This November I attended the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Annual Convention in Washington, DC and was overwhelmed by the broad focus on diversity in children’s books. Though many of us have been aware of this issue for years (or even decades) it is often a topic set aside for one or two poorly-attended panels located at inconvenient times in back rooms.
On October 11, 2014, I attended a colloquium called Mind the Gaps, hosted by The Horn Book at Simmons College in Boston. There was an all-star line up consisting of Peter Brown (Mr. Tiger Goes Wild), Gene Luen Yang (Boxers and Saints), Andrew Smith (Grasshopper Jungle), and Steve Sheinkin (The Port Chicago 50), to name a few. Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief of The Horn Book, played a big part in pulling all these folks together for a day.
One of the highlights was the keynote by author/librarian Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (No Crystal Stair). Here’s a snippet from her speech:
“We are here at Simmons trying to solve this problem while one of the biggest stories in the news is that Apple released a new iPhone. Yet ALA struggles to get a one-minute spot on one network to announce the nation’s most prestigious children’s book awards. Is this our world now? To quote one of my favorite library patrons, ‘Have we dumbed down society so much that what is truly significant is not considered important?’ This conversation is significant. So how do we make it important?”
Stacy Whitman, Publisher of the Tu Books imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS, gives us a recap of the 2014 New York Comic Con (NYCC) event and two big panels on diversity.
The #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #geeksofcolor hashtags were well represented at Comic Con this year, with three panels discussing diversity and several more panels where the subject came up. Publishers were showcasing their diverse titles among their frontlist promotions. And panels about diversity topics, even those held in large rooms at inconvenient times, were standing room only all weekend—a clear sign to me that this subject is on the minds of more and more people lately.
I missed the #WeNeedDiverse(Comic)Books panel, but you can see a recap of it here. Read on for recaps of the panels I attended:
Geeks of Color Go Pro panel
I arrived early, wanting to be able to get a good seat, and only two people were waiting in line—which made me nervous. Last year, the Geeks of Color panel was packed full. Would they repeat that this year the 8pm Thursday time slot, which admittedlywas less than ideal?
I needn’t have worried. Soon the room filled to capacity, perhaps 400-500 people, mostly people of color who were fans, interested in writing or illustrating themselves, or who had family members interested. Diana Pho, an editor at Tor, moderated the panel. Panelists were LeSean Thomas (BLACK DYNAMITE: THE ANIMATED SERIES; THE LEGEND OF KORRA; THE BOONDOCKS), Tracey J. John (MTV.com; Gameloft), Alice Meichi Li (Dark Horse), Daniel José Older (Author, HALF-RESSURECTION BLUES); and I. W. Gregorio (Author, #WeNeedDiverseBooks).
Most of the time was taken with each panelist sharing their story of how they went pro. Their answers for how they became an animator, a writer and editor, an illustrator, a video game writer, and a surgeon and writer were as diverse as the panelists themselves, showing how many paths there are to a professional creative career. For example, Boondocks and Legend of Korra animator LeSean Thomas grew up in the projects and never attended college, but instead got into comics because the materials to draw were pretty cheap, he said. He found opportunities when he showed his work to his boss at a sports store where he worked after high school, and learned as he worked his way up.
Another year, another fantastic ALA Annual, this time in Las Vegas! While “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” we thought it would be OK to break that code, just this one time, in order to share our experiences with you.
Even though the weather was hot (hello triple digits!), attendance was high and spirits were up! We teamed up with the folks of the #weneeddiversebooks campaign to hand out buttons, which were a huge hit! In fact, School Library Journal reported that, “If you ran into a youth services librarian at the American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Las Vegas, odds were good that they were sporting a colorful ‘We Need Diverse Books’ button.”
We kept a white board in our booth, and got some great answers from librarians on why we need diverse books:
Quite a few of our authors and illustrators made it out to Las Vegas and our schedule was packed with signings! Don Tate, Glenda Armand, Frank Morrison, René Colato Lainez, Karen Sandler, Mira Reisberg, John Parra, Susan L. Roth, Cindy Trumbore, and Emily Jiang all stopped by the booth to sign books. In true Vegas style, we kept the party going at the LEE & LOW table!
It’s hard to believe that the ALA Annual Conference is just around the corner, but we’re looking forward to a fun-filled weekend in Las Vegas! We have an exciting signing schedule, which you can check out below:
Last year at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference, we had a great turnout and discussion during our book buzz event. If you’ll be at ALA, join us again this year to keep the conversation going:
LEE & LOW BOOKS is going to be at the Harlem Book Fair this Saturday and we’d love to meet you! Stop by booth G38 (located on the North Side of West 135th Street between Malcolm X Boulevard and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard) for illustrator signings, and the Young Readers Pavilion for readings: