Observations on Publishing in 2003
by Kathleen T. Horning, Merri V. Lingren, Hollis Rudiger and Megan Schliesman
©2004 Cooperative Children's Book Center
This essay originally appeared in CCBC Choices 2004.
Read the essays from other years.
This essay originally appeared in the 2004 edition of CCBC Choices, the CCBC's annual best-of-the-year list.
The most recent edition of Children’s Books in Print (R.R. Bowker, 2003) states that there are books 250,150 from 13,100 U.S. publishers currently available for purchase in the United States. This includes new trade books, reprints, paperback editions of titles published earlier, large-print books, book-club editions, novelty books, series books from informational publishers, and more. There are well over three times as many books available now than a decade ago.
Only a small percentage of that vast number actually represents brand
new titles for children and teens. We estimate about 5,000 such books
were published in
T he CCBC received approximately 3,00 new books for children and young adults in 2003. The majority of these were published by approximately 45 or so trade publishers (some of which are separate divisions of the same publishing house) and a dozen or so small, independent publishers. Some were titles from publishers specializing in informational books for the young, often developed specifically with curricular needs in mind.
Of the 216 books in CCBC Choices 2004, 16 represent the first published works for the young of 13 authors, two illustrators, and one author/illustrator; 19 were originally or simultaneously published outside the United States (5 of these were translations); 11 were published by five small, independently owned and operated publishers; and 63 feature multicultural themes or topics (the CCBC definition of “multicultural” refers to people of color). To our knowledge, 118 of the books we recommend in CCBC Choices 2004 have not appeared on any of the other nationally distributed lists of the year=s best books as of late January, 2004.
Most of the books in CCBC Choices 2004 are published for an audience ranging in age from infancy to 14 years -- the upper age in the definition of Achildren” used by the book awards committees of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) of the American Library Association (ALA). Some of the books in this edition of CCBC Choices are recommended for older ages as well.
As we comment on some of what we observed about the publishing year in 2003 on the following pages, please note that not every book we discuss has been selected as a CCBC Choice. Books that are not recommended in this edition of CCBC Choices are designated by the inclusion of publisher information after their titles
Vapid, Vacant, and Empty: Celebrity PublishingIn recent years we’ve seen a great rise in the number of children’s books written by celebrity authors, as publishers strive to appeal more and more to book-buying parents more likely to recognize names such as Katie Couric, Jerry Seinfeld, and Boomer Esiason than they are E. B. White, Margaret Wise Brown, or Kevin Henkes. Books by celebrities such as Henry Winkler, Lynne Cheney, and Alma (Mrs. Colin) Powell were issued in 2003, but the most highly visible of these highly visible authors was Madonna, who wrote and published two picture books this year. Both hit the New York Times Best Seller List and received an inordinate amount of attention, considering their insipid literary quality. Madonna plans to publish four additional titles over the next few years. In an interview with the VH1 television network, she explained why she had decided to become a children’s author: “Now I'm starting to read to my son, but I couldn't believe how vapid and vacant and empty all the stories were."
Children’s librarians across the country have been scratching their heads, wondering what books Madonna could possibly have been reading to little Rocco – books by other celebrities, perhaps? Does she know about libraries and children’s librarians?
Vivid, Vibrant, and Expressive: Picture Book Publishing in 2003
We found that 2003 stands out as a year of particularly excellent books
for the very young, despite Madonna’s forays into the field. In fact,
the Charlotte Zolotow Award committee cited a record number of honor books
and highly commended titles this year, in addition to the winning book.
This year’s Charlotte Zolotow Award winner, What James Likes Best by Amy Schwartz, is a playful story divided into four short chapters, each one ending with a chance for young children to interact directly with the book by answering a series of open-ended questions. We seem to see more and more call for interaction in books for children at all levels, the most obvious one of 2003 being Mo Willems’s wonderfully weird Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. Here a persistent pigeon literally begs readers, page after page, for an opportunity to drive a big city bus. His persuasive methods -- pleading, whining, bargaining, and even throwing a tantrum – will be very familiar to most young children, who will delight in telling him No! with each page turn.
A more subdued story that still invites participation is Lynne Rae Perkins’s Snow Music. Here text and pictures are so much in tune that there are times the words actually become part of the images, representing tracks in snow made by birds, a squirrel, a dog, children, cars, and a snow plow. Everyday sights and sounds are also the basis of The Baby Goes Beep by first-time author Rebecca O’Connell. Bold graphics by Ken Wilson-Max show typical activities of a babbling baby from morning to bedtime, accompanied by O’Connell’s perfectly paced text.
We continue to see picture books dealing artfully with the realities of varying family structures in which children live. Two Old Potatoes and Me by John Coy, for example, is a marvelously subtle story about a father and daughter who see each other only on weekends, illustrated with a combination of painting and collage by Carolyn Fisher. Javaka Steptoe’s signature cut-paper collages illustrate The Jones Family Express, a lively story about an extended family and a young boy’s desire to find the perfect gift for his favorite aunt.
A small alien finds herself stranded on planet Earth, far from her mother and father, in Beegu by Alexis Deacon. Beegu finds most inhabitants of Earth, from autumn leaves to telephone booths, inhospitable and unresponsive in this wry and touching story that originated in England. A small cat runs into much friendlier creatures in The Calabash Cat and His Amazing Journey. Determined to find the end of the world, the cat meets one animal after another willing to help him, but the understanding offered by each one is based on its own experience. Only when the Calabash Cat meets an eagle, who flies him over the earth, does he begin to understand the immensity of the world. Throughout this engaging story, author/artist James Rumford uses a horizontal color-coded line to trace the cat’s journey. The lines come together at the story’s end to show all the colors of the rainbow—and different ways of viewing the world.
Where Do We Draw the Line?
