I've always loved walking into a book fair - my heart starts racing and my fingers itch to pick up all of the great titles. Because of this, I love helping out at the book fairs for my kids schools.
A few weeks back, I was helping the librarian unpack the book fair at the middle school. I'm talking titles with her, pulling out the YA books that I really loved and squeeing when I saw a book by an author that I 'know'.
In the middle of this, the librarian asked me to unpack the African American book box. No problem.
I grabbed the box and started to take out the titles. Problem.
Me: "Uh oh. They sent us the wrong box."
Librarian: "For what?"
Me: "The African American box. It's for elementary schools, not middle."
Librarian: (Sighs) "No. It's right. Every year the box for African American readers is full of picture books."
I was dumbfounded. The selection of 'regular' books was great - so many challenging and interesting YA books that I couldn't wait to whip out my checkbook. The selection in this box was clearly for kids averaging a third grade reading level. As I asked about the issue, a disturbing pattern began to emerge.
Turns out, our wonderful librarian has been struggling for years to get quality reading materials at the book fairs for kids of color. She showed me a string of emails to Scholastic trying to address the selection for multicultural kids, as well as the lack of any books with people of color on the cover in all of their promotional materials (see this list of 100 featured books on their website) . Not only does she have to special request books with multicultural characters (read: they are not sent to all schools automatically) but the boxes always contain material far too young for middle school readers.
Then I heard the kicker. She got involved after several of the middle-school girls gave her a letter complaining about the lack of books in the book fair with people who represented them. I repeat: middle school girls went out of their way to write a letter stating their views. If any of you know a middle school girl, you know what a big deal this must have been for them. They never do anything if they don't have to.
Our district is more sensitive than most to this issue. The middle school my son attends is 43% Hispanic, 23% African American, 14% Caucasian and 12% Asian. My 13 year old has brown skin, brown eyes and curly dark hair. He also gets straight As.
I know that there is a problem in publishing with a lack of quality YA books with characters of color. I also know that there are a lot of authors who are starting to correct that (Jacqueline Woodson, Justine Larabalestier, Mitali Perkins and Jaclyn Dolamore to name a few). I'm not sure why titles by these and other authors weren't included in the book fair, but I do know that more of an effort needs to be made to bring teens young adults books that reflect what they see in the mirror.
On this date: In 1965, the first draft cards were burned.