Where’s Ramona Quimby, Black and Pretty?

Elizabeth Bluemle -- August 27th, 2009

It seems to me you’d have to have enormous resiliency, not to mention a generous sense of humor and/or deep ethnic pride, to grow up black in this country. One of the many things I hope will come out of having Barack Obama as President is publishers’ embarrassed realization that, heck, there’s not a whole lot out there in the children’s book world featuring kids like Malia and Sasha. That is, books with black characters who lead 21st-century lives in a vibrant world of ethnic diversity. Books that aren’t about slavery, civil rights, and the struggles of interracial relationships. Those stories are vital and must be told—both the brutal and the inspirational—but just as 2009 American Jewish kids don’t see themselves primarily in the context of the Holocaust, neither do black children live in the past. They, like all children, deserve to be active, lively participants in the children’s literature of the present.

It’s not that race is unimportant. Race (and its equally powerful counterpart, class) are always with us in this country, and I do not think we should pretend they are not. That, too, would be a disservice to children. But in this overwhelmingly white field of publishing and bookselling, we need to get beyond an over-awareness of race and get to the real business of living in this colorful world. Somehow, the politeness of political correctness has ended up quashing a lot of what began as an authentic, hopeful, brilliant, warts-and-all exploration of cross-cultural joy and beauty that came out of the Sixties.

As a child of the mid-1960′s and 1970′s, I had the great good fortune of growing up at a time often referred to as a golden age in children’s book publishing. The likes of Ezra Jack Keats and Virginia Hamilton and Walter Dean Myers were unleashing their genius on the world, and in the heady culture of mainstream embracement of hippie ideals, racial representation in books was in some ways more inclusive, broad, low-key yet celebratory, and therefore "realer" than it feels (at least to me) today. I was a Free to Be…You and Me child, a Ms. Magazine ‘Stories for Free Children’ reader, and I wonder how we’ve gotten so far from those promising, inclusive days.

As a bookseller, it’s mortifying to have so few multiracial options to offer parents and kids—both white and black. It’s wildly frustrating to come up against, time and again, the erroneous assumption that white kids will not want to read about non-white kids. That is one of the most ridiculous pervasive myths in all of bookselling. Is Corduroy (interior illustration at right) not one of the most beloved classics of all time? Do children hesitate to pick up Looking for a Moose (left) by Phyllis Root because there are brown faces on the cover? In The Stories Julian Tells, can white children not relate to Julian and his little brother Huey "accidentally" eating up all the dessert before dinner? Do white parents eschew The Snowy Day because Peter is black? Is E.L. Konigsburg’s Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth less appealing to kids because one of its two main characters is black? (I was extremely disappointed to see that the new cover for that marvelous Newbery Honor book, while well designed, now omits the black character.) Are children reading Mary Hoffman’s Amazing Grace unable to put themselves in her imaginative shoes even if they aren’t black, or a girl? (Do I need to answer these rhetorical questions?)

When I worked in publishing back in the early ’90s, I had a friend who brought me along to sort publisher book donations at a well-known author’s NYC apartment. On our way, my friend told me that the author, who had quietly and modestly started an admirable literacy foundation, had also broken the color barrier in series book covers. She had had to fight to get a black main character on the cover of a book, against marketing resistance fearing the book wouldn’t sell to the series’ great white readership. She won the battle, and that book sold more copies than any of its prior series-mates. This is anecdotal, but I have no reason to doubt its veracity.

In some ways, we’ve come so far as a country. But the powerful influence of the nation’s publishing media hasn’t caught up. Nowhere was this more obvious than the recent disturbing events concerning the choice to put a white girl on the cover of a book about a black girl (Justine Larbalestier’s YA novel, Liar. This issue has been widely covered in the trade and blogosphere; for background, check out the author’s blog.) The white girl on the cover wasn’t meant to represent a secondary character in the book; she was meant to represent the black narrator. Now, the narrator is a liar, so there has been some debate about whether or not she is who she says she is. However, if that argument holds, then the best cover choice would be to obscure or omit physical features altogether (the decision of Larbalestier’s original Australian publisher; shown at left). Like it or not, the photograph of a person on a book cover codifies the publisher’s idea of that character’s appearance.

