In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Increasing kidlit diversity in book fair season

Dear Aunt Debbie,

It's school book fair season! Last weekend, Eleanor's school held a book fair at Barnes & Noble; this week, Isabel's school is running a Scholastic book fair in their multipurpose room. I have mixed feelings about both endeavors.

On the one hand, both kinds of book fairs encourage buying and reading books. They end up supporting the schools, to some extent, and get kids fired up about using their money to buy books. They turn book-buying into an activity central to the school community, and offer an easy way for parents to get more books into their children's hands if they don't frequent bookstores regularly.

On the other hand, the book-buying isn't going to support any nice independent bookstores. Much of what gets bought are highly-marketed franchise books and book-related swag: books packaged with toys or dangling plastic charms, junior novelizations of movies and video games, cute little cheap erasers.

We came out of the B&N fair having supported the Frozen franchise yet again (Will is now just as obsessed as Isabel. He sees anything Frozen-related and calls out, "Da Do!" a.k.a. "Let It Go!"). What Eleanor wanted most in the world was the latest Percy Jackson Heroes of Olympus book (we can't get it from the library, as we did the first 9, because the waiting list is 500+ people long). We redeemed ourselves slightly by buying a George O'Connor Olympians book for an upcoming friend's birthday, and donating a couple of books to Eleanor's classroom.

On Monday, I volunteered for a bookselling shift at Isabel's Scholastic book fair. Leaving aside my misgivings about the number of Lego Chima books sold, there is something beautiful about seeing a room full of kids browsing through tables of books. The school had also set up a "pay what you can" table of donated books, so that every kid attending the book fair could walk home with a book of his or her own, no matter their family's finances.

All this has made me interested in getting involved in planning next year's book fairs, and seeing how much I can tweak the content. What's the ratio of commercial stuff to good but lesser-known kids' books that will make money for the school AND send kids home with books they'll want to reread? I'd love your bookseller's opinion on this question.

Two friends and blog readers recently asked us about how to help make their school book fairs more diverse and multicultural. I'm afraid that because of fall craziness and family sickness, my thoughts on this are woefully late (apologies, Jonathan and Liz!), but perhaps they'll be useful for the next book fair season?

I started out with some Googling, and came across a number of excellent lists, and a growing movement aimed at making the world of children's books more diverse.

First, the movement:

Bloggers Valarie Budyar, of Jump Into a Book, and Mia Wenjen, of Pragmatic Mom, teamed up last year to create Multicultural Children's Book Day. On January 27, 2015, there will be a host of blog posts and other activities aimed at increasing awareness of children's books that celebrate diversity, and getting more of those books into classrooms and libraries.

The organization We Need Diverse Books was founded last spring by a group of authors and grassroots activists. Their campaign began as a response to the trade convention BookCon, which put forward an author panel consisting entirely of white men. After a wildly successful Twitter campaign (#weneeddiversebooks), the organization has begun to build programs to increase diversity in books used in classrooms, created an awards and grants program, and begun planning for a Children's Literature Diversity Festival in 2016 (in Washington, D.C.!).

These two sites led me to a number of excellent book lists featuring children's books with diverse characters:

The Multicultural Children's Book Day website has a nice set of book lists here.

Pragmatic Mom collects multicultural booklists here. My favorite is her Top 50 list, which is broken down by age group.

What Do We Do All Day has a list of 21 books which include diverse characters.

We Need Diverse Books has a collection of lists here.

Ink & Pen collects some good lists here.

And of course, we have our own list of Picture Books with racially diverse/mostly non-white characters.

So while it's troubling that these campaigns and lists need to exist in 2014 -- shouldn't we be at a point where the representation is far more equal? -- it's heartening to see that they're here, ready to be explored.

Love, Annie

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