Tag Archives: LGBT

Whitewashing Book Covers: What Do Kids Think? Part I

allie jane bruceAllie Jane Bruce is Children’s Librarian at the Bank Street College of Education. She Guest Bloggerbegan her career as a bookseller at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC, and earned her library degree from Pratt Institute. She tweets from @alliejanebruce and blogs for Bank Street College.

Part 1 | Part 2
In my first year as Children’s Librarian at Bank Street, I worked with two teachers on a project that allowed sixth-graders to explore implicit and explicit biases in publishing. Using book covers as a starting point for discussion, we engaged in conversations about identity, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, body image, class, and ability as they relate to books and beyond.It started when my co-worker, Jamie Steinfeld, asked me to booktalk some realistic fiction for her sixth-grade Humanities class. A girl asked a question about Return To Sender“Why is there a bird on the cover?”—and we were off. Good question! Yes, the hardcover does have a bird. And does anyone notice anything about the paperback? See how the boy has his face turned toward us, and we can see his blond hair, but the girl from Mexico has her back to us and we can’t tell what race she is? What’s up with that?

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Literary Agents Discuss the Diversity Gap in Publishing

Literary agents make up a big part of the publishing machine. Most publishers no longer consider unsolicited submissions, so an agent is a must if you even want to get your foot in the door. Each year, agents review many promising manuscripts and portfolios so it is safe to say they have a good sense of who makes up the talent pool of children’s book publishing. So what kind of diversity are agents seeing? Being that the number of diverse books has not increased in the last eighteen years, in order to understand why this problem persists we decided to ask the gatekeepers.

Adriana DomínguezAdriana Domínguez is an agent at Full Circle Literary, a boutique literary agency based in San Diego and New York City, offering a unique full circle approach to literary representation. The agency’s experience in book publishing includes editorial, marketing, publicity, legal, and rights, and is used to help build authors one step at a time. Full Circle works with both veteran and debut writers and artists, and has a knack for finding and developing new and diverse talent.

Karen GrencikAbigail  SamounKaren Grencik and Abigail Samoun own Red Fox Literary, a boutique agency representing children’s book authors and illustrators. They offer a dazzling array of talents among their roster of clients, including New York Times and Time magazine Best Book winners, and some of the most promising up-and-coming talents working in the field today. The agency is closed to unsolicited submissions but it does accept queries from attendees at conferences where they present or through industry referrals.

Lori NowickiLori Nowicki is founder of Painted Words, a literary agency that represents illustrators and authors in the children’s publishing marketplace and beyond. Their goal is to provide the utmost in representation for illustrators and writers while placing a unique emphasis on developing characters, books, and licensed properties.

Do you receive many submissions from authors and illustrators of color? Overall, what percentage of authors and illustrators who submit to you are people of color? Note: Estimations are fine.

AD/Full Circle: I honestly wouldn’t know about percentages, but our agency receives a good number of submissions from authors of color. Proportionally, our agency represents more authors of color than most others. Authors and illustrators who are familiar with our work and/or visit our website know that we welcome diverse points of view, and see that diversity represented in our client list. I will say that I have personally felt for a very long time that there are simply not enough illustrators of color in the marketplace, and I am not quite sure why that is. I am usually very enthusiastic when I receive a query from a talented author/illustrator of color—I wish we received more of those! As a general rule, our agency represents illustrators who are also writers, and such people are difficult to find under any circumstances, as not everyone is equally good at both.I would estimate that perhaps 10–15% of my submissions are from people of color

AS/Red Fox Literary: It’s hard to tell how many submissions come from authors and illustrators of color. Most of the time, I haven’t met these authors and illustrators in person so the only way for me to tell what their ethnicity might be is by their name and their choice of subjects, but these can be misleading. I once made an offer on a picture book about an African American family, told in language with a jazzy rhythm, by an author with an African American sounding name and she turned out to be a white librarian. I’d made the assumption, based on the subject and the author’s name, that she would be African American.

Oftentimes, the question of the author’s ethnicity doesn’t enter my mind—unless the subject relates to race, in which case I’ll wonder if the author will have the life experience that can provide a genuine insider’s point-of-view. I would estimate that perhaps 10–15% of my submissions are from people of color.