This choice to use a white girl shocked, but shouldn’t have surprised, me; book marketing can be an extremely cynical operation. Larbalestier’s U.S. publisher is certainly not the only house that has found itself on similarly iffy ground, and, to their great credit, they have chosen a replacement cover image that, if still not free from controversy, is a critical good-faith effort that I think will prove to gain more in public restoration of goodwill than they will have lost financially with the expense of the late change. (Note: corporate giant Microsoft just landed itself in some serious hot water with a racial switch on its website.)

One of my all-time favorite books as a middle-grade kid was Louise Fitzhugh’s Nobody’s Family Is Going to Change. It features a wickedly smart, sarcastic, funny main character, Emma, who eats too many cream horns (I had no idea what those were, but was fascinated by them and wanted one) and wants to be a lawyer. Her little brother loves to dance. Their parents—a brusque, traditional, lawyer father and a lovely, passive mother—are not thrilled with their children’s choices, and a family dramedy is born. In the book, race is only an issue inasmuch as it is an issue in Emma’s life, if that makes sense. That is, it’s one of many consuming issues in her life, but not (in her case) the primary one. Still, one of my favorite moments in the story is when Emma messes with her white Upper East Side classmates, who stupidly assume she’s from "the ghetto" because she’s black, though her family is easily as wealthy as any of theirs. She is annoyed and amused by their assumptions; it’s a delicious moment of awareness for readers from both sides of the
ignorance spectrum. Louise Fitzhugh was white, but she opened a window into an urban, black, upper-class world for me, a white kid growing up in Scottsdale, Arizona. I never forgot the subtler lessons underneath all that humor and rebellion Emma shared with me. (By the way, on the new cover for the book, which desperately needed the re-design, it’s interesting that Emma doesn’t look overweight. She hasn’t been whitewashed, but she’s been "thin-washed." And that’s a blog post for another day.)

The good that has arisen from the unfortunate Liar incident is that it has initiated a more open discussion of racial representation in books and on book covers. The topic is uncomfortable in a field so overwhelmingly not "of color." Attend a book show, and you will see a sea of largely white faces; finding editors, publishers, and booksellers of color is more challenging than finding male pre-K-through-3 teachers at a school convention. This is not intentional, but it is a fact, and needs to be addressed. At the 2008 BEA, Josie and I met a dynamic duo of young African-American women getting ready to open a bookstore. They spoke about the need for grants and scholarships to attract people of color to publishing programs at universities and colleges. Sounds like an excellent idea.

In the meantime, I’d like to compile a list of 2009 books that feature characters of color in books about contemporary American children, whether or not race is part of the story. In general, there seem to be more books meeting these criteria for teen readers than their younger counterparts. Where is our black Ramona Quimby? It’s not fair to make Christopher Paul Curtis do all the work in middle grade. (Just kidding. Sort of.) I’ve noticed a couple of recent new series for young readers, like Sharon M. Draper’s Sassy books (Scholastic) and Whoopi Goldberg’s Sugar Plum Ballerinas (Jump at the Sun). That’s a great start, but there’s room for so much more. Publishers and authors are invited to email me these titles at shelftalker2 at gmail dot com, and I will publish the list here in ShelfTalker. (Unless you are a bookseller, please don’t put these titles in the comments section, since people tend to discount those recommendations as self-promotion and you may end up undermining the very good title you hope to share with a larger audience.) 

As an undergrad at UC Berkeley, I remember being annoyed by the theme of a university exhibit featuring "Great Female Artists of the 20th Century." Walking with my calm, brilliant thesis advisor, I ranted a little bit. "This makes it sound like great artists are male by default. They don’t have exhibits of ‘great male artists.’ Why not an exhibition of great artists, many of whom happen to be female?" She smiled, and said, "Ideally, it would be. It will be. But this is one of the steps we have to go through to get there." The question of racial inclusiveness in children’s literature is a little like that. Like all things racial in this country, it’s been a process. But now I think we’ve gone through enough intermediary steps and are ready to get there.

