Selling Color in a White Town

Elizabeth Bluemle - September 21, 2010

When we moved to Vermont from Manhattan, the biggest shock wasn’t the change from city to country; it was the shift from color to (not black-and-) white. We couldn’t get used to the lack of diversity. It felt unnatural, limited, and wrong. When tourists of color happened into the store, we embarrassed ourselves with our enthusiasm. For the first year, I even had a hard time telling some of my customers apart; in addition to the uniform Caucasian-ness, there was a sameness of dress—cotton turtlenecks, fleece vests, jeans*—and hair, lots of straight, shoulder-length hair. (Josie’s Mediterranean Jewish ringlets are quite exotic here.) Up until 14 years ago, Josie and I spent our individual lives in areas of the country that were richly multicultural.
Last I checked, Vermont had the United States’ least diverse population. I think we’re at 97+% white. In Vermont’s defense, its record for equal treatment is excellent; we may not have a big nonwhite population, but folks that do live here have equivalent opportunities and salaries as their white counterparts. But the point I’m making is, Dorothy, we’re not in New York City anymore.
All that by way of saying, we understand the challenge of making ‘books of color’ mainstream purchases for white audiences.
At the New England Independent Booksellers Association trade show next week, the Children’s Bookselling Advisory Council is holding a panel discussion on this topic. I’d love for booksellers, authors, publishers and editors, sales reps and publicists to attend and share their successful strategies for getting past reluctant or stymied gatekeepers and reaching across color lines to share wonderful, diverse books with kids. I’ll be posting a follow-up in ShelfTalker after the panel.
Here’s the description:

Friday, October 1, 10:15-11:45 am
Multicultural Kids Books: Selling Color in a White World

We all want to support and sell wonderful multicultural books, but many of us live in areas with fairly homogenous populations. How do we get past unconscious color barriers, both our own and our customers’, and put great books featuring characters of all colors in the hands of children? Participants will leave with helpful resources, including sample booktalks, tips for successful conversations with hesitant customers, resources for meeting the needs of multiracial families in your neighborhood, a list of helpful websites, and an annotated bibliography of great multicultural books by age.  Panelists will include bookseller Elizabeth Bluemle (The Flying Pig Bookstore, Shelburne, Vt.), author Mitali Perkins, Stacy Whitman (Editorial Director of Tu Publishing), and Karen Lotz (President and Publisher of Candlewick Press).
One of the resources I’m preparing is a bibliography of 2010 titles that feature kids of color, especially those where race is not a major issue in the book. The character(s) of color must be featured prominently (not as sidekicks or observers) on the covers of the books I’m including. Publishers are invited to send titles of all books meeting these criteria for inclusion in the bibliography — ebluemle at publishersweekly dot com. I’ll also make sure those titles are included in the collection of books in print that satisfy those criteria (but are not limited to 2010 titles).
It’s been a year since I first posted about race in children’s books. Some progress has been made, but it’s also been a year in which Tea Party politicians† have actually gained a foothold in the national discussion. More than ever, we need books for children that present a wide range of experiences, family structures, and racial and cultural differences to the future voting citizens of our nation.
I’m excited about this panel and the discussion among its participants. Hope to see you there! If you can’t make it, but would like to share your own successful efforts along these lines, please comment below and I’ll share your thoughts with the participants.
* Confession: I wear that Vermont uniform myself now. It’s inevitable. And comfy. Edited to add: And in case it isn’t clear from my Vermont’s-equal-opportunity comment, our customers, while mostly Caucasian, are the most broad-minded, open-hearted bunch of people anywhere. We are lucky to be able to sell color in our white town. But not all towns are like this, and I want to help booksellers and librarians in those towns share more diverse books with their clientele.
Edited to add: I understand that it is jarring to read a blog post and come upon wholesale criticism of something one supports, especially in a blog devoted to children’s bookselling. However, publishing and bookselling are affected by politics, and I do have opinions about those effects. Normally, I would avoid such specific criticism, but the growing ugliness of intolerance and racism expressed in our country — openly, and with defiance, even — is so disheartening and alarming to me that I cannot ignore them.
My personal political opinions are of course solely mine, so please don’t be annoyed with PW (which is merely supporting my 1st Amendment right to free speech). What I value most is this dialogue; whether we agree or disagree, these are vital issues of our time, and should be debated.