KG/Red Fox Literary: I have four authors of color on my list of 38 authors, but like Abi says, we never know the ethnicity of an author when they submit to us. The only way I could imagine to gauge it would be by determining how many authors of color attend an SCBWI conference at which I present, comparing that number to the total number of attendees, and then assuming the ratio of submissions to be a similar percentage. At the recent summer conference in LA, I would guesstimate that authors of color made up about 35% of the total number of attendees.Less than one percent of the submissions I receive reflect people of color in the samples.

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Where’s the Diversity? 5 Reasons Why the US Government Isn’t More Diverse

In our previous diversity studies on the Academy Awards, the Emmy Awards, the children’s book field, The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Films, the Tony Awards, and Silicon Valley we interviewed people who actively work in television, publishing, and the theater. We attempted to duplicate this approach for our diversity study on US politics, but with the government shutdown, none of the twelve Congresspeople we contacted responded to our efforts to reach out to them. However, we think the numbers speak for themselves: Continue reading

True or False? Multicultural Books Don’t Sell

We Are the Problem, We Are the Solution

Elizabeth BluemieElizabeth Bluemle is the co-owner of the Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, VT.

As an independent bookseller, former school librarian, and lifelong avid reader, I crave the day when publishing lists are as Guest Bloggerdiverse and rich as the playgrounds of our nation, and the conversation about representations of diversity in children’s literature is as unnecessary as the question of whether or not women should vote. Until that happens, there is no discussion more vital in the children’s book world than how to bring our industry at every level in line with America’s diversity.

I’ve written about this subject often over the last several years, for Publishers Weekly’s Shelftalker blog and the CCBC Diversity Committee blog, and while it seems we are, as a whole, talking a lot more about these issues within the field, and while there have been some increase in the number of mainstream children’s books featuring kids of color, we are still so far behind.

The problem is systemic and deeply rooted and requires change at every level, from the publishing houses to artists and writers to booksellers, educators, and [A]dults make all kinds of erroneous assumptions about what will and won’t interest children.consumers. We booksellers have more opportunity to effect change than we might imagine. People entrust us with book recommendations from individual purchases to helping plan school curricula on a grand scale, and this affords us the most amazing opportunity to be aware of what we are recommending. One of the challenges inherent in selling children’s books is that we usually have to go through one or two levels of gatekeepers to reach a book’s intended audience, the child reader. We are selling to teachers and librarians, and to parents and other adult family and friends.

In my seventeen years as a bookseller and three years as a school librarian before that, if there’s one thing I have noticed, it’s that we adults make all kinds of erroneous assumptions about what will and won’t interest children. Time and time again, at the bookstore and at children’s book festivals, I have observed white children picking up books with kids of color on the cover, and heard adults express surprise at the choice. “Are you sure you want that one?” they’ll ask. Or, “Wouldn’t you like this book instead?” It’s not the kids who are the problem. Kids really, really, really only care about a great story. In twenty years of connecting children with books they love, I have only seen one child—ONE!—balk at a book cover because the main character was a different race from her own. It’s the adults who underestimate a child’s ability or desire to see beyond race.

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Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased In Eighteen Years?

Note: This post was originally posted in June 2013. An updated study with new statistics can be found here. The infographic below has also been updated.

Since LEE & LOW BOOKS was founded in 1991 we have monitored the number of multicultural children’s books published each year through the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s statistics. Our hope has always been that with all of our efforts and dedication to publishing multicultural books for more than twenty years, we must have made a difference. Surprisingly, the needle has not moved. Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, children’s book publishing has not kept pace. We asked academics, authors, librarians, educators, and reviewers if they could put their fingers on the reason why the number of diverse books has not increased. Continue reading

Where’s the Diversity? The Tony Awards Looks in the Mirror

Though we are a publisher of children’s books, part of our mission is to look at diversity issues with a critical eye and see whose stories are not being told. As part of that mission, over the next several months we will be looking at several different arenas and talking to experts to see if patterns of inequality repeat themselves in different places. We hope our research will cast a light on the challenges – and opportunities – facing women and people of color today.

The Diversity Gap in the Tony Awards infographic
The Diversity Gap in the Tony Awards infographic (click for larger image)

Since the Tony Awards will be presented on June 9, 2013, we decided to collect some data to see if a diversity gap exists in the theater. See our infographic above. While we cannot claim expertise in other fields outside of children’s books, we were fortunate to receive valuable insight from playwright/actor Christine Toy Johnson, who has spent the last fifteen years conducting dialogue with the entertainment industry to increase diversity in the theater and beyond.