*** UPDATE: Check out our LibraryThing collection of more than 540 books featuring main characters of color whose stories are not primarily driven by racial issues: **** Also, for another article on this topic, with book ideas, check out Shelftalker’s "A World Full of Color", a follow-up to this Ramona Quimby post.

86 thoughts on “Where’s Ramona Quimby, Black and Pretty?

  1. shelftalker elizabeth

    Some very exciting things are happening in the children’s literature community to create and support positive change within our industry. Keep an eye here at Shelftalker for more developments, and be sure to follow Mitali Perkins’ blog and Twitter feeds (since she is one of the world’s most efficient, effective sharers of our field’s noteworthy efforts, conversations, and events).

  2. shelftalker elizabeth

    A little update: Am delighted to see many more board books, picture books, and novels featuring a colorful world of characters in real, not token, representation. I was also delighted to learn via Arnold Adoff that the ALA has established a new award in 2010, The Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, “To recognize an African American author, illustrator, or author/illustrator for a body of his or her published books for children and/or young adults who has made a significant and lasting literary contribution. The Award pays tribute to the late Virginia Hamilton and the quality and magnitude of her exemplary contributions through her literature and advocacy for children and youth, especially in her focus on African American life, history and consciousness.” (Quoted from the ALA website’s description of the award.)

  3. Barbara Liles

    OK,(Let’s see if I can put my foot in my mouth) Here is another topic for book lovers concerning race: While we are bemoaning the lack of children’s fiction which includes minorities, I know a number of white writers who feel uncomfortable or have been clearly discouraged about creating minority characters. Now, I would be thrilled if more writers of color were encouraged and supported in this predominantly white field, and wouldn’t be surprised if there are subtleties of culture that white writers might get wrong. But writing fiction involves using our imagination, and, somehow, it has become politically incorrect for white writers to presume that they understand a life of color. As a female writer, I create male characters of various ages, but if I have the audacity to create a character with a different skin tone, and particularly write from their point of view,I’m considered presumptuous. I think there are a lot of stories that have not been published because their author’s skin did not match the color of their characters, which, in my opinion, is pretty ridiculous and adds to the dearth of diversity in our literature.

  4. shelftalker elizabeth

    There’s a fascinating, important Newsweek article on young children’s perception of race, in which researchers find that it is much better for parents and educators to talk openly and directly about race than to assume that children are colorblind: http://www.newsweek.com/id/214989/page/1. I would add that a terrific tool to help this discussion along is Julius Lester’s Let’s Talk About Race (paperback, 978-0064462266).

  5. Anon.

    I heard an interview on Fresh Air last week with Robert Siegel, the director of Big Fan. He talked about the importance of casting. He felt that the studio approach — of which he was critical — was not to find the right actor for the part, but to find the most bankable star who wouldn’t be totally crushingly wrong for the part. I think that’s part of the dynamic here. Publishers, authors, illustrators, on some level look for the character that will be most easily identified with by the largest possible swath of the book-buying public, who won’t be totally wrong for the book. Of course, there are some books in which the subject demands a Jewish protagonist, or an African-American protagonist, or Latino, and so on — books that deal with experiences unique to those peoples. So books with Jewish characters skew toward the Holocaust, and books with blacks skew toward slavery and civil rights, and so on. I’m not defending this, or saying that racism, subtle and otherwise, isn’t alive and well and the main cause of this. But there are other subtle dynamics that contribute to these trends, too, that are worth considering.

  6. shelftalker elizabeth

    Folks, the book list is coming along beautifully, and I just wanted to invite more submissions of recent books featuring any and all children of color (not just African American). The blog post started out with one theme to make the point, but genuine inclusiveness is the whole goal here. Thank you for continuing to email your stories and ideas and book titles–it’s really been an amazing to receive this outpouring of passion and commitment. Thank you!