46 thoughts on “Selling Color in a White Town

  1. Monica Edinger

    I think this is a very challenging situation in more ways than just book selling. It is true too in education. For example, I teach about immigration within a community full of people who have come from elsewhere. If you are not in such a community some of those elsewhere places will seem far more “exotic” than they do to us.

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  3. Barney Saltzberg

    Thanks for the posting. Living in Los Angeles, I forget that race is an issue when it comes to books. Unfortunately, it goes beyond race. Gender can be an issue to some people as well. I’ve talked with book buyers who wouldn’t buy a book for a girl that has a boy as the main character. (Or vice versa when it comes to buying a ‘boy’ book.) It’s amazing that in 2010, any of these things are issues at all. I’m looking forward to hearing how your panel discussion goes!

    1. Narissa

      You’re right. There seems to be a very Nancy Drew vs Hardy boys mentality. the only exception I can think of is the Harry potter series. My nieces enjoy it as much as my nephews.

  4. Miriam at Lee & Low Books

    Thank you as always for pushing diversity in children’s lit! It’s so great to hear passion for this from the bookseller’s side.
    Diversity is our thing, so all of our books feature people of color. For 2010, we’ve got: Yummy; Only One Year; Seeds of Change; Amazing Faces; The Can Man; Sharing Our Homeland; Yasmin’s Hammer; Game, Set, Match, Champion Arthur Ashe; Seaside Dream; and ¡Ole! Flamenco
    I hope the panel’s fantastic!

  5. Peggy

    The remark about the Tea Party threw me. Do you know there are people of color who are behing the Tea Party simply because it is a movement that requires our government follow the Constitution?
    If your goal is for readers to be “colorblind” then why are you being divisive by pointing out differences of color? Instead, why not work on pointing out books where all people work and play together?
    Quoting from your description, “The character(s) of color must be featured prominently (not as sidekicks or observers) on the covers of the books I’m including.”
    That is a pretty sorry way to sell and select books!

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle Post author

      Hi, Peggy. I’m not saying that’s the only criterion for selecting a book, but for being included in the multicultural bibliography. I’m definitely including books where all people work and play together. That is hard to find, which is why I’m assembling the bibliography. My point about characters of color on the cover is that token inclusion is not acceptable.
      As I said earlier in my description, I’m eager to “put great books featuring characters of all colors in the hands of children.” GREAT books. Regardless of the color of the characters. It just so happens that books featuring kids of color so often get passed over by the parents of Caucasian kids (not by the kids themselves, who are open to all stories and characters). I hope that’s clearer.

  6. Paul

    While diversity is vital, it would be better if it came about organically. To refuse to carry a book that does not feature children of color is every bit as racist as only carrying such books.
    Also, I find your description of the “Vermont uniform” highly offensive. How would it sound if I described the “uniform” of West Philadelphia as baggy jeans worn around the thighs, NBA jerseys, untied shoes and nappy hair? You’d probably ask to see my KKK registration card!
    Be careful — racism cuts both ways.

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle Post author

      Paul, I’m sorry you were offended by the Vermont uniform. It was meant as a light-hearted (but very true) comment, and I did admit to adopting the uniform myself. I certainly wasn’t equating the clothing with racism, just homogeneity. Really, when you’re used to living in cities of millions, and then move to a town of 3,500, there are some biiiig differences. Finally, racism may cut both ways, but as the power majority, we Caucasians are much more impervious to its effects. For me, it’s all about the content of the character, not the color of the skin.

