On Friday the 13th, three panelists and a moderator sat in a room at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center and talked about strategies for selling diverse books to bookstore and library patrons. As everyone who’s ever sat in a panel discussion knows, you learn a lot from your fellow panelists and moderator. That’s the first bonus. And the biggest prize is the surprise of the people you meet after the panel, people passionate and patient enough to wait in a bit of a line to talk to the folks at the table.
I think and talk a lot about diversity in children’s books, so it is a delight to meet people doing great and varied work in the field. After the panel, I met two women who are working on a book about the first African-American woman to run for Congress, who also happened to be the first African-American woman to become a commercial airline pilot. One of the two women was her granddaughter! She held a fantastic photo of her grandmother, who had that look of so many amazing women in the 1930’s — lean, tailored, confident. I cannot wait for this book to be written!
I also met a woman who is working to bring in a very interesting series of self-described “anti-princess” books from Argentina “for both boys and girls,” as they say on the covers (hooray!). These are colorful, sidebar- and comics-filled picture-book biographies about real-life strong women in history. Slim paperbacks feature both well-known and little-known heroines, from Frida Kahlo to Juana Azurduy (a military leader who fought for South American independence from Spain in the 1800’s). I think kids would find these books very appealing. There may be a few tweaks needed for an American audience (I’m really just thinking about an illustration or two in the Juana Azurduy book), but I love the bright, colorful approach and fascinating heroines. These aren’t books that scream “library” to kids, and that is also a terrific thing. (Note: my California-days Spanish isn’t strong enough to read my sample copy fluently, but the parts I could read were simple and interesting.)
Also in line was Amelia Case, a chiropractor from Chicago who has written a series of books called “Princesses with a Twist,” about life for Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, the Little Mermaid, etc., after their weddings. It’s a life where Cinderella branches out as an entrepreneur who builds a glass-shoe factory (I was relieved to discover that there’s a tempering process in the factory that makes the shoes pliable, soft, and comfortable. In that case, I wouldn’t mind a pair of those glass sneakers.) It’s also a world where Snow White overcomes her understandable fear of apples and creates a booming business. The princesses are friends who support each other and solve problems together. I confess I wasn’t wild about the art in the books, but I like the snappy premise and collaborative spirit behind this project, which raised $30,000 in a Kickstarter campaign last summer. Who knows? This could, like the Little Mermaid, have legs.
The last, most patient visitor to the tables was a woman in a beautiful green and white, elaborately tied head wrapping, who publishes books by Muslim and spiritual authors. (The press seems to be of the newer hybrid, partially author-supported variety.) They are working on their first children’s books, and in addition to their nonfiction titles, Niyah Press publishes a gorgeous calendar called “Beautifully Wrapped,” which has the most extraordinary photos of beautiful, real women — young and old, humble and fancy — from around the world. I was so taken by the photographs! They are truly special. And I will be looking forward to books featuring Muslim children; there are far too few of them.
It was so refreshing to hear about things happening both within and outside traditional publishing realms, and exciting to look forward to the fruits of so many passionate creators!