For more diversity in kids books, support diversity of publishers

DTPA recent opinion piece in Education Week notes psychological studies that link a lack of diversity in literature to racism. The piece’s author, Alvin Irby of Barbershop Books (which hopes to foster a love of reading by getting books of interest to 4-8 year old boys into barbershops), writes, “Children’s literature represents one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the fight against bigotry and racism in American culture.” Irby goes on to cite Christopher Myers’ wonderful piece from last year, The Apartheid of Children’s Literature, in which Myers argued that kids see books “as maps” but, unfortunately, “Children of color remain outside the boundaries of imagination. The cartography we create with this literature is flawed.”

Great stuff. Both pieces call for more diversity in children’s book publishing. We agree.

But I think it’s worth pointing out that there are a lot of good diverse books getting published by small presses that no one seems to hear about because they’re not getting reviewed by influential reviewers like Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal and they’re not getting bought by the big wholesalers and chains.

Yet they are getting published. Many of the books on the Children’s Book Council’s wonderful list of diverse books are from small presses: Lee & Low, Tamarind Books, and Just Us Books are small companies that have been publishing diverse books for quite some time.

Most big publishers are putting programs in place to foster diversity. But big publishing companies and mainstream wholesalers and reviewers are big boats, and big boats are slow to turn (case in point: Scholastic—partner in the terrific WeNeedDiverseBooks—recently published, and then recalled, a happy-slave picture book, demonstrating that even with good intentions there will be bumpy seas).

If we want more diversity in publishing right now, how about supporting the small presses that are publishing diversity? How about getting them more review coverage (some mainstream reviewers use a quota for small-press reviews; others screen out titles printed on demand–a tactic of cash-strapped small presses and self-publishers alike–setting up a catch-22 in which books from small presses don’t get reviewed because they don’t have early demand, because they don’t get reviewed).

We can support diversity from small presses by making good use of GoodReads (if ever there was a voice for literary critical democracy, GoodReads seems to be it), by using the aforementioned Children’s Book Council’s wonderful list of diverse books, and by visiting independent book bloggers who are more open to small presses and rather selflessly share their love of reading.

If we want more diversity in children’s literature, let’s support a diversity of publishers.

(by Alan Bradshaw, Bliss Group Books)

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