    2. Elizabeth Bluemle Post author

      Also, who refuses to carry books that don’t feature kids of color? I’m just pushing for inclusion and an expansion of what’s out there. Come to my store, and you’ll see 40,000 books with every kind of diversity, including a gazillion that have white characters only, since they comprise so much of what’s published. I feel very strongly about this issue, clearly, but of course I carry Ramona the Pest alongside Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money. A great book is a great book.

      1. Paul

        Read the post by “Miriam at Lee & Low Books” below. She states “all of our books feature people of color.” If a great book happened to be set in, say, Vermont, then her customers would miss out. To me, that’s exactly the opposite of diversity.
        So to you, Elizabeth, it may be all about content (of character or of a book), but to some, it’s absolutely about the color of skin.

        1. Miriam at Lee & Low Books

          We’re a publishing company, not a bookstore. We don’t expect (or want) any bookstore, school, or library, to stock only our books, but we DO see that most bookstores, schools, and libraries have gaps when it comes to books about people of color. We’re trying to help fill that gap. As a publisher, we have a role in this process, but it’s not the same as a bookseller’s role.
          And we WOULD publish a book set in Vermont–as long as it featured some of those 3% of the state who are people of color.

          1. Mairin

            To Miriam – That policy of publishing books set in Vermont only if they feature people of color is sadly, the epitome of racism. You are basing your choices solely on the skin color of the characters rather than the content of the book itself. If this is a policy you and your company are proud of regarding your choice of books, I wonder how much this racist attitude carries over to the rest of your organization. Would you hire based on skin color? Would you publish a book about India only if it featured some Tibetans, a book set in Harlem only if it featured some Jews? Of course not. If a policy of racism is one you and your company are proud to call your own, then you can’t possibly have a problem with other people and companies also engaging in this practice.

          2. Elizabeth Bluemle

            Mairin, I think you’re misunderstanding what Lee & Low is and does. They are a national publishing house, not a Vermont organization, and publish books of extremely high quality. Check out their website to take a look.
            They exist because there have been so few books published that feature characters of color; they help to fill a gap in the industry. They do not accept any old manuscript just because it features a character of color; their publishing standards are as exacting as any house. They publish only the good stuff: great stories that show a wide range of human experience. It isn’t racism to seek out diverse stories and bring them to the attention of a national audience. They aren’t saying, Read nothing else. They’re saying, Here are some wonderful stories for ALL children to enjoy. This is their specialty. You wouldn’t criticize a cookbook publisher for not publishing novels. This is what they do, amid a myriad of companies doing other things.

          3. Elizabeth Bluemle

            Ah, Mairin. When 95% of books feature kids of European descent, it is NOT RACIST to say, hey, let’s publish great books featuring non-European (Caucasian European, that is) kids. Lee & Low isn’t prohibiting other publishers from publishing those books. THAT would be racism. They have declared a niche market. We must agree to disagree on this.

          4. Mairin

            You are correct- we will have to continue to disagree. Any company that declares that they seek out authors based on race is racist in my book.

          5. Miriam at Lee & Low Books

            Elizabeth, thank you—you’re absolutely right about what we’re trying to do, and it’s heartening to hear from people who understand and support our mission.
            Mairin, I’m sorry you find what we’re trying to do problematic. We see ourselves as part of a larger publishing community, one that has the best of intentions but that still has people of color vastly underrepresented. Our part of that community, as one small press, is to even the balance with good books that all children can identify with and enjoy by showing people of color in many walks of life. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center keeps statistics, and of the three thousand books they saw last year, only 331 had significant African, African American, Asian/Pacific, American Indian, or Latino themes. That’s barely more than 10 percent, and the numbers have barely changed since CCBC started keeping track.
            We would love our mission to become outdated; we’re working toward a time when all of publishing represents people from a wide variety of cultures—and, yes, skin tones—and no longer needs small presses to address that gap. But the world isn’t there yet, and publishing isn’t there yet, so we continue to focus on people of color. We don’t want any library or bookstore to carry only our books; we don’t want anyone to censor books about people of European descent. But the books we publish, as our contribution to the wider world of children’s books, are filling a need that we see as pressing.

