Assembling Our Store’s Summer Reading Recommendations


Alison Morris - July 23, 2008

At our store we’re heading into what’s usually a relatively quiet time, business-wise. (Note that it’s never quiet in our buyers’ office and rarely quiet in the world of event planning.)  Wellesley and the other surrounding towns tend to empty out in late July, as families head to Maine, Cape Cod, or places further afield. Until that happens, though, we are busy, busy as families come in to stock up on books for… SUMMER READING.

To accommodate this surge in business and the many, many requests we get for personalized recommendations at this time of year, our staff puts together wonderful booklets of summer reading suggestions that we hand out to all customers who walk through the door. We’ve got one booklet of recommendations for adults, and one for kids in 1st grade through high school. You can download the children’s booklet in pdf form right here, though it won’t actually look like a "booklet" until you copy the pages back-to-back and then fold them in half so that the front shows the cover and the lists progress chronologically by age.

Our children’s summer reading booklets have been a labor of love for me for many years now, and have become a tool that customers find useful long after the summer months have passed, which makes all the hard work that goes into making them seem that much more worthwhile. It’s a tremendous challenge each year to whittle our store favorites down to just 12 or 13 books for each of two grade levels (1st and 2nd grade, 3rd and 4th grade, and so on). I put a lot of time into the booklet’s design (yes, I do all that) and give it a new theme each year, because I want its overall appearance to reflect the quality of its contents. I try to make sure that each list in the booklet represents a good mix of books with appeal to boys, girls, historical fiction fans, contemporary fiction fans, fantasy fans, non-fiction fans, reluctant readers, eager readers, and so on. I include some hardcovers but mostly paperbacks, some older favorites but mostly new titles. Except in VERY rare cases, I will not put a book on the list that has already made an appearance there in the past two years. The only time I break this rule is when something was on the list in hardcover two years ago and now it’s out in paperback, AND it’s a book that’s not going to easily "sell itself," AND it’s a book that’s just so good that I can’t help myself. And there’s one more thing I take into account: I try very, very hard to make sure that each list includes at least one book that is NOT about "white kids."

The latter should not be difficult, but EVERY YEAR this one little step in my list-tweaking feels like a serious hurdle. ESPECIALLY when it comes to finding/choosing books for younger readers (say, first through fourth graders). The simple fact is this: we need more well-written, high quality beginning reader series and chapter book series with contemporary settings about (or at least including!) kids of color, mixed families, and mixed groups of kids. I love Ann Cameron’s books but I can’t put Julian, Huey, and Gloria titles on EVERY year’s summer reading list.

Publishers, please GO TO A BOOKSTORE. Look at the books in a store’s beginning reader and first chapter book sections. Notice the whitewash effect there. And do something about it. Not just something with an urban flavor, and NOT something that’s historical fiction, please! Just something well-written and entertaining about contemporary kids who happen to be something other than Caucasian — kids with whom anyone can relate and about whom anyone would want to read more. You do it all the time for books about white kids. It’s well past time to get some other kids in the mix too.

Anyone else see holes in the stacks that you’d liked to have filled? If so, shout out those requests! I look forward to seconding many of them.

(Oh, and curious about our store’s summer reading picks for adults? You can download the pdf of that booklet, compiled primarily by Lorna Ruby with much help and design work by Kym Havens, here.)

18 thoughts on “Assembling Our Store’s Summer Reading Recommendations

  1. Jason Low

    While I am the publisher of LEE & LOW BOOKS which specializes in diversity it is natural that I point to our books as a solution to this void. Having said that, we mainly publish picture books, but have started to come out with a few middle grade books and our first YA title this Fall. Please have a browse at leeandlow.com and let us know what you think.

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  2. Lynne P.

    Coretta Scott King Honor Award-winning author and third grade teacher Karen English encountered that same hurdle when looking for books that reflected her students’ experiences, so she has created the NIKKI AND DEJA chapter book series. The second book will be out this winter, and a third is in the works. We hope you’ll check them out!

