About our February Cover | From the Editor

Our editor-in-chief responds to comments regarding our February cover.



See "From the Editor," posted Feb. 5, 2021


We’ve heard the comments on Twitter regarding our February cover and cover story. And I wanted to respond.

It is our intention at SLJ to produce content of value and impact to serve our readers and the broader community. This month’s cover story was intended to do just that in considering another step in the broader conversation about diverse books and their impact.

SLJ has been in this discussion for a long time, and we remain committed to exploring the power of literature for children and teens to fire young imaginations, open minds, and spark understanding and empathy, toward a more just and compassionate society.

Our process

The cover is determined by the lead, or most prominent story in each issue, and this month’s was a clear choice.

“How do we get white communities to read diverse books?” is a question that our audience has asked us directly for coverage on. And what is the role of librarians? This sparked the assignment to journalist Drew Himmelstein, who set out to do the reporting.

It was a provocative notion going in. We didn’t expect Drew’s reporting to provide definitive answers. Rather, I saw our story as the beginning of a conversation, I told the staff. Reporting the efforts underlying diverse publishing, from an editorial perspective, was territory covered often by us and other outlets.

Meanwhile, there has been resistance to diverse books, which are among the most challenged titles, according to the American Library Association. And we have heard from librarians, who have directly experienced such pushback from parents and others in their communities. What was happening in the field was worth exploring, along with the focus on white readers, which was clearly a tension point in the effort to share books with diverse characters and themes.

“If [white children] see only reflections of themselves, they will grow up with an exaggerated sense of their own importance and value in the world—a dangerous ethnocentrism,” wrote Rudine Sims Bishop. They “need books that will help them understand the multicultural nature of the world they live in, and their place as a member of just one group, as well as their connections to all other humans.”

Mirrors and windows

First published in 1990, Bishop’s words, in what became a landmark essay in children’s literature, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors,” couldn’t be more relevant given today’s political and social climate, as our story says.

Lead story in hand, we wrestled with the headline. There were iterations of windows and mirrors. “Why White Children Need Diverse Books” was more true to the story and made a strong cover line. Sonia Sánchez, an award-winning illustrator of children’s books, including Meg Medina’s Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away, took the assignment, and based on the manuscript, rendered a few ideas for the cover.

What you see in the final version is her take on mirrors and windows, rather than blackface, which has been referenced by commenters. While staff saw the mirrors and windows connection—the cover and all of our stories are reviewed by multiple editors—our understanding had the benefit of close knowledge of the associated story. Any reference to blackface was not our intention. However, images are subject to interpretation, and a particularly distressful one, in this case. As the responsible editor, I regret the pain caused by the image and will seek to do better to maintain clarity for our readers.

As to the timing of our story, the effort to expand understanding and empathy through books seemed especially urgent to foreground now given the current state of the world and the marked rise in blatant racism and bigotry here in America. We stand by our decision to publish in February, which is also Black History Month.

Moreover, “we should center Black stories all the time,” as our reviews editor, Shelley Diaz, says. That is something we try to do at SLJ through our coverage—encompassing reviews, booklists, and more resources—throughout the year.

While we are proud of our record at SLJ, we do not rest on that record. And we will continue to go at the issues, advancing the conversation together with you, our readers, about the role of diverse books.

I welcome your ideas.

Kathy Ishizuka

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Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka is editor in chief of School Library Journal.

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deanna berry

Oh Kathy,
You've said so much and so little at the same time. As a Black woman whose also a former school librarian, now a Youth Services Librarian for a public institution, I can tell you that without a doubt SLJ blew it; Own it claim it, and try and do better. This month's edition could have waited until March, we've been without diverse books this long, this article could have waited until BHM was over. You should have just apologized but instead you stupidly defended this ridiculousness with comments like, “we should center Black stories all the time,” as our reviews editor, Shelley Diaz, says. You shouldn't have to be told this, this should just be a thing. And by the way, the artwork is a slap in the face. Do better.

Posted : Feb 06, 2021 08:57

Eitan D

The cover image and the story angle are both problematic. For the story, there choice to center whiteness - the white perspective on the importance of diverse books; there is value to white kids for sure, but their needs should not be the ones centered in discussions on the importance of representation of communities of color. And the cover illustration, whatever the intention, has the impact of connotations of blackface. A lack of consideration of that association does not excuse it, and is a problem in itself that needs to be addressed. Please take responsibility for the impact of these mistakes and address how you can adjust internal processes to address these real problems. This response does not do that.

Posted : Feb 06, 2021 01:19

A divergent Black voice In LIS

The African American community ( including its youth services LIS scholars) are not a monolith and I want to voice my opinion that NO offense is taken when I read this cover. Rather, i see a quite beautifully complicated story worth unpacking with young people. The way the young white girl’s face is symmetrical to the Black boy’s speaks to a kind of knowing and empathy that we are striving for and not in a patronizing way some seem to have read. Also, the title of the book gives a whole other nuance to the Afro Latino experience that makes me want to explore the inside of the book and SLJ Issue. I’ve been silent on similar recent instances raised on LIS Listservs but I respect the work SLJ has done in the DEI space and wanted to say... this is not the battle we need to spend energy on. And knowing who the illustrators are makes this even more nonsensical.

Posted : Feb 06, 2021 06:49

Mariana Sprouse

As a children's librarian, my only issue with this cover is the "White children" aspect. My experience is that ALL children need diverse books, again to provide mirrors and windows and avoid inflated sense of importance. Yes, I understand the focus is the White children are the most represented and therefore it's easy for them to avoid diversity by choice but if we put too much emphasis on White kids reading books with African American characters, you're swinging the pendulum too far the other way and the worst case scenario would be the opposite reality. In that case, not only do both Black and White children suffer from a lack of exposure to diverse books, but all children. And arguably other children of color and diverse backgrounds who are left out of representation entirely will suffer the most. This is not a Black and White issue and should not be treated as such. If we want diversity, we need true diversity and representation and we need that representation to unilateral across races, cultures, religions, ethnicities, etc.

Posted : Feb 05, 2021 10:53


I'm not going to cancel SLJ, particularly since they've been promoting diverse literature non-stop for some time now. In addition, I believe they have a diverse staff. I think they also tend to be more cognizant of children's real-world reading interests in their reviews than the other big journals, for which I am grateful. I'm more than willing to acknowledge that this cover was a misstep, one I think may go all the way back to the groundbreaking, "The All White World of Children's Books;" that is, that's it good for white children to read about the experiences of non-white children so they won't be big-headed and ignorant! However, it may be an argument that no one wants to hear anymore. It's easy to say in hindsight that it would have been nice to have a diverse group of children reading on the cover. But I'm not a magazine editor. To a related end, I'm sad to say that school librarianship with 20% fewer jobs between 2000 and 2020 is a diminished profession. Who knows what can of impact the pandemic will have? I don't want to endanger the profession any further by participating in a circular firing squad.

Posted : Feb 05, 2021 07:06

Shawna Coppola

Julie: respectfully, it seems as though you are misinterpreting the critique of this cover and feature story. No one is disputing the need for white children to read texts and experience stories of folks of the global majority. The issue was with the timing of this story—e.g., centering whiteness during Black History Month—and with the way the illustrations were (very easily) interpreted as being harmful. I’m curious about your use of the the term “firing squad”...could you please speak to that more?

Posted : Feb 05, 2021 10:25

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