        2. shelftalker elizabeth

          As a bookseller (and a book lover and a book-gifting aunt, etc.), I’m so grateful to publishing companies like Lee & Low, who have stepped in to fill this enormous gap! Some day, perhaps there will be no need for a house to focus exclusively on multicultural books, but in the meantime, they are desperately needed and very much appreciated.

          1. Mairin

            I never implied that Lee and Low was a Vermont organization- reread my post again, you have missed the point entirely.
            I have checked their website and found it to be, as I said, racist. They openly admit they seek out writers based on skin color. They claim to be about multiculturalism, yet exclude European and European-American children in their selections. They discriminate based upon race. They publish stories that take place in the US and frequently only one race is portrayed in that book, yet they would not publish a book about Vermont unless it had children of color in it. this proves a bias. They should not be applauded for racism. If selecting a writer and publishing a book based solely on skin color is an acceptable practice to you, you have an unfortunate and misguided mindset.
            The books themselves are not racist, it is the practice of discrimination I object to. If whites exclude any other race based upon race, it’s said to be discriminatory, when other races exclude whites, it’s discrimination, too.

          2. JJ W

            I see that some people are really enjoying using the word “racist” in defense of white people, for a change. Though, while these claims are verging on slander, I suggest that those making them think about what Lee and Low Books are providing for our children. If you want your kids reading books only about white people, that is your choice. And, like many here have reminded us, there are more than enough options. But, and this is the key issue at hand and yet one that seems to not matter to the ones so adamant in calling this publisher racist, if a family of color wants to find a book reflecting their heritage, they are limited to a mere 5% of all books in which to look.
            Regardless of what Tea Party spokespeople are saying, the legacy of racism is alive and well, and is measurable in the numbers. Percentages of poverty, arrest rate, prison terms & population, literacy, birth rate, life expectancy, and on and bloody on. And, of course, the racism is not solely toward those of African descent. Anti Semitism (Arabs are Semitic, too) has spiked, racism toward Chicanos is now acceptable because of immigration issues, and in my daily walk through town, I personally witness a much more unashamed form of public racism and white pride emerging.
            Elizabeth gave the quote of 95% of books being about white culture. Even if it is only 90%, with that kind of disparity, it is indeed necessary to have some publishers working toward filling the gaps. Miriam is absolutely right in saying that Lee and Low would love to see the mission become unnecessary.
            The reason Lee and Low Books asks for writers of color is not because they are “racist” toward whites, but as has been reiterated many times in this thread, because there is a disproportionate number of white authors and books about white culture. To organically let this proportion self correct, as one person suggested, would be to ignore the causes of the imbalance in the first place. We share a legacy of actual, factual, unabashed, in your face, straight up racism. The majority population has a history that has held the belief of its own superiority to all other races. Am I wrong? At least in South Africa, there has been an honest appraisal of the shared history of black and white, and regardless of the nations current troubles, some form of healing has been attempted. Because we have not ever delved into those waters here, but rather snapped our fingers and pretended it is all better, we have many thinly covered wounds that pain us all. If there is any hope for our nation to heal from the race wounds, it lies with our children. And what better way to aid in the healing, than to bring all of our children books about all of our beautiful cultures?

        3. Narissa

          I agree with you. I read the post above and below and there seem to be a lot of arguments in defense of bigotry. They don’t get that excusing it in one crowd makes it all right for everyone else.

  7. Jennifer Sims

    I also live in Vermont, after having spent the first ten years of my life in Philadelphia. It was quite the culture shock to move to a place where everyone was white and people thought getting dressed up meant wearing your good overalls.

  8. Barbara Miller

    My experience is more with toy stores or gift shops. Some folks say they don’t sell–so why carry them. They do not carry other titles that do not move.
    My reason for carrying them is if it is a good book/s and pertinent to the store, carry a few anyway–and I feel strongly that it makes the store feel welcome to customers of various backgrounds whether local customers or tourists or visitors. So what if two or three or six books take longer to move.You also never know who your customers are buying gifts for and end up ordering on line because they can’t find it locally. I feel more welcome in a store or restaurant or area that has even a small reference to my pre-Ellis Island identity!
    When selling to stores that cater primarily to an African-American or other minority customer–they tend to be tired of history and slavery and being wronged and just want to read a good story about a kid or an adult life–from light to deep and meaningful. Museum shops go more for the history both difficult and triumphant.

