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

Author Image
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

Jennifer Morrison

I Identify here as a White Woman 60 year old Teacher Librarian. I thought the cover was lovely. I see a white girl absorbing diversity. I appreciate LSJ effort address the white/black culture divide, and I'm disturbed that this effort has been criticized so harshly. I would like to know the names of other periodicals that approach this topic so directly. In addition, I would be very unhappy if SLJ makes less of an effort in the future, because their attempt was rudely received.

Posted : Feb 05, 2021 07:05

Shawna Coppola

Could you say more about what you perceive as being “rude”?

Posted : Feb 05, 2021 10:21

Alexis Barad-Cutler

Oof. Lots of words. So little accomplished. Would have been so much more powerful to have simply apologized, taken a step back, maybe even a pause -- and then letting a Black person take the lead on where to go from here. The insult to injury is asking people for "ideas" when so many Black people already did the work in the comments section of the IG post you took down. This cover was an egregious error, made in a vacuum. Having worked in children's book publishing, I remember quite clearly how these kinds of meetings can go. Someone at the helm needs to be yessed at, few questions get asked, boxes on a pipeline need to be checked, etc. This is a time when questions need to be asked constantly, and the biggest check we need to be making is on ourselves, and our privilege.

Posted : Feb 05, 2021 06:27

A deeply concerned Human

You clearly didn't actually see or take in the comments about how much pain you caused and how you have added to racism and suffering and during Black History Month no less. No one needed an explanations about your intentions. They don't matter. The results matter. And the results were a racist cover and then defending that racism without any apology. Maybe if libraries were actually filled with diverse books with less white authors then all kids would be more likely to have that exposure but the focus when dealing with diversity needs to stop being around white people's needs. And when it's been made beyond clear that you caused harm don't double down by making excuses for why it wasn't harmful, that's what abusers do. Maybe it's not intentional but you have crossed the line. Instead own up to being human and having made a mistake and apologize for the harm you caused.

Also it's blatantly clear you need to start with hiring a more diverse staff. If you had a diverse enough staff they would never have gotten on board with that racist cover. So it's time to retry this with a real apology and no excuses and fix the racism and lack of diversity that must be going on behind the scenes at SLJ and then maybe you can help librarians increase diversity in reading. But when you defend a cover that clearly crossed the blackface line and centered the need for diversity around the needs of white kids you are defending racism which is unacceptable. You aren't going to increase diversity by being a racist institution. Deeply disappointed in you personally for your choices to be an insensitive human and in the SLJ.

Posted : Feb 05, 2021 06:20

J.E.D.I. Warrior

Considering this is BLACK History Month, this cover story and illustration really touches a nerve. By centering white people, you dismissed the needs of the Black community. You chose to coddle white people with an article written expressly to white people...during Black History Month! It's a slap in the face.

Here's an idea: Apologize for your racist error (while not defending that you are a good person). The Black community deserves an apology for your publication's microaggression toward them. The intent of the article doesn't matter. You caused pain to Black people. While you responded to the flak you received in your writing above, you didn't own nor apologize for your racist error.

Posted : Feb 05, 2021 05:07

Another Librarian

The cover is fine, and the article elucidating and important. Your explanation is clear, though largely unnecessary for anyone who read the cover story carefully. SLJ has been in the forefront of the #WNDB movement in the media, for better or for worse. It's just so much easier to get upset about a magazine cover for an important story than it is to get upset over why, after several years of focus on diverse books, tons of awards for BIPOC writers, and a sharp veer of the library community toward awareness of racial issues and the left, Black and Latinx student reading scores continue to stagnate at unacceptable levels, while Asian student reading scores continue to be exemplary.

Posted : Feb 05, 2021 05:03

Jared Howe

How hard is it to simply apologize and pledge to do better next time?

Posted : Feb 05, 2021 04:11

Derrick Moore

Though the cover could be perceived as culturally insensitive content, I don't think that was SLJ's intent. The editor submitted a salient response. Further, I think everyone especially librarians of color are always looking for some kind of fight. I would venture to argue that most of the people on this thread and others who are raising hell have probably never even read or subscribe to SLJ. There a bigger fish to fry in this industry like the pandemic and thousands of school library jobs that being lost, which has a draconian impact on librarians of color. Let's put our fight into saving school library jobs instead of magazine covers. Get a life!

Posted : Feb 05, 2021 03:45

Erica Lopez

I am spectacularly disappointed by this response. What an opportunity to learn and grow - quashed by defensiveness. This self-justification effectively nullifies the poor attempt at an apology that was already buried in excuses.

Posted : Feb 05, 2021 02:40

A Librarian

This “apology” furthers the impression that editors of the highest level in this publication are not listening. It is not that the article exists that caused problems. It was the entire editorial process in the choice of author, cover story, art illustrations, and timing. There is no need to apologize for wanting to write an article about bringing diverse books to predominantly white communities. But that seems to be all this piece has done, in a very tone deaf way.

I think others have already shared exactly why the editors need to acknowledge their shortcomings (because apparently it isn’t obvious) — I was willing to give SLJ and LJ another chance, but not after reading this attempt to explain why a white-centered blackface reference on the cover during Black History month was actually the right decision, and readers just weren’t intelligent enough to understand.


Posted : Feb 05, 2021 01:39

Annalise B

You've completely missed the point.

Posted : Feb 05, 2021 01:30

Iman Maynard

This was a long response, but I couldn't find the apology. Regretting pain you caused and seeking to be more clear in the future does not count. All this statement did was make me angrier than I was before I read it. Your ignorance is disheartening.