  7. Laura Atkins

    Thanks, Elizabeth, for reading the essay and your positive words. I’m just more and more convinced that people need to speak loud and long on this issue. And in some ways, especially the white people who are and have been involved in publishing and children’s books, acknowledging that things are not working with the status quo. As with your anonymous emails, I’ve had several people write to me to share their stories who don’t feel they can do so openly. How can things change in a culture or fear where people don’t feel they can openly discuss this issue? I’d be happy to help in any way with a PW article or series on this topic. You can reach me at Laura(at)lauraatkins.com. Thanks again for your passion and voice on this!

  8. Debbie

    Hallelujah for your post and for continuing this important conversation. Thanks also for the call out for books that feature MC characters in a contemporary setting. Looking forward to reviewing your list!

  9. shelftalker elizabeth

    I just read Laura Atkins’ fabulous blog post about white privilege and assumptions in children’s book publishing (thanks, Zetta, for pointing the way to this article). It’s really much more than a blog post; she delivered this paper at the IRSCL (International Research Society for Children’s Literature) congress held in Frankfurt. I’d encourage everyone to read it. She speaks from her experiences as a white editor, and articulates so beautifully the challenges of changing a structure that’s deeply ingrained and shaped largely by marketing forces that operate from within white privilege and use a “lowest common denominator” approach in their presumption of how books might be received by librarians and teachers and booksellers. (Laura says all this much more clearly in her article.)

  10. Beverly

    Elizabeth, thank you for putting words to the feelings of so many of us. I wanted to share a gem I stumbled upon last summer — Matthew and Tilly by Rebecca C. Jones and illustrated by Beth Peck. Copyrighted in 1991, this is a picture book about the friendship between a boy and girl. They play together, interact with the folks in their city neighborhood, and have the usual between-friends squabbles. Children will easily see themselves in the activities of these two buddies. My favorite part of this little treasure? The children are two different races — and it is NEVER mentioned!

  11. shelftalker elizabeth

    Laura, I totally agree. Will ponder and talk with PW. It’s far too easy to sweep this discussion under a rug, and there needs to be a way to keep it going. I’m looking forward to reading your article. In the meantime, I’m continuing to compile and organize the wonderful list of titles that keep coming in (and more from my bookstore that haven’t been mentioned yet but that I come across in my daily bookselling life, hooray). I’m thinking of making the list a wiki that people can add to. Any thoughts on that idea are welcome! If people want to keep the discussion going, please feel free to Twitter or FB or share the link to this article with your circle of friends.

  12. Laura Atkins

    Those emails you’ve gotten from authors of color, and white authors, about their experiences with discrimination and being published – we really need to hear those voices! Is there a chance that Publishers Weekly could do something like this? It’s tricky as many authors are afraid to publicly speak, and be perceived as biting the hand that feeds them. But maybe there could be something anonymous, or an invitation to established authors who have less to lose to talk about their experiences. We need this to be public, to be open, and for those from inside and outside of the industry to discuss and reflect on what is happening. I’d appreciate any comments on the essay I wrote in white privilege in children’s publishing. which Zetta Elliott already mentioned. The more voices speaking out on this topic, the better!

  13. Ellen Mager

    Elizabeth, Great topic! Right off I thought of Ann M. Martin’s Main Street Series where one of the 4 best friends is African American. 4 out of 7 of the covers show the 4 girls. Appleville Elementary ‘s Fire Alarm has an African American fireman on the cover. In the SISTERS 8 series, the girls are of color. Andrew Clements’ EXTRA CREDIT has a boy from Afghanistan on the cover. TWO OF A KIND by Jacui Robbins illustrated by Matt Phelan seems to have a lot of multiracial friends. The wonderful new TESS’S TREE has multiracial characters. Just a start. I’ll be thinking of that as I open new boxes! This reminds me of something Patty Gauch did years ago. I always thought that it was amazing to see a child with Downs Syndrome as the main character of a “regular story” and have Floyd Cooper’s amazing portrait as the cover art in Fleming’s BE GOOD TO EDDIE LEE. I always thought that Patty was an incredible editor and person, but that cover pumped those feeling up even more!