  9. Susan

    Great idea for a panel discussion….hope you come up with some good strategies.
    It’s a very sad fact that, as booksellers focus on sales and librarians on circulation numbers, people* living in less diverse areas simply aren’t presented with the opportunity to “meet” great characters with great stories to tell just because those characters don’t happen to be white. And, you know, I’m a GREEDY reader….I don’t like to miss out on anything good…and I suspect I’m not alone in this respect!
    One series that’s already three books in, but still seems to be flying slightly under the radar, is Michael Winerips’s excellent “Adam Canfield” student newspaper series. Though the titular hero is white, his co-editor/best friend/girl friend is African American. Race issues are touched on, but are far from the focus of the books, which are of uniformly high quality. (A Candlewick Press series too, so hopefully your co-panelist will be able to say if there is a new book coming out in 2011).
    One oldie but goodie is Jean Merrill’s Toothpaste Millionaire, but I expect that’s already on the list (and your shelves!)
    *I say “people” rather than “children” because what you’re saying applies in equal measure to books for adults.

  10. JessB

    Wow, this is a great post! I think a discussion about multicultural books is a wonderful and timely idea.
    I’m Australian, from Melbourne and I think that we have a real lack of books that include characters who are Indigenous Australians. As a nation overwhelmingly made up of migrants, we have generally been pretty good about including characters who are European or of European background (such as in Looking for Alibrandi, by Melinda Marchetta) and lately there has been kind of a surge of more recent migrant characters (in books like Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah – about a character who decides to wear the hijab to her secular high school). But there are very few books that include indigenous Australians as characters. They do tend to appear in picture books, but often seem like they are being ticked off a list: ‘include diverse characters – done!’.
    Can I ask if there are any lists of Indigenous American books? A lot of talk about People of Colour in Young Adult books seems to come back to African Americans and there are some wonderful reading lists available, but I’m interested to read more about Indigenous Americans, as well as African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and every other kind of person.
    (By the way, I’m a white Australian of Irish/ English background. My apologies if any of my language isn’t right, I’m absolutely not out to offend and would welcome correction if it’s needed.)

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle

      Hi, Jess! It can be difficult to find books on Native American (aka American Indian) life and culture that are not riddled with stereotypes, but has a great catalog of books (arranged by age) here: as well as a list of books they recommend avoiding.
      I think when most of us talk about people of color these days, we’re including the full range of ethnicity and heritage. There are several terrific resources. You can check out an earlier ShelfTalker post, The Elephant in the Room, which includes a varied list of resources at the end.
      Thanks for your comments, and your interest!

    2. Hannah

      Hi Jess,
      There are definitely lots of great books featuring Indigenous Americans (more often referred to here in the US as Native Americans or American Indians). If you’re looking for a place to start, I would recommend checking out Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature: She’s got top-10 booklists for elementary, middle grade, and high school readers that are a great starting place. Two of my favorites, if you haven’t read them yet, are Sherman Alexie’s THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN and Louise Erdrich’s THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE.

    3. JessB

      Thanks to Elizabeth and Hannah for your help, I really appreciate it!
      I’ll check out all the links, but Hannah, I’ve heard great things about Diary of a Part-Time Indian, so I think I’ll add that to my next Amazon order.
      All the best.

  11. Carolyn

    It is a challenge. I live in Manhattan, and I’m shocked at how many people do not know a single person of color in more than a superficial context. I think one reason that this craziness about Obama being unAmerican could take root is that an Ivy-educated black man is so far outside the experience of many white people. Books can be a bridge, and children deserve to know which parts of their lives are universal and which parts are parochial.

