Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Same Old Story: The Stats on Multicultural Literature

It seems every 3-5 years, someone in the press discovers the statistics the CCBC keeps on multicultural literature, and publishes an article about it. This first happened back in 1989 when USA Today did a story on how difficult it was for African-American parents to find books for their children with characters who looked like them. It was accompanied by a nifty little graph that showed the first four years of our statistics, numbers we started documenting in 1985.

USA Today, 1989

This year on March 15 there were two terrific op ed pieces in the New York Times, one by Walter Dean Myers and one by his son, Christopher Myers, about the sad state of African-American children's literature, and the CCBC stats were again quoted.  This has led to a whole new cycle of reporting. Even Entertainment Weekly did a two-page spread called Kid's Lit Primary Color: White. Their accompanying graphic even looks a bit like the original 1989 illustration from USA Today. Not surprising since the story is essentially the same one.

Entertainment Weekly, 2014

These stories always generate a lot of passionate discussion for a month or so. Then things die down and nothing changes. New books flow into the CCBC every day, and we continue to count and document the books by and about people of color. The numbers have stagnated for the past couple of decades -- we update the statistics on our web site every year. Many people know to look for them there. Others will stumble across them for the very first time and, in a few years, there will be another story. Maybe next time, it will be a different one.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Book of the Week

How I Discovered Poetry

by Marilyn Nelson

Illustrated by Hadley Hooper
Published by Dial, 2014
103 pages
ISBN: 978-0-8037-3304-6
Age 12 and older

“Mama’s rented a colonial house / a block from the ocean, in a village / where we’re the First Negroes of everything.” Poet Marilyn Nelson combines her own memories with “research and imagination” in this collection of unrhymed sonnets based on her experiences growing up in the 1950s. The daughter of a military officer father and schoolteacher mother, Nelson moved often: Texas, Kansas, New Jersey, Maine, England, California, Oklahoma. There was the tension of the Cold War—bomb drills and Sputnik. There was Amos ‘n’ Andy and The Lone Ranger and his sidekick, Tonto, images unquestioned by a young child. And there was the burgeoning mid-twentieth- century Civil Rights Movement, with talk of segregation and integration swirling around her, and to which she attached greater meaning as she matured. Almost all of her peers were white; sometimes that mattered, sometimes it didn’t, but having a Black friend was like coming home for a girl who understood home as comfort more than place. Her poems paint a vivid picture of family and the times, and capture a girl’s growing awareness of identity—being Black, being female—and the power of words. The stirring, stinging title poem is a masterful account of the ways that power can transport (“It was like soul-kissing, the way the words / filled my mouth … / Mrs. Purdy and I wandered lonely as clouds borne / by a breeze off Mount Parnassus…”) and crush (“…I stood and opened my mouth to banjo-playing / darkies, pickaninnies, disses and dats. When I finished / my classmates stared at the floor.”) An author’s note provides readers with intriguing glimpses into her approach to telling this story, while occasional spot illustrations and photographs grace the pages. (MS) ©2014 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Cheryl Klein on Editing If I Ever Get Out of Here

In February's discussion of If I Ever Get Out of Here on CCBC-Net, we also heard from his editor, Cheryl Klein, at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. We are reprinting it here with her permission.

Cheryl Klein
As the editor of Eric Gansworth’s If I Ever Get Out of Here, I’m delighted to see the conversation going on here about it! If you don’t mind, I wanted to share a little bit about how the book came to be, since it ties to some of the questions we were discussing earlier in the month regarding diverse literature. 

I’ve long been interested in publishing diverse stories, and thanks to my position at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, I’ve been in a place to do so. But in my first eight years in the industry, I did not see any submissions at all from Native American authors. After a debate about multicultural literature over on the child_lit listserv in, I think, 2008, I decided to reach out to Debbie Reese about this. I told her that the #1 problem in publishing Native American books was actually getting manuscripts from Native writers, and asked her to pass along my contact info to any aspiring Native children’s or YA authors she might meet.

Debbie sent me several writers over the next few years, and one of them was Eric Gansworth. Eric had published several adult novels and collections, but he’d never written for YA before; and his writing instantly stood out to me for his emotional sensitivity, his backbeat sense of humor, and his powerful portrayal of relationships among families and friends on and off the reservation. The first thing he sent me was a short-story collection featuring a young man’s observations of the adult relationships around his reservation. I admired the stories, but it seemed more like a book about adults from a YA point of view than true YA fiction to me, so it didn’t feel right for my list. But I told Eric that if he’d be interested in writing something that was truly focused on teenagers, I’d be delighted to see it; and he responded with a proposal for a novel that had long been in the back of his mind, about friendship, the Beatles, and the great Buffalo blizzard of 1977. I said “I love this idea, write it,” he did so, and I acquired the novel. We then worked together to shape it into If I Ever Get Out of Here

So if I could point you lovely librarians and teachers to one thing in this story, it would be the crucial role that Debbie played in letting Native writers know there was someone looking for their work, and her work connecting those writers to the wider publishing world. If you work with a diverse population and you know some aspiring writers, please give them books that might inform or encourage their writing, like those we’ve been discussing all month. If they’re adults, tell them about the Angela Johnson scholarship at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, where they might find support for honing their craft. Point them to this discussion, and the CBCDiversity Tumblr, and the Lee & Low Book Awards, for names of publishers and editors and readers interested in seeing their work. Remind them it often takes patience to find the right editor for the right project at the right time, and they shouldn’t be discouraged by one rejection (as I turned down Eric’s first submission); but to hang in there and keep writing, first and foremost. Be the connector and encourager for any talented writers of color you might know, and hopefully we can see more of them in print soon.