  14. A disappointed reader

    Another cover outrage is The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez. In the Disney catalog the color of the model for the cover was very white. The girl in the novel is supposed to be a first generation Mexican-American. As a Mexican-American myself who grew up in Texas, I can’t remember any of my friends, family, schoolmates ever looking so Anglo and white. Of course it doesn’t mean there aren’t people of Mexican descent that look this way, but it’s not typical. I find this an especially sad situation since the publisher is Jump at the Sun, an imprint supposedly open to embracing the diverse experience.

  15. Mitali Perkins

    “Marketing genius?” Ha! Despite my best efforts, my books have never been picked up by the chains. Thanks to state lists, librarians, bloggers, regional indies, and author visits, I manage to earn out my advances. Most of them, that is. I’ve wondered if the beautiful brown face on my First Daughter covers worked against good reviews and timeliness to hinder pre-pub orders — which took place way BEFORE a presidential race between two candidates with brown daughters. Oh, well. On to the next book. Thanks, E, for this.

  16. Paris

    I don’t want this subject to die down. When I started reading to my daughter , I couldn’t find any books with little girls that look like her. So I decided to write my own books. Children of color living everyday lives. My stories will be out soon. I hope they inspire children to read. All children.

  17. Reignited

    The other aspect of effective book promotion that I forgot to mention, and that most authors are not able to provide on a sustained basis, if at all, is a deep-pocket financial commitment to cover everything from printing to travel costs. Also, the white Granddad who bought several of my books (a middle grade novel, by the way) did so for his grandSONS. He thereby refuted an often-stated assumption related to gender, not race: boys won’t read books about girls (or adults won’t buy books featuring girls for boys). I have a 12 year-old son who’ll read any book that he enjoys (and even some books he doesn’t enjoy)–regardless of the race, gender, or whatever of its characters. He’s just as comfortable reading “The Dangerous Book for Boys” that I bought him as he is “The Daring Book for Girls” that I bought his sisters. And he doesn’t hide the cover of the latter when he reads it. It never occurs to him to not read a book because “it’s for girls” or to read a book because “it’s for boys.” I think my son’s and his sister’s reading habits (which are just as equal-opportunity as his) stem from the fact that from birth on they were exposed to all kinds of books–not just so-called “boys” or “girls” books. As with getting books by authors of all ethnicities noticed on the market, getting kids to read a wide variety of books is all about exposure.

  18. Reignited

    I’m using a pen name here. My book illustrated by a well known and awarded African-American writer/illustrator has 2 black girls prominently displayed on its cover and white girl in the background. Two weeks ago, I sold books as a vendor at the local V.A. hospital. When people paused at my table, I immediately told them what my book was about. This resulted in a decent amount of sales (actually quite a few more than I expected to make on a non-V.A payday. I’m returning there to vend ASAP.) My biggest customer? A white, grandfatherly looking V.A. employee who not only bought books for his grandkids but called a patient on his cell phone and asked if the patient wanted books for >his< grandkids. The patient did. So the grandfatherly man bought a couple of copies to deliver to him. Granddad returned twice more that day to buy copies of my book. Plus other people arrived to buy them because he’d sent them to my table. People who weren’t referred by Granddad bought my books that day as well including a white female vet in a wheelchair. White people, brown people, green people. People buy books with black people on the cover if they think they–or the person they’re buying them for–will enjoy them. That is, people buy such books if they get an opportunity to know they exist. If it weren’t for the realities of my daily life, I’d be out everyday hocking my book the way I did at the V.A. But this is not feasible for me at this time in my life. As you so aptly pointed out, Elizabeth, situations like mine, in which an author does not have inexhaustible amounts of time and energy to invest in book promotion (situations which are more the norm than not), are ones for which publishers’ promotion departments—and other major players in the industry–can improve the odds of books by non-celebrity black authors getting noticed and sold.

