort of an illustration issue? Real kids have universal stories regardless of color. You could still have specifically multicultural books, but beyond that, why not encourage illustrators show diverse characters in the art? Face it, publishers are afraid hat if they show a family of color as the main characters in a book that is not specifically multicultural, that it will alienate or confuse buyers. I believe that eventually, buyers would be fine with it. As long as this assumption reigns, “white” will be the default.

    • With regard to depictions of American Indians/First Nations, one downside is the ongoing use of romantic and tragic stereotypes that suggest we are not part of today’s America. Another is the use of Native regalia–some of which is sacred–as play things or for dress up.

      Another is the key distinction in who we are: American Indians are racially and culturally different, but a key dimension is our political status as sovereign nations who have treaties with the U.S. Government.

      I’m glad to learn of SLJ’s decision to publish this special issue.

    • Kathy Ishizuka Kathy Ishizuka says:

      You’re getting at an important subtext of the publishing issue, Maggie. Are publishers “afraid” of representation? I’m hoping they weigh in here.

  3. Kate Barsotti says:

    Cheryl Klein had an interesting post on this topic: http://chavelaque.blogspot.com/2014/02/in-defense-of-cbc-diversity-and-on.html

    We seem to have the problem of a self-fulfilling prophesy. We need more authors of color (and editors), but our books are so white, those writers may never develop the early dream to write because literature seems closed to their point of view. Perhaps we begin there: art and writing camps, workshops, courses, and scholarships for writers of color coupled with a renewed dedication to publishing such works. There is also that undercurrent of doubt that says “a book by or about a person of color won’t sell” which needs to be disproven.

  4. Thanks for this announcement. Lack of diversity in children’s literature is a very important topic that definitely warrants ongoing discussions. I’d like SLJ to seek out more information and titles from independent presses and self-published authors who have been addressing the issue of lack of mainstream diversity for years. Just Us Books is an independent company that started publishing Black interest and multicultural books for children over 25 years ago precisely because major, commerical publishers did not recognize the value of our stories. In our publications, we continue to address some of the same questions raised in 1970 when I first started work in the publishing industry. There are other such companies whose contributions should be included in this conversation.

  5. I would love to contribute something to the diversity issue, or if not that–to write a guest piece for SLJ on the impact of White-supremacy via colonialism on information, knowledge and the educational system in the US.

    Thank you!

  6. What about the diversity of multiracial families? Children of interracial unions is one of the fastest growing populations in some states.

    And also adopted children. Both transracial adopted children ( another form of multiracial families) and same race adopted children. And that should include both foster adoption and domestic ( it’s easy to find international adopted books. or easier). And older kid adoption. Adoption touches 1 in 6 Americans-FYI.

    • Kathy Ishizuka says:

      Thanks, Michelle. Important point. Monica Brown is writing a piece addressing the biracial, multi-racial experience and its representation, or lack thereof, in children’s literature.

  7. I’d love to see SLJ consider also a broader definition of multicultural literature and shine light on works set in countries around the world, not only in the U.S. I’d also love to see greater publicity for and encouragement of editors and publishers who take on works in translation. Young readers in the U.S. and around the globe would benefit from more opportunities to discover the world’s cultures in literature–not only through the lens of the American experience.

  8. I agree that books in translation, set outside the US, widen children’s horizons and add joy to their lives. As a translator I’ve had a US editor ask why a middle grade novel I worked on needs to be set in Japan. Why need it not be?