Posted : Feb 05, 2021 01:30

Christie McNabb

Seeing the cover was shocking, beyond words. Reading your response is infuriating, beyond words. Justifying White Centering because librarians have experienced push back only further explains why that push back exists in the first place. And I’m sorry, but your process of discovering this was an issue was not revolutionary or ground-breaking but rather indicative of the ground you still have to cover in waking to your own inherent racism. You have done more damage than good, and that should be held up as priority number 1 in your assessment of this situation.

Posted : Feb 05, 2021 12:27

Tracey Claybon

Reading your comment, Ms Ishizuka - you absolutely deserve the criticism you are receiving. Your response was completely tone deaf - and if this argument had replaced ‘black’ history with ‘Japanese’ historyb- perhaps it would get through the blinders you are wearing over this subject. Quite simply - you owe the Black and Brown communities a MASSIVE APOLOGY.

You really should be adult enough to apologize for what you said here. You were WRONG.

Posted : Feb 05, 2021 11:09

Kamene DP

This is a thorough explanation of a problematic process. It would be more helpful to Black critics to acknowledge where you went wrong, despite your obvious intentionality. It’s clear that there weren’t powerful Black voices at the helm to warn away from the language or accompanying art. This is an unsatisfactory an uncritical self assessment. It is a defense, not a recitification, not an apology, not an acknowledgment. In fact, it is hearing critic and somehow asking for further thoughts. Knowing more about the process behind the cover actually exposes the obvious lack of critical racial awareness exists with SLJ editorial leadership- despite all this thinking, such an offense cover to show for it. It is a slap in the face.

Posted : Feb 05, 2021 06:41

Kim P

You may readers in your organization, but it’s clear you fall short on thinkers.

Wow. Just wow.

Posted : Feb 04, 2021 10:19

Disappointed Librarian

No one should be shocked that SLJ (and this goes for LJ as well, to be honest) has once again shown their anti-Blackness/bigotry—of course, this does not go for every employee; I know there are good people there who are probably frustrated/unheard. How many times do you have to make the same mistake and be called out? And how many times are you going to get defensive, make excuses, and double down instead of taking SINCERE responsibility for your harmful actions? These publications are meant to be lead industry sources; stop gaslighting your audience and start acting like professionals.

Clearly your leadership needs a complete overhaul. The fact that you're standing by ANY decision made here makes it obvious how disconnected you and any editor who approved this are. Revamp your departments, hire better editors.

Posted : Feb 04, 2021 09:32

Keith Seckel

Quoting you, but adding my own interpretative emphasis:

“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...”

...which centers White communities, just like the artwork centered a white child.

This is Black History Month. Why, oh why, would you choose to lead with a story which perpetuates the notion that it is somehow the responsibility of the oppressed to reach out to and help the oppressor learn and grow.

Posted : Feb 04, 2021 09:02

Rebekah Borucki

I didn't think it would be possible to add insult to injury in this case, but you have succeeded with this defensive, lazy, tone-deaf response. Also, you didn't acknowledge that you deleted the Instagram post where Black and brown parents, teachers, and librarians did real labor and offered valuable education in the comments.

Posted : Feb 04, 2021 08:22

Sunita Balija

I think this situation reflects the need for more Black Leadership in Libraries.

Posted : Feb 04, 2021 08:13

Wendy Knight

Why is it so difficult to simply say “You know what? We dropped the ball on this one. We failed to run this by a sensitivity reader. We acknowledge that we missed the mark and were short sighted in publishing this cover article focusing on white children during Black History Month. It was not our intent draw attention away from the innumerable accomplishments by black people and black culture in children’s literature and library services, but we understand how our choice can seem insensitive. We apologize, and we promise to take care in the future to make sure our diversity efforts are better thought-out.”

Also, “we sincerely apologize for the screaming and horrified white child seemingly reading a diverse title while seated next to children of color.” TERRIBLE art choices.

Posted : Feb 04, 2021 08:05

Caitlin Snyder

Intention does not matter. The story and the art could have been more understandable if not placed on the cover and centered as the main theme of the issue. You literally took an article about diversity and focused it on white kids. It's in the title.

Not to mention the watered down diversity represented-- it's black history month. You can say the word 'black'. Please do better.

Posted : Feb 04, 2021 06:24

Anonymous Librarian

While I think we can all acknowledge that this is an important topic that should be discussed, it is your timing that ruins it. You took a month that focuses on the history and accomplishments of Black people (especially important with what America has been going through) and made it about White children.

Your intention was good, but it had a negative impact. You didn't even get a Black author to pen this article. Everything about this screams white and white privilege, no matter what you intended for this article to be. It could have been pushed back to another month. Yes, SLJ does write about social justice and there is a history of that, but you are also capable of making mistakes and no amount of past articles makes up for that.

As librarians, you KNOW we need to do better. It is true that diverse books are largely dismissed not only by consumers, but by publishers too. So, why are you upholding this? Why are you playing into this? Why didn't you feature Black authors, who also have a hard time breaking into our field which is already so white? By supporting the actions you took, you aren't holding yourselves accountable, nor are you supporting the countless Black voices who told you why this was wrong.

A real apology needs to be posted now, not you doubling down on a poor choice that puts white children at the center stage yet again. This is extremely disheartening to see from a publisher who is supposed to be at the forefront of our field.

Posted : Feb 04, 2021 08:15

Anonymous Librarian

Sorry Caitlin, I accidentally put this under your comment! This was a general comment to SLJ, not you.

Posted : Feb 04, 2021 08:55



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