  19. shelftalker elizabeth

    Yes, all of us buyers and gatekeepers are responsible, too. If publishers publish the books, we have got to buy them and handsell them. The two definitely go hand in hand. For buyers and booksellers confronting white disinterest: I’ve found the best thing to do with a reluctant customer is just read a tantalizing little snippet of the book. That way, the story speaks for itself–always the strongest appeal. Not that I’m perfect, by any stretch; sometimes you just know that that grandma is dead set against the book you’re showing her, so you give up. Forcing books on people isn’t the way to educate or inspire them. The trick is not to forget that people’s attitudes change; maybe that grandma will soften over time with more exposure, so it’s almost always worth it to keep trying. We just need to be aware and not get lazy ourselves.

  20. Debra

    Thanks for initiating this discussion, Elizabeth. As a sales rep in New England, I think you would be surprised at how many buyers will NOT buy a kids book with a child of color on the cover. I think this disappointing fact needs to be addressed as well.

  21. Jeanette Larson

    As an added aside, the mystery genre for kids is even more totally white (or animal). In mysteries for adults there are all sorts of diversity combinations but almost no black, Hispanic, or native American child detectives (amateur or otherwise).

  22. carolQR

    Carol Chittenden’s description of customer face falling when presented with a book with black face on cover, is an accurate description of racism in 21st century, I am afraid.

  23. bookseller

    I know that pubs have to make $, and I agree that we all have to promote and support these books. Most of us do. But come on, let’s take some high level marketing muscle from celeb books and use it where the result will change lives.

  24. shelftalker elizabeth

    This issue is near and dear to my heart, and its time has more than come. So far, I’ve gotten private emails from 34 authors and publishers of color, sharing their own stories of the kinds of stumbling blocks they’ve come across trying to get books out there. Everything from publishers not sending requested books to awards committees (but saying they had; committee members confirming that they hadn’t), to authors being told a publisher already had “a black book” on its list, authors being told that their books would be considered if there was more of a racial “hook” (i.e., slavery, civil rights, the typical narrow range of books we tend to see get published most often), authors being turned down by agents who love their work but think they can’t sell it because publishers just aren’t buying books by authors of color, and on and on and on. I’m not even doing justice to the many kinds of subtle and not-so-subtle forms of racism people of color have met in their efforts to get the publishing world to reflect the real world. Oh! And I’ve also heard from white authors and illustrators who have encountered publisher resistance to making their books more diverse. That’s so disheartening. Ack. Publishers, I think there’s been a lot of progress. Just not nearly enough. It’s the marketing machine that throws us all off course. We all know that white writers aren’t better writers. Sure, a lot of dreck comes across the transom from all sides, but when editors say they are not getting good submissions from authors of color, I just don’t buy it. The irony is that everybody I’ve ever met in the children’s book world embraces inclusiveness, tolerance, and diversity. It’s that old bugaboo, money, that starts making people do shifty things. Books with brown faces on the covers *have* had a tougher time in the marketplace. But great books will always transcend a bad cover (look at The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963; when that book came out, it screamed library book! boring! but it reached the audience it so brilliantly deserved) — and good books, solid wonderful books, will also find a mainstream market if they *are* marketed. Lisa Yee’s hilarious books have been a phenomenal success; I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she is a marketing genius herself. Ditto Mitali Perkins. But not every terrific writer is a terrific marketer, and it worries me that so often books are left to their own devices when marketing money is spent on, for instance, the kinds of celebrity books that will sell scads of copies and never be read more than once. Children DO NOT CARE about race in picture books and beyond. Well, that’s not exactly accurate; if they notice race, it’s uniformly in a good way, either to be interested in people who look different from themselves or, most of all, to find children like themselves in stories. It’s adults making assumptions and being narrow and overly aware of race who put the kibosh on buying those books. It’s unfair to the children and a disservice to the books. One of the blog post commenters made a great point: maybe white buyers avoid books about people of color because so often the books that get published ARE *about* race, and so even non-race-oriented friendship and family and school stories get dimissed out of hand. It would be so easy to overcome the bias in the marketplace. If we build it, they will come. When the world in children’s books reflects the world we live in, this conversation will be a thing of the past, and I can’t wait for that day. But we’re the ones who have to make it happen.