With best wishes,

Cheryl Klein
Executive Editor
Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic

Monday, April 7, 2014

Book of the Week

The Scraps Book: 

Notes from a Colorful Life

by Lois Ehlert

Published by Beach Lane, 2014
64 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4424-3571-1

Ages 4-9

Lois Ehlert’s creative journey began in early childhood and continues today. Here she offers an open, inviting look at some of her own work as an artist creating books for children. Page spreads dazzle with Ehlert’s colorful collage art, including images from some of her best-known books along with a brief, friendly narrative about where the idea came from and how it developed. There is a scrapbook feel to the assorted illustrations, personal photographs, and notes in an offering that is a collage both visually, and in the content that combines insight into her personal journey as an artist with information about how her art and her books take shape. Inspiration can come from everywhere. Chaos can lead to beautiful creations. This treasure trove feels like a love letter to the beauty all around us, and encourages young artists to “find your own spot to work and begin.” (MS) ©2014 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Talking with Eric Gansworth, part 3

The third and final part of our conversation with author Eric Gansworth from CCBC-Net.

Writing for Teens 

Did you find it restrictive to orient the novel towards a YA audience?

Bison Books, 2005
I probably went a fair amount softer than I would have for an adult audience, but that’s to be expected. Most of the edgier things that I thought were important to understanding Lewis’s world are still in the novel, if maybe a little more veiled than they were in the first incarnation. We had discussions about some of these areas, in the editorial process. Though a few of these passages, even in their muted versions, may alienate adult folks who feel protectively censorious on their constituents’ behalf, we left in the elements that were important. It’s a book about teenage guys. Even sensitive teenage guys are still, well, teenage guys.

To neuter them, worrying about offending someone, would not have been a realistic representation of the world I wanted to present. Young readers know when you’re playing it safe and I didn’t want that to be the case. It’s strange to me how the culture has changed. In many ways, being more sensitive is a great thing, but young people who want to read provocative, edgier material are going to find it. Why not offer them some range of choices? I hope I’m not the literary equivalent of broccoli, but you never know. This book is oriented to late middle school and high school students. In middle school, I had already read Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and John Russo’s Night of the Living Dead (one great novel, one workmanlike novelization). Most of the girls I knew in eighth grade were obsessed with Flowers in the Attic, an over-the-top contemporary Gothic novel with a primary narrative focusing on incestuous siblings locked in an attic by their dysfunctional family. It seemed like Hansel and Gretel: The Cinemax Late Nite Years.

Milkweed Press, 2010
The one real restriction I think was great for me, as a writer. I’m generally a very meditative fiction writer, perhaps even to the point of indulgence sometimes. I’m interested in the interior lives of characters, the ways their memories and histories inform who they are at any given moment. My understanding of YA, from discussions with others and from reading many many contemporary YA novels while writing, is that it’s got to move a bit faster than I normally choose to. I’m sure that has more to do with my own temperament than any issue with the field. I’m a contemplative person, the sort who still gets insomnia over conversations I had 10 or 15 years ago that didn’t go the way I’d hoped. As such, my novels for adults probably require a reader with a greater reservoir of patience than the average reader. If I wanted slower meditative passages to remain in this novel, I had to find legitimate reasons for them to exist. I learned so much about writing for an audience in search of more immediate payoffs, that I believe right now, I could probably trim another thirty pages out of the first half, and make the pace a little peppier. It’s a learning curve, like anything else.
Thanks so much for taking the time to engage with my work and again for inviting me to participate in the conversation.  


If I Ever Get Out of Here was a 2014 Honor Book for the American Indian Youth Library Award and was chosen for the Best Fiction for Young Adults list in 2014.  You can find it at your local library and bookstore.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Blog Hop in Honor of Dia de Los Ninos/Libros

Be sure to check out Latinas for Latino Literature's Dia blog hop beginning April 6. Each day they will visit a different blog with a post by such as Meg Medina, Duncan Tonatiuh, and Maya Gonzalez. The tour launches, of course, with  Pat Mora, the founder of El Día de los Niños / El Día de los Libros.

Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros

Read More at http://latinas4latinolit.org/2014/04/l4lls-2014-dia-blog-hop/, Copyright © Latinas for Latino Lit (L4LL)