It is both cold and wet at my house today – the kind of day that makes me feel as if I will never be warm again. As an added pleasure, this weather makes my almost healed arm ache. Bonus. Thanks for listening to me complain. Stay with me while I complain some more.
Recently, both Christopher Myers and his father, Walter Dean Myers, wrote insightful articles for the New York Times about the appalling lack of progress we’ve made in publishing books for children with non-white protagonists. As someone who purchases titles for a school with over 50% minority students, I can only agree.
One of my friends forwarded the senior Myers’ article to myself and several others in an email yesterday. For a little background, I have several friends who have adopted, or are in the process of adopting, children who are either black or multiracial. As I’ve purchased books as presents for their children, I’ve done my best to buy ones with characters who look like them. I’ve also done my best to express the need for children to see themselves in the books they read. I have to say that my local book store does an extremely good job of stocking titles that fit these needs – what few there are.
So, a discussion sprang up amongst the recipients of the email, and the need for Middle Grade titles with characters of color came up. As a librarian, I saw this as my favorite kind of puzzle, so I began to research. I began, of course, with the Coretta Scott King awards titles. My heart sank as I looked through them. Please understand me – they are all brilliant books, and well deserving of the awards they’ve been given. They are also vastly historical in nature. Especially the titles that fall within the Middle Grades designation. Yes, there are a good number of picture books with contemporary settings, as well as a strong showing of YA, but where are the contemporary Middle Grades titles? Where is my Christopher Paul Curtis or Rita Williams Garcia who writes in a contemporary setting? Or, alternately, where is my Rebecca Stead or Anne Ursu who write characters of color? I choose these authors specifically for their excellent understanding of and ability to write middle grades characters. Ms. Ursu is, in fact, a great champion of the Middle Grade reader.
This is in no way the fault of the CSK Awards Committee. These books are simply not out there. I dream of a publishing atmosphere in which these books are so abundant that I have to choose which to purchase for our collection rather than automatically buying multiple copies of everything that comes out. One day.