    1. Mairin

      To Carolyn,
      I disagree. I also live in Manhattan and have found that it’s easy to make friends of whatever color as long as you aren’t choosing your friends based on color, rather on shared interests or logistics- some people are my friends just because we work together and have similar interests, so we meet up after work and go out, but if they didn’t work with me, I wouldn’t have met them as we are all from different areas of Manhattan and some from the outer boroughs. People normally tend toward their own race based on many factors; shared history, family nearby, concentration of ethnic resources- some examples of this- Spanish Harlem- mostly Latino, many signs are in Spanish and there are many bodegas and social clubs with a Latin concentration. Of course the population is mostly Latino- it has to do with comfort, a sense of belonging and convenience to family members. There is one block where 6 of the buildings on one street contains over 40 members of the same extended family. China town- same thing, Little Italy, Harlem, Germantown, etc. You’d be shocked too, I’m sure, at how many people of color don’t know any white people in more than a superficial context. I’ve lived in 3 of these neighborhoods, and while Spanish Harlem was very welcoming and it didn’t matter on a personal level what color you are, Harlem was entirely different.

  12. Malaika Adero

    I’m thrilled to see my book industry colleagues having this kind of discussion, especially those who are not Black since those who are of course often discuss our invisibility (in places that we do and don’t heavily populate).
    Everyone benefits from having access to stories and information about “the other.” It’s not only how you learn about people who are different from you, it’s how you learn the truth about yourself.
    As for the comment about Blacks who are a part of the Tea Party movement. There have been Black people who have acted and voted against their own interest from the time we were brought to this country.

  13. mary ann rodman

    Elizabeth—I know exactly the kind of culture shock you experienced because after living virtually all my life in the South, we moved to the a part of Wisconsin that was SO white, that if you saw an African-American, you could pretty well count on them being a Green Bay Packer, or a member of their family.
    As one who has made a conscience effort to reflect the variety of ethnicities in our country, I’ve been shocked by comments such as “Black people don’t buy books” and “Why do you have all these Asians and Arabs in your story. Nobody goes to a school like that.” This particular story was a very accurate rendering of my own suburban Atlanta community. Perhaps what the reader objected to was that the students in the story interacted with each other. Although my little corner of the world is a mini-UN of people from every part of the world, who live side by side…they do not interact socially, in both the supposedly democratic world of the classroom, or in the adult world. Sigh. I keep trying.

  14. Tracey Baptiste

    I am very curious to see your post after the panel discussion. I wish I could be there to see/participate in person. But this is a fascinating topic and one well worth exploring.
    It’s even a challenge to have books about non-white protagonists to get mainstream marketing. A while back Justine Larbalestier experienced this with her book LIAR. When it was repackaged, the girl on the cover didn’t reflect the dark-skinned, curly-haired protagonist she penned. Sometimes it isn’t just the consumers. Sometimes it’s within the industry itself.

  15. Janet Lawler

    I am hopeful (a cock-eyed optimist?) that the rapidly changing demographics of our country will lead both book buyers and readers to look for more diversity in books they acquire, with publishers eager to address the demand with books that are “good stories first”. As a parent of a child adopted from Vietnam, inclusion and diversity are always on my mind. However, as a picture book author, I don’t always have an opportunity (or the nerve…) to give input on illustrations. I am very conscious of my “white” titles while presenting to schools and libraries in major urban areas. I’d like to serve those kids better; maybe in the future by referring my colleagues who have successfully published with titles better reflecting diversity. Maybe it will all happen in an “organic” way, as one comment mentions, as publising catches up with demographics. And hopefully, if kids are reading good books they are expanding their horizons and increasing the chances that they will become independent and curious thinkers – who may choose books on their own that reflect cultural and racial diversity, even if their communities are pretty monochromatic. Finally, I would like to give belated kudos to Highlights – when they published a short story I wrote in 2005, I requested that they illustrate “Cami’s First Soccer Game” with an Asian child, and they did! So maybe authors of “good stories” can do what they can to raise this issue, in a professional way, with editors and art directors with whom they deal. Every little bit may help.
    And thank you, Elizabeth, for continuing to put this issue out there.