  25. Doret

    I wish I could take credit for great blog White Readers Meet Black Auhtors, but alas I can’t. It’s actually the blog of author Carleen Brice. Who has two novels out, Orange Mint & Honey and newly released Children of the Waters. Both are wonderful and Children of the Waters will make you cry. It’s about two sisters, one Black one White, who find out about each other later in life. Since we talking a little more representation of people lives, though its an adult title I think its relevant to tell what Brice’s new novel was about. Plus one should never assume a book is written by an author of color that all the characters will be the same race as the author. I can only claim one blog- Thehappynappybookseller Someone mentioned this title earlier, finished Lauren Myracle’s upcoming release Luv Ya Bunches. Great read. Loved the diversity of the characters. It had a natural unforced feel. Four girls – Black, White, Chinese, and Muslim.

  26. Enjoying the Convo

    Great conversation! I am a mom of three readers, and I have to say that the cover really does influence buying…I have been in the library and wanted to get a book for my son, but known he would never try it based on the cover. He likes adventure/fantasy books, so anything that looked quiet or “talky” would not really appeal to him. (That said, he really loves the Warriors and Redwall series’ and you might think pictures of cats or mice might seem quiet) But anyway, I have noticed a blossoming of books featuring people of color since my first child was born 14 years ago. I think the selection is a lot better. I would like more intelligent movies featuring poc (and don’t tell me about the Disney princess movie, I know, I know!).

  27. Diana

    I enjoyed this article Elizabeth, and I covet the day when the markets will be flooded with books and stories about people of color by people of color. Not just as the writers, but as the publishers and manufacturers of the books.

  28. shelftalker elizabeth

    Through the discussion that’s been happening because of this post, I came across a terrific resource for booksellers: a blog by Doret Canton (who commented earlier), called “White Readers Meet Black Authors,” which describes itself this way: “Your official invitation into the African American section of the bookstore! A sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted plea for EVERYBODY to give a black writer a try.” It’s painful that in the year 2009 we even need to have a blog like this, but wonderful that, since we do need it, it exists. For every bookseller who struggles with a reluctant white customer, take a look here for some great ideas. welcomewhitefolks.blogspot.com/2009/01/guest-post-by-happy-nappy-bookseller.html

  29. Michael Dahl

    I have a suggestion for some great series that star contemporary American kids of color: David Mortimore Baxter is a young, African-American tween with a sense of humor, cool friends, and a typical kid’s challenges at school and at home. Claudia Cristina Cortez is a 13-year-old Hispanic-American girl who is “cool, confident, and has a complicated life.” And Katie Woo is a 2nd grade Asian-American girl who has her own series of early chapter books. All three series have lots of comedy (and a little romance with Claudia), strong characters, and they deal with real-life issues. These are great choices for reluctant readers, too.

  30. Cynthea Liu

    My daughter is almost half-Chinese, a little bit British, and the rest German. I am hoping, too, that I will be able to find more books that show her in them. Not her, necessarily of course. But biracial or multiracial kids. I am currently writing a contemporary chapter book that doesn’t focus on race per se, but shows that her parents are not from the same racial background. And for writers out there, let’s put out a call for more books that features kids who are adopted from overseas, too. There’s not a lot out there in MG and YA.

  31. shelftalker elizabeth

    Julianne, Sundee Frazier’s charming book, BRENDAN BUCKLEY’S UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING IN IT, is about a biracial ten-year-old boy. Race does figure in thematically, since Brendan wants to find out more about his white grandfather, but it’s also just a great middle-grade story about a boy.

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