Monday, July 29, 2013

Book of the Week: Etched in Clay

Etched in Clay: 

The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet

by Andrea Cheng

Published by Lee and Low, 2013
160 pages
ISBN: 978-1600604515

Age 11 and older

Andrea Cheng examines the life of Dave the Potter (who took the name David Drake after the Civil War ended) through a verse novel that tells his powerful, poignant story of endurance, artistry, and rebellion. Cheng’s poems reveal Dave’s hunger for words and learning and self-expression, and his pain of living in slavery. He was trained by and worked for Pottersville Stoneware in Edgefield, South Carolina, where founder Abner Landrum developed unique glazes. Dave later worked for Landrum’s brother and nephew, Lewis Miles, a kind man who nonetheless did not think to free Dave. Dave endured multiple, lifelong separations from people he loved: his first wife, Eliza; his second wife, Lydia; and Lydia’s two sons, whom he had taught to read. The poems are in the voices of these and other individual’s, all listed in a cast of characters near the beginning of the volume. Cheng incorporates some of the inscriptions Dave carved into his pots into her poems, and the novel as a whole gives a context for those words, showing them as a form of rebellion. Lovely, occasional black-and-white woodcut prints punctuate a work that includes back matter with more information on Dave and his poems and pottery in Edgefield, South Carolina. Cheng talks about her interest in Dave in an author’s note that precedes her list of sources. (MS) ©2013 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

From the CCBC Archives: The First Librarian

Meet Bonnie Stecher. She was the Cooperative Children's Book Center's first official librarian, and she worked at the Center from June 1964 until June 1965.  Mrs. Stecher, as she was always called back then, accomplished a lot in her one-year tenure at the CCBC. She made numerous contacts with children's book publishers to assure that the CCBC would receive review copies (there were 88 publishers included on her 1964-65 checklist). She responded to correspondence related to donations for the CCBC's Historical Collection. And she started compiling the bibliographies of recommended books that the CCBC is still known for today.

But perhaps her most lasting accomplishment was her compilation of Newbery and Caldecott winners and honor books. In the age of easy access to this sort of information via the internet, it's hard to imagine a time that there was no comprehensive list of Newbery and Caldecott Award winners. But even ALA didn't have such a list. In fact, in the CCBC files is a copy of a letter from Mildred Batchelder herself (the Executive Secretary of ALA's Children's Services Division), thanking Mrs. Stecher for sending her the list of award winners and runners-up. In her letter, Miss Batchelder brainstorms some possible ways for ALA to disseminate the list -- pending Mrs. Stecher's permission, of course.

Her list eventually saw publication as part of Lee Kingman's Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books, 1956-1965 published by the Horn Book, where it was credited to Bonita E. Stecher. Over the years, as the list has been updated, the credit was dropped, and few people know or even think about where it came from.  But here at the CCBC, we haven't forgotten what Mrs. Stecher accomplished. In fact, those of us who started out here as student reference assistants in the 1970s-1980s will remember updating the original list each year after the ALA awards were announced, and sending out copies whenever anyone requested one (and provided us with a self-addressed stamped envelope).

I'll leave you with this last photo of Bonnie Stecher, working with the CCBC collection back when the library was located in the dome of the State Capitol Building. She looks so deep in thought that perhaps she is trying to track down those missing honor books from the first few years of the Newbery Medal's existence.  The CCBC librarians no longer wear pearls and heels to work but we are no less dedicated providing information about children's and young adult literature to those who request it.

We still have those wooden benches -- and that book truck!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ambassador Myers on the State of Multicultural Publishing

Our national children's book ambassador, Walter Dean Myers, has been a fierce advocate for equality and diversity in children's book publishing throughout his career.  He had this to say about the issue we have been discussing the past few weeks:
I have changed my notion of the obligation of the book publishing industry. While it does have the responsibility to avoid the publishing of negative images of any people, I no longer feel that the industry has any more obligation to me, to my people, to my children, than does, say, a fast-food chain. It's clear to me that if any race, any religious or social group, elects to place its cultural needs in the hands of the profit makers then it had better be prepared for the inevitable disappointments.
These words first  appeared in an editorial Mr. Myers wrote for the New York Times back in 1987. You read that right -- 1987.  For more than 25 years, we have been having this same conversation and nothing seems to really change. The entire essay, "I Actually Thought We Would Revolutionize the Industry," is well worth reading, and still sadly relevant. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Book of the Week: Inside Outside