  16. Carol Casey

    When writing a multicultural picturebook for pre-K kids I came across a Newsweek study showing that as well-meaning parents we tend to do a disservice to young children by hushing them when they notice differences in color, i.e. “We don’t talk about that because it’s not important.” What the kids internalize is that something is wrong because it can’t be discussed.
    Young children are so natural about this stuff. They don’t need a big discussion. They just want to acknowledge their observations out loud! Plain and simple, we need more books showing kids of different color making their way through the world together so thanks for using your pulpit to make this happen.

  17. LaShaunda

    Thank you for introducing your customers to multi-cultural books. 10 years ago when I started SORMAG it was because there weren’t many places that promoted multi-cultural books. 10 years later, there is still a need for these type of books. I don’t believe it is racist to have a niche, unfortunately we didn’t choose to be singled out. We would love for our books to be included in all books, but that’s not what the industry wanted and we are slowly making changes in that area.
    As a mother of three I’m always looking for books that feature characters that looked like my children. Growing up the characters didn’t look like me, no it didn’t stop me from enjoying the book, but it made me wish that a few looked like me.
    I’m thankful for the niches because without them, we would only have one type of book.
    I look forward to your report from the panel.

  18. Gavin

    In reading the vitriolic comments above that attempt to negatively finesse Lee & Low’s mission into reverse racism, I am left wondering how many Vermont residents and book buyers actively gravitate towards a reality lacking diversity because that is exactly the way they want it. Bluemle’s altruism aside — unfortunately, there are those whose self-esteem is so vacant, they can only feel validated if others are being marginalized.

  19. Nancy J

    Elizabeth, what an excellent post and what a discussion it sparked! I was caught off guard by the references to racism and bigotry. Niche markets for children’s books seem to come as a complete surprise to some readers.
    Flip through any writer’s market guide and you will find there are publishers whose submission requirements include “specifically Jewish content” or “all books must contain explicit Christian content” or “We aim to produce well-written books … fully consistent with biblical worldview,” or “All our books are creation-based” or “Asia-related multicultural only.”
    Finding a new niche market is the dream of every company that makes things. It’s the American dream! Can’t we all just get along?

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  21. Ari

    I wish we had more of those panels in Chicago (one of the most diversely segregated cities!) . It’s a bit ironic that an area that has a perception for being lily white is doing more to promote diversity in books. I’m glad 🙂 I can’t wait to hear about how the panel goes!
    Zetta Elliott recenty asked for people to name books published in 2010 by African Americans in YA/MG
    We currently have 50.
    And I wholeheartedly agree that the troubling rise of the Tea Party along with certain comments made only goes to show that we despertely need more diversity in literature.

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle

      Ari? The Ari who wrote so magnificently about not seeing yourself in children’s books? You are quite a writer, and I expect to be recommending books by you in my store someday. Thanks for commenting. I’ll post about the panel.

  22. Anjali

    Thank you, thank you for this! I grew up never seeing kids who looked like me in books, and I hate that it’s a struggle for me to now find books with characters who like my own kids.
    I’m hoping to be part of the solution, someday. I’m finishing up my first picture book about an Indian girl.

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    1. Mara

      Actually, I have a different perspective. It is true that books with characters from other cultures have been underrepresent. However, I have found that it is harder to get published or noticed because I am not a person of color.
      My grandparents were immigrants, who fled the Nazis. Jews come from many countries and cultures, so my world was always multicultural, for which I am grateful. When I grew up in 50’s new york, there were many Jewish writers who emerged. However, we often had to change our last names to get accepted, to get jobs.
      Now I am considered “white”. This is a country that has been slow to accept differences in many areas. I am joyful to see more and more writers from different countries and cultures.
      I alo want to promote characters with differences, physical and neurological. Rarely is there a fiction novel that does not focus on a character’s disabilities. I am writing s story about a community of animals struggling with a drought and the hero just happens to have a disability.


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