Maybe you’ve seen this before. Maybe you haven’t. But, if we were to shrink the population of the world to 100 people while still maintaining the ratios of today, this is what our little village would look like:
5 US Americans and Canadians
8 Latin Americans
51 would be male, 49 would be female
82 would be non-white; 18 white
67 would be non-Christian; 33 would be Christian
80 would live in substandard housing
It sometimes happens in publishing that more than one publisher releases a book about the same subject or person in the same season or soon after. This is occurring more and more, especially with biographies. Recently we published a picture book biography of Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientist and environmentalist who initiated a tree planting movement in Kenya that resulted in the planting of 30 million trees. Our book was the fourth book about Maathai to be published for children in the past couple of years.
Why does this happen? Serendipity? Coincidence? Stars lining up in a certain alignment? Publishers in general are on constant lookout for inspirational stories. At the same time, authors are writing about people who inspire them, and experienced authors are doing their homework, searching for stories that are absent in the marketplace in an effort to present something new to readers. It is entirely possible that four different authors, around the same time, came to the same conclusion that there were no books on Wangari Maathai for children and decided to do something about it. This is where overlap can occur.
Children become aware of gender, race, ethnicity, and disabilities before entering kindergarten. They form views at a young age, absorbing any bias or judgments from the adults in their life. It is important for parents to teach their children how to respect and appreciate others, creating a positive habit to take throughout their life.
Creating an environment for children to interact with kids from other backgrounds and cultures is important to their healthy development. It allows them to see the differences among each other and value them, instead of judging or turning away.
Digital books will directly impact the work we do here at LEE & LOW, so I took the plunge and purchased a Kindle so I could gain a hands-on understanding of what the reading experience was like compared to the paper books we know and love.
I have read my last five books on the Kindle and here are my thoughts:
Since the screen on the Kindle is smaller than the pages of most books, and there is a magnification feature that can enlarge the text shown, the reading experience is a fast one, because there are fewer words per “page.” On the Kindle I feel like I’m flying through chapters, and since I have always considered myself a slow reader, the momentum of plowing through a book is kind of exhilarating.
In response to a growing interest in foreign language books from parents and kids alike, Amazon.com announced an update to their digital reader—the Kindle—that would allow three new languages into their growing digital library. In a February 19th announcement, Amazon unveiled an update to the Kindle text platform, allowing Spanish, Portuguese and Italian authors to upload and sell digital versions of their books over the internet.
The number of children’s books featuring racial, ethnic, or cultural diversity has not kept pace with the growing diversity of the United States population. Census data from 2008 shows that 34% of the population is minorities. In contrast, the number of children’s books reflecting diversity is about 13% of the books published each year. Since 1994, when the Cooperative Children’s Book Center started to keep statistics of children’s books published by and about people of color, I’ve watched this percentage inch up and down. But there has never been a significant improvement or decline.
Nathalie Mvondo over at Mutliculturalism Rocks! has posted a great interview with our very own publisher (and regular blogwriter) Jason Low!
There’s an interesting discussion going on over at January Magazine this week about whether we should establish a ratings system for books. The blogger over there, Tony, read an upcoming YA book billed for ages 14 and up. But some 70 pages in, Tony discovered content that he felt was a little, um, mature for the average 14-year-old reader:
“14 and up, I thought. 14 and up? 14 and up?! To me, ’14 and up’ is just another way of saying PG-13. . . . As the father of boys aged 13 and 9, who both love to read, I am now officially worried. Is this the stuff of books for Young Readers? For 14 and up?”
In the professional world of books, made up of librarians and publishers and booksellers, any complaint about the appropriateness of content tends to illicit a knee-jerk reaction and cry of censorship. And, frankly, when people are removing dictionaries from schools because they contain definitions of words that parents deem inappropriate, it’s not hard to see why. But Tony has a sensible argument: Shouldn’t there at least be some sort of rating so readers know what they are getting themselves into?
In August 2009 there was a controversy over a novel with cover art that showed a white face even though the main character of the story was black. The main argument for featuring a white face instead of a black face seems to be a belief that readers are more likely to buy a book with a white face on it. The cover was changed by the publisher because of the uproar it caused on the web, but the incident got me thinking about the images on the covers of our own books, especially since we are a publisher that focuses on diversity.
One hundred percent of the time diverse faces stare out from the covers of our books. Does this mean that only Asian American readers buy Asian books and African Americans only purchase our African or African American titles? If this were the case, we would have been out of business a long time ago. Our publishing mission is based on the idea that the universality of themes contained in our books appeal to a wide audience. A book that takes place in Southeast Asia, for example, should capture the imaginations of both a white child in Minnesota and a child of South Asian descent because of the common themes that bind us together.
You might have already seen today’s big publishing news: Kirkus Reviews is closing, according to Publishers Weekly and the ever-informative A Fuse #8. Kirkus, which has been publishing book reviews since 1933, is a print review journal mainly used by librarians and booksellers when they make their purchasing decisions. While other review journals like School Library Journal only come out monthly, Kirkus is (well, was) published every other week, so it reviewed a great many published books, and gained something of a reputation for Telling It Like It Is.