Inside Outside

by Lizi Boyd

Published by Chronicle, 2013
40 pages
ISBN: 9781452106441

Ages 2-5

A child engages in seasonal and creative activities both inside and outside in a wonderful, wordless picture book in which each scene foreshadows things to come. The first full-page spread shows the child inside, getting ready to plant seeds in pots. Winter coat and scarf hang on the hook near the door; winter boots can be found midst the jumble of toys on the floor. Through the die-cut windows snowmen peek in. A turn of the page finds the child outside with the snowmen while the windows now frame a picture on the inside wall from the preceding page. Winter turns to spring then summer then fall in Lizi Boyd’s delightful offering that encourages prediction and inspires storytelling. It’s a pleasure to look for the various creatures that recur in every scene (dog, cat, two mice, and a turtle, for a start) and to follow the busy child’s myriad activities from one scene and season to the next. The whimsically detailed gouache illustrations were rendered on brown kraft paper, adding immense warmth to the already cozy scenes. (MS) ©2013 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, July 15, 2013

By and About

Last week I posted mid-year statistics about the multicultural landscape in children's book publishing so far in 2013.  Using the review copies in our Current Collection I counted the number of books we've received to date (1509) with human characters (1103) as opposed to animal characters or about non-human topics (326), and found that 78.3% are about human beings.  Of the 1103 books about people, 124 (or 10.4%) of these were about people of color.

When I did the count last week, I didn't take authorship into account. But one of the things we do keep track of here at the CCBC is just that -- the number of books written and/or illustrated by people of color. We first began documenting the number of books by African-American authors and illustrators since 1985 when CCBC Director Ginny Moore Kruse served on the Coretta Scott King Award Committee, and was stunned to see that there were only 18 books by Black authors and illustrators published that year. We decided to keep track and put the statistic into print each year, and by 1994 we were also documenting the numbers for Asian/Asian-American, Latino, and Native American author/illustrators, as well.

No one will be surprised to learn that there are always more books about people of color than there are by people of color. But it may surprise you to know just how many -- at least so far in 2013.

15 of the 47 books received so far in 2013 by and about people of color
Of the 124 books documented in the first half of 2013 that are about human characters who are not white, 47 were written and/or illustrated by people of color. That means that just 37.9% of the books about people of color that we've received so far in 2013 were actually written and/or illustrated by people of color.

Published by Abrams, (c) 2013

And remember those animal characters who started this discussion? It turns out, people of color create their fair share of books with nonhuman characters, as well. In addition to the 47 books cited above, there were eight more books by authors/illustrators of color that I didn't count because they were about animal characters, from Monkey King to a frog who sings in Spanish. Most, like Duncan Tonatiuh's Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote, are culturally specific.

So are authors who choose to portray characters as animals really avoiding race and ethnicity?  And, if they are, what does it say about us as a nation if we assume our children will have an easier time identifying with a dinosaur than they will with a human child of another race?

Book of the Week: The Thing About Luck

The Thing about Luck

by Cynthia Kadohata

Published by Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, 2013
270 pages   ISBN: 9781416918820
Ages 10-13

Twelve-year-old Summer and her younger brother, Jaz, live in Kansas with their parents and their grandparents, Obaachan and Jiichan, but spend months every year on the road, following the wheat harvest. Summer’s parents and grandparents are combine drivers and join the Parker crew each season. This year, with her parents in Japan helping relatives, it’s just Summer and Jaz and their grandparents. Jiichan is driving a combine and Obaachan is the cook for the harvest crew, with Summer as her assistant. Cynthia Kadohata’s thoughtful novel is grounded in a Summer’s point of view, which broadens and brightens over a season of incredible hard work and unexpected challenges. Summer is convinced her family is plagued by bad luck, but it turns out luck is like people—never simple. From her prickly grandmother, to critical Mrs. Parker and other members of the crew, to Jaz, who has a hard time socializing and a hard time with anger when he’s frustrated and who is never defined or explained with a label, Summer is challenged to embrace the complications and contradictions that come with people and with life. It’s not about luck, it’s about perspective, and the willingness to try. Kadohata’s characters are revealed, slowly, skillfully, and beautifully over the course of this vivid narrative that also illuminates a fascinating dimension of American farm life. (MS) ©2013 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I See White People

