Thursday, August 27, 2009

Encouraging Color in Kids' Books

Elizabeth Bluemle has a great post on Shelftalker about how difficult it still is to find children's books featuring black kids. Yes, of course we can all name some right off the bat - Karen English's "Nikki and Deja" series and Nikki Grimes' Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel (hey, did English name her character after Grimes?) for younger readers; Christopher Paul Curtis and Jacqueline Woodson for middle-grade readers; Walter Dean Myers and Sharon Draper for teens - and so on. Still, that's a drop in the bucket compared to books about white kids.

There's been a lot of buzz and controversy about this recently, from the cover of Justine Larbalestier's Liar (which Bluemle touches on in her post) to Color Online's Color Me Brown contest, which asks readers to submit reviews of books featuring people of color to a couple of posts by Charlotte of Charlotte's Library - an older post about the lack of color in fantasy and SF for kids and a new one about the lack of diversity in SF. Oh, and don't forget the SLJ article by Mitali Perkins on "Straight Talk On Race."

A YA librarian I know wishes she could find more YA books about black kids that don't involve guns, gangs, drugs, and teenage pregnancy. The middle-class black teens in her library's community are reading all kinds of stuff - including urban fiction - with great relish, but they aren't finding much that reflects themselves.

I'm thankful for this discussion, as it makes me remember how important it is for librarians to read all kinds of books, including and especially books featuring kids of color, so that we can promote them more effectively to our colleagues and patrons.


  1. Well, at LAPL these books are not hard to find, exactly, because any book that features black characters is cataloged with "African Americans--Juvenile fiction" as a subject heading, regardless of how or even whether the book actually connects to "The African-American Experience" as a subject. I think it's a very relevant subject for a book like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry but maybe not for something like The Stories Julian Tells.

    On one hand, using that subject heading can mean: "We know there are only a few of these books, so we want to make an extra effort to make them accessible to anyone who wants them, because we do not want them to be overlooked." But it can also have a marginalizing meaning: "These books don't feature 'normal' white characters."

    I know that isn't the point of your post or the linked article, but it is a related subject. =)

  2. Yes, I actually used that subject heading to find a book (couldn't remember the author of the Dyamonde Daniel, nor how to spell "dyamonde") - and had to blink at some of the books that came up. It may be a way of finding books with black characters - and that comes in very handy sometimes. But yeah, we don't use a subject heading to indicate white characters because that's the status quo. Just as a matter of interest, the picture book Jamaica and Brianna by Juanita Hamill has a subject heading for African Americans and for Asian Americans - but of course the book is about, to quote the CIP summary - "Jamaica hates wearing hand-me-down boots when her friend Brianna has pink fuzzy ones."