Friday, October 15, 2010

Coloring Books

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.


Kristen Schwartz said...

This is really disappointing, insulting and so wrong. Let's all change it!

Daisy Whitney said...

Glad you are bringing attention to this!

Natalie said...

Wow. I'm dumbfounded. Good for you for blogging about this, Cyn. It's way past time for a change.

Jackie Dolamore said...

@_@ That is horrible. But! I will book will be in the book fair in January.

cynjay said...

Yay Jackie! I can't wait to see that awesome cover on all the promo materials!

Sarah Rosenkrantz said...

Thank you for sharing this! Although Scholastic verbally commits to representing a diversity of views, the books they supply to school book fairs are anything but. How can we as librarians, authors, readers and consumers of books convince Scholastic that their inability to represent the rich diversity of our communities will result in a loss of revenue? And is hurtful to our students and our families.

cynjay said...

Thanks for the great insight Sarah!

Yat-Yee said...

I've come here from reading your interview at Cynsations. It's interesting that you said you didn't realize you were writing an issues book when you started. I am working on a YA and my crit group just told me they considered it an issues book, even though I didn't think of it as such.

Re: multicultural books for middle and teen readers. To your list of authors, I'd like to add Tanita Davis, whose first two books, A La Carte and Mare's War are excellent books. They are not published by Scholastic though, so they may not be available for book fairs, but the school librarian may be able to direct her students to them.

MissAttitude said...

I remember that by the time I reached 2nd grade, I had a voracious appetite for books. And I wanted to read books about people who looked like me (as I grew older I realized I didn't just want to read books about people who "look like me" but I digress) and there was an abundance of picture books to suit that need. But I was reading a lot of chapter book/MG at this time. Where was my Ramona and Beezus? Where were the diverse Royal Diaries books?

The worst part is, I gave up. By 7th grade, I skipped the Scholastic book fairs all together. I remebered how in 2nd-5th grade there had been nothing for me (and that was when I read MG), so naturally 6th-8th I read more YA and I found nothing that fit my needs from the book fair.

I'm so glad those girls persevered and wrote a letter stating that they want more diverse reads. That's awesome. I hope it was sent to scholastic and that they (and the librarian) don't give up

cynjay said...

Great comments! Thanks so much for sharing your own experiences.

Ishta Mercurio said...

I am so glad you're bringing attention to this. There are so many issues with this - the implication that children of color have a lower reading level, the fact that books about children of color have to be specially ordered... Good books are good books. And books by the authors you mentioned should be on the shelves.