There has been a lively discussion going on over at Read Roger, prompted by Lee & Low asking why the number of multicultural books has stagnated for the past 18 years. Roger remarked:
Semi-facetious response: While the blog states the disparity between the non-white population in this country (37% of the whole) and the percentage of children’s books with “multicultural content” (hovering around 10% over the last eighteen years), I want to know what percentage of children’s books are in the first place about people (as opposed to talking rabbits or outer space, for example). Things may look worse than they are.
Since the CCBC is the source of the multicultural statistics that have been widely quoted since USA Today first used them in a  feature article back in 1989, I decided to respond to Roger will some hard data. I took a look at the children's and young adult trade books we have received so far in 2013 here at the CCBC. I  counted the total number of books we have received, noting how many were about people, and how many were about nonhuman characters. I also counted how many were about white people and how many were about people of color. I was generous in my assessment: if a cover with a crowd of kids showed two or more kids of color, I counted it as multicultural. Similarly, if a cover showed two people and one was a person of color, I counted it as multicultural. I was struck by how many middle-grade fiction books show three kids on the cover, a la Harry Potter, all of them white.

A sampling of 2013 books from the CCBC's Current Collection
 So here's how the stats break down so far this year:

To date we have received 1509 books from U.S. publishers. Of these, 1183 (or 78.3 %) are about human beings. I know it seems like there are lots and lots of bears, mice and bunnies standing in for people in books, and there are, but these stand ins occur mainly in picture books, which represent just 23.5% of the books we have received so far in 2013. I went through all the picture books published in 2013 that we have received so far as review copies. Of the 355 picture books in our current collection, 164 had non-human characters (mostly dinosaurs and cute furry critters but we also have picture book protagonists who are cars, crayons, monsters, lollipops and smurfs).

I counted 191 picture books with human characters, which is a little over half (53.8 %) of the total number of this year's picture books in our collection. Of these 191 titles, 28 (or 14.6%) feature a child of color as the protagonist. In the overall total number of picture books, adding together human and nonhuman characters, children of color make up just 7.8% of the total number of picture book protagonists.

Nonfiction is another genre that includes a lot of books about animals, outer space, etc. We have received 472 nonfiction titles so far this year, which makes up 31.27% of the total number of books. Just 130 of these books (or 27.5%) are about nonhuman subjects. People of color fare a little bit better in nonfiction than they do in picture books: of the 342 books about people, 60 are about people of color, which amounts to 17.5% of the total number of nonfiction books.

The really dismal numbers come with fiction, both middle grade and young adult. Anyone who is up on trends in children's and young adult book publishing knows that fiction (a/k/a chapter books and novels) make up the bulk of what is currently being published. Our stats so far for 2013 bear this out. We have received 682 works of fiction to date this year, which makes up 45.19% of our total. Just 32 of them are about non-human protagonists (Most of these were animals; I only counted paranormals if there was no interaction with mortals in the story.)  That means 95.3% of all fiction titles are about human beings. Of the 650 books about human beings, 614 feature white characters, and just 36 feature people of color as main characters. That amounts to just 5.27% of the total. 

So to get back to Roger's semi-facetious response, here is the big picture. Of the 1509 books published in 2013 that we have received so far, 1183 (or 78.3%) are about human beings. If we subtract the 326 books about nonhuman characters from the overall total and just figure the percentages of books about people of color among the books with human characters only, we still get a fairly dismal number: of the 1183 books published so far in 2013 about human beings, 124 of those books feature people of color. That's 10.48%. We're only half way through the publishing year and the fall season is usually the heaviest, but it still looks like we are on track for yet another year of stagnation.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The CCBC at 50

Elizabeth Burr (right) oversees CCBC cataloging
When the CCBC first opened its doors just over fifty years ago, founder Elizabeth Burr would never have imagined a time when we would be blogging about books. But I hope she imagined that we would still be here five decades later, still going strong and still sharing a passion for children's books. (Young adult books, too!)

The CCBC has been much in the news lately due to a recent NPR report that used our multicultural literature statistics. We've had quite a few email messages and phone calls as a result -- and, of course, this all happened while we were all away attending the annual conference of the American Library Association. Over the next week or so we'll continue the discussion here on our new blog in order to provide some context for the statistics and discuss the sorts of issues they bring up. We welcome your own observations and questions.