Christine Toy JohnsonCHRISTINE TOY JOHNSON is an award-winning writer, actor, filmmaker, and advocate for inclusion. Member: BMI Workshop, Dramatists Guild, ASCAP, AEA, SAG-AFTRA, Asian guest blogger iconAmerican Composers and Lyricists Project (founder), executive board of Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts, elected leadership of Actors’ Equity Association (and co-chair of the union’s EEOC), founding steering committee member of AAPAC. {Read  more}

How old were you when you knew you wanted to perform onstage?
I can’t remember an age when I didn’t want to perform onstage. I was the kind of kid who made my parents’ holiday guests watch my dramatization of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” every year. I started working professionally (and joined Actors’ Equity Association) the summer I graduated from high school, and against all odds, I have made my living in the arts ever since, as both an actor and a writer.

Since you have been involved in the theater for so long, how have you seen the theater world change? Do you feel that the number of roles available to people of color has increased over the years?

Things have gotten better for people of color, for sure, but there is obviously a lot of room for improvement.

I want to preface all of this by saying that I can only really speak from the perspective of being an Asian American actor and writer. I can’t presume to know what it’s like to be African American, Latina, Native American, etc., but the stats I’ve included from AAPAC (see below) will be able to address this question from a more objective point of view.

Back in 1991, I got a chance to play Julie Jordan in a production of CAROUSEL at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, no asian american female playwright has ever been produced on Broadway. Ever.New York, which was a watershed moment for me. Not only was I shocked that I was being given the opportunity to audition (back then, a rare occurrence), but after I booked the job, working with a director and company of actors that supported me and believed in my ability to transform into a non-Asian character in a classic golden age musical gave me the confidence to go for and go on to play many, many more classic non-Asian leading lady roles. The power of encouragement and affirmation from your peers cannot be underestimated.

As a playwright/librettist/lyricist, I am also acutely aware of the number of writers of color that are being produced, which is a key part of this puzzle. (More on that in a later question.) Personally, I am conscious of always either including an Asian American actor in my written work or telling an aspect of an Asian American character’s story. I believe that the only way we’ll see our roles increase is if more of our stories are produced (written by and/or about us), and/or if more playwrights/directors/producers are open to having people of color play non-race specific roles they write/direct/produce.

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First Book, Stories for All Project Chooses LEE & LOW

In a groundbreaking announcement, First Book, a non-profit social enterprise launched the Stories for All Project. The project’s aim is to introduce a significant number of multicultural books into the hands of low-income children. LEE & LOW was chosen as one of two publishers to be a part of this endeavor and receive a $500,000 award.First Book

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Happy LGBT Pride Month!

June is LGBT Pride Month, and throughout this month people everywhere (including President Obama) have been celebrating the positive impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have had in the world. The fight for LGBT rights has always been a matter of civil rights and equality, as our publisher noted in a recent post, and it’s nice that we live in an era when that’s acknowledged by so many people.

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Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Equality . . . For All

Throughout the history of the United States, equality for all people has been fought for and won time and time again. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence ”that all men are created equal,” and over time equal rights have been gradually extended to different groups of people. However, equality has never been achieved without heated debate, despite our country’s founding principle that all people are created equal in the first place.

The language used to seek equality has remained familiar over time. Posters demanding equal rights (pictured) contain messages we have all seen or heard. One of my theories is that since the human life span is finite, the message of equality has to be relearned by each generation as it comes to realize that more work needs to be done.

If humans lived longer, would full equality across racial and gender lines have been acquired by now? Ask yourself: Would women suffragists from the 1920s, who so anti-semitism is anti-mevehemently demanded the right to vote, think it was fine for African Americans to be denied this same right? It depends. My theory also includes the caveat that empathy for others does not always translate into citizens banding together for the greater good. Then again, the social evolution of the United States is progressing. This progression is the reason the language and message of equality remains relevant.

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DiYA March: New Diverse Middle Grade and YA Novels

Last month we announced that we’d be taking over Diversity in YA‘s roundups of new diverse middle grade and young adult books coming out each month, started by authors Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo. Using the DiYA definition, we define diversity for the purpose of this roundup as: (1) main characters or major secondary characters (e.g., a love interest or best friend kind of character) who are of color or are LGBT; or (2) written by a person of color or LGBT author.

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