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  3. BookHer

    Yes, I would agree that it is hard to find titles out there for early chapter books, but some authors are trying. The two new series that I’m looking forward to seeing how they do are Amy Hodgepodge by Kim Wayans and Kevin Knotts and Ruby And The Booker Boys series by Derrick Barnes. But don’t forget series like Miami Jackson by Patricia McKissack, Jackson Jones by Mary Quattlebaum, and Willimena Rules! by Valerie Wesley. Or titles from Carolyn Marsden and I know this is a fantasy title for older readers but I hope The Marvelous Effect (Marvelous World series) by Troy Cle picks up in business after its released in paperback.

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  4. Debra Garfinkle

    After consulting with me and my editor, the illustrator for my Supernatural Rubber Chicken humorous chapter book series deliberately made the twin main characters non-caucasian. They are well-adjusted ten-year-olds raised by a single mother. (When I was a kid, single parent homes usually seemed to be portrayed in books as a tragic thing. I was raised by a single parent and it wasn’t tragic. I wanted my books to reflect that.) The first two books came out June 10. The next comes out Sept. 9.

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  5. Nancy Mercado

    If you are looking for a modern alternative to Ann Cameron, check out Keena Ford and the Second Grade Mix Up. It’s hilarious, age appropriate, and would make a nice addition to this list! Check out (www.keenaford.com)

    Reply
  6. noa

    re: non-white characters in fantasy and sci-fi, don’t forget ursula k. leguin! (see this article she wrote last year, “a whitewashed earthsea: how the sci fi channel wrecked my books” http://www.slate.com/id/2111107/.) tamora pierce also has some non-white characters in her books, most notably daja in the circle of magic books (and the related series). and the ear, the eye, and the arm takes place in africa (zimbabwe, right?). that these books are quickly name-able is still testament to the fact that there aren’t enough fantasy/sci-fi books with non-white characters, but don’t miss the ones there are!

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  7. Kevin A. Lewis

    Well, admittedly when I was in high school the only thing that got me to give up my life of crime, drink and despair was all the vampires one kept running into while living up to my stereotype…

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  8. Julianne Daggett

    I’d like to add to what Kevin said and say that it seems like the only time non-whites and boys are decent, moral and heroic characters are in fantasy books, like its such a strech for them to be that way in any setting that doesn’t have castles(Narnia), evil wizards (Harry Potter), or blood sucking vampires and werewolves (Twilight).

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  9. Kevin A. Lewis

    Trouble is, any writer hoping to make a sale in the YA world has to navigate a minefield of PC assumptions and steroetypical expectations on the gatekeeper end-for instance, non-white ethnic characters are seldom allowed to be well-adjusted and middle class, nor are boys allowed be anything other than troubled punching bags for whatever societal problems are fashionable at that moment. (Unless they’re in a safely remote historical time period, of course) Thus, YA is an almost exclusively white girl’s club in terms of readership-but one can’t blame writers for trimming their sails to make a sale, so to speak…

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  10. kari p

    As far as the non-white kids in early chapter books go, I just fell in love with Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look. Based on that I’m going to be checking out her Ruby Lu series. It’s only one title, but it’s a start.

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  11. Julianne Daggett

    Children’s fantasy and science fiction is also pretty white-washed, except Harry Potter and Pendragon I can’t really think of any titles that have non-white characters in them.

    Reply
  12. Anonymous

    As a rep, I have to tell you that many, many times I was told at independent bookstores in my part of the country that they didn’t have enough non-white customers to support buying a particular title. Imagine taking the numbers for a title like that back to your publisher and begging for more books like that. Not that the publishers don’t want to publish exactly what you’re asking, but the booksellers need to be more aware of the marketplace, too.

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  13. Sam

    Anyone else see holes in the stacks that you’d liked to have filled? My friend Rebecca Rabinowitz (diceytillerman.livejournal.com — PW won’t let me post links) writes about this a lot, so I’ll channel her: fat characters. More specifically, fat heroes/heroines in books that aren’t about their emotional growth as symbolized by their weight loss. There is so much fat prejudice in our society, it would be nice to see children’s books working against that rather than supporting it.

    Reply
  14. Luan

    Amen! My store is in Oakland and it’s my number one request from readers of all stripes. More color! More representation of what the community looks like.

    Reply

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