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Middle Grade Monday – Publishing and Diversity

Thanks to a tweet from Anne Ursu, I was made aware of this list of all of the middle grade and YA fiction by African American authors published in the US in 2014. It’s a wonderful resource – you should have a look at it. I’ll warn you, though, before you click on it, that it only contains 40 items. 40 books. Only 40 titles by African American authors were published in the US last year for the MG and YA markets. Combined. What even. And, not knowing for sure, I’d feel safe in placing a bet that the number has gradually increased over the past few years.

On this day when we take time to remember and celebrate one of our great American heroes of the Civil Rights movement, I’d like for us to think seriously about how far we’ve come. For me, looking at the events of this past year and how they have revealed and highlighted the systemic and institutionalized racism that still permeates every level of our society, I become overwhelmed. It’s too much. Trying to address all of it, even thinking about how we can address all of it, can leave me paralyzed. Taking a step back, I default to a technique that has worked well for me in the past. What can I do? What can we, as librarians and professionals who serve middle grade readers, do?

Firstly, we can support everyone who is trying to make a change. We can add our voices to all of those calling for change. More specifically, we can choose highlight and support those movements in areas where our voices will carry some weight. To that end, I strongly recommend that you follow the We Need Diverse Books movement. They have a wonderful Tumblr, which is currently running a short story contest. For regular updates, you can follow their Twitter feed here.

Secondly, I’d like to challenge all of you reading this who have book buying budgets. Look through Zetta Elliott’s list linked above. See which of the titles are appropriate for your collection and purchase as many of them as you can manage with your budget. And when I say appropriate for your collection, I mean age wise. So, if you serve a population that is overwhelmingly white, still purchase these titles. Your patrons need to see these books; they need to be familiar with cultures that seem foreign to their own. They need to develop empathy for people who don’t look like them. They need to see that there is as much diversity within other racial groups as there is within their own. They need to learn that stereotypes are dangerous and damaging. How will they do that without access to these titles?

Thirdly, consider how you are marketing your collection. Do you only highlight titles by and about African Americans during February? Certainly, that is an appropriate time to feature these titles. In fact, I’d like to point your attention to an event my library participates in every year – NCTE’s African American Read-In. We use it as an opportunity to highlight African American authors and illustrators, but there are really very few limitations to how you can use this event. But back to marketing your collection – instead of picking a theme for a display and then pulling books to meet that idea, have you considered pulling a title either by or about a minority and then building your theme around that?  So, pull Christopher Paul Curtis’s Bud, Not Buddy and build a display of titles that highlight the events of The Great Depression. Pull Rita Williams Garcia’s One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven and use it to market your books about sisters or mother/daughter relationships. Pull all of your titles about the Tuskeegee Airmen and use that as a basis for a display of World War II titles.

In sum: be thoughtful, be proactive, choose to be a part of change. If all of our voices join together on this, we can change the way books get published. Ideally, I’d love to have a list of titles written by African American authors so long and diverse that I have to choose which titles to add to my collection, rather than purchasing all that are available and wishing for more.

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