Books That Expand Audience Boundaries
The lines are not always quite so clear in the world of children’s
and young adult books these years. We’ve learned that picture books
are not just for young children any more, and Neil Gaiman’s The Wolves
in the Walls is a case in point. This delectably eerie picture book tells
the story of Lucy, a young girl who’s convinced that the noises she
hears behind the walls in her home at night are actually wolves. And, in
fact, she’s right. Once her family flees their home, the wolves take
over, and although heroic Lucy does figure out a way to reclaim their home,
the realization of childhood fears may prove to be a bit too strong for
the typical picture book audience. Many older elementary and middle school
students, however, will be thrilled with this haunting story.
The line also continues to blur between adult and young adult literature. Two particularly outstanding books with teen protagonists were published as adult books in the United States in 2003, and both deserve the attention of those who work with teens. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Doubleday) by Mark Haddon is exquisitely written from the point of view of a fifteen-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism. In Great Britain it was published simultaneously in an adult and a young adult edition. We wish the same had been done in the United States.
Marjane Satrapi’s graphic-novel memoir, Persepolis, details her coming of age in Tehran, Iran, during the Islamic Revolution. Although we don’t normally include adult books in CCBC Choices, we felt that the subject matter was so important and the graphic format so appealing and accessible, that we made an exception in this case.
Creative Approaches to Information:
Engaging and Intriguing Nonfiction
Nonfiction for children and young adults continues to be both innovative
and informative. As with picture books, we noticed quite a few interactive
books of information. Most distinctive among these was The Great Art Scandal
by Anna Nilsen, which encourages children to look closely at 32 well-known
paintings in order to find details that are hidden in original paintings
created especially for this book. The storyline involves a mystery that
readers are asked to help solve. Horizontally split pages ease comparisons
among the masterworks and original paintings. For the younger set, Steve
Jenkins and Robin Page’s What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? engages
children in a picture-clue game involving animals and their ears, eyes,
noses, and tails.
The 100th anniversary of flight inspired several books about the Wright Brothers. David Craig’s realistic illustrations for First to Fly: How Orville and Wilbur Wright Invented the Airplane provides a wide array of visual perspectives from which to view the Wright Brothers’ early flights. An unusual historical perspective on the same subject can be found in The Wright Sister: Katharine Wright and Her Famous Brothers by Richard Maurer. Based on the numerous letters she wrote to friends and family members about her brothers’ work, Maurer gives us an intimate sense of the events leading up to and resulting from that famous first flight, as witnessed first-hand by their sister..
In the past few years, we have been amazed by the number and variety of excellent biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs for children and teens. Many authors and artists continue to use the picture book form to tell life stories. In 2003 we appreciated picture book biographies of Rachel Carson (Rachel), Cesar Chavez (Harvesting Hope), Leonardo DaVinci (Leonardo), Muhammad (Muhammad), Erik Satie (The Strange Mr. Satie), and Mark Twain (American Boy), to name a few. Christine King Farris adds to the ever-growing body of literature about Martin Luther King Jr. with her own childhood memories in My Brother Martin. We’ve come to expect great things from Peter Sís with his rich, multi-layered picture book biographies and he doesn’t disappoint with The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin: Naturalist, Geologist & Thinker.
Hana’s Suitcase moves back and forth between the Holocaust during World War II and the present day as it tells about Hana Brady, a victim of Nazi Germany, and Fumiko Ishioka, a young Japanese woman in charge of a Holocaust education center in Tokyo in the late 1990s who uncovered Hana’s story. Fumiko began with only a suitcase, loaned by Auschwitz for display at her small museum. The suitcase had a name: Hana Brady. Fumiko and the children with whom she worked wanted to know what became of Hana. With only a name and Hana’s date of birth to work with, Fumiko searched relentlessly. She finally discovered that although Hana had died at Auschwitz, her brother was still alive, and an extraordinary connection was made.
We saw a marked decrease in the number of photo-essays dealing with contemporary people in 2003. Of those we did see, we can commend Coming to America: A Muslim Family’s Story by Bernard Wolf, which documents the lives of the Mahmoud family who immigrated from Egypt to New York City. Children of Native America Today by Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Arlene Hirshfelder shows the lives of children from 25 different tribes in North America. And Adelina’s Whales by Richard Sobol documents the life of a ten-year-old girl living in a small fishing village in Mexico. In general, photo-essays offer children unique insights into the lives of their counterparts around the world, and we certainly hope this isn’t a dying art form.
What’s Your Story? The Truth about Fiction
Although there was a dearth of informational books about contemporary children
and teens, 2003 was a terrific publishing year for contemporary realistic
fiction, providing intimate and affecting portraits of children and teens
whose stories—and the issues in their lives—ring true.
Among the significant works for young adult readers is Angela Johnson’s spare yet emotionally saturated The First Part Last, in which the intensity of teenage father Bobby’s love for his infant daughter is matched by the intensity of the responsibility involved in caring for her, which often overwhelms him.
Troy lives in a constant state of heightened self-consciousness that has grown unbearable for the severely overweight teen. Curt’s past, a childhood of abuse and neglect, is defeated by his powerful music, but his drug addiction may defeat him. First-time author K.L. Going creates a gritty yet life-affirming portrait of two teenage boys who save each other from going over the edge in Fat Kid Rules the World.
Helen Frost sketches portraits of seven teens facing circumstances that threaten to engulf them, from pregnancy to abuse to coming out, in Keesha’s House, which raises the bar on the novel-in-poem form. Through use of two structured poetic forms, the sestina and the sonnet, Frost weaves a cohesive story of hope out of threads of uncertainty and despair.
These and other young adult novels, from Martha Brooks’s True Confessions of a Heartless Girl to Sharon G. Flake’s Begging for Change, offer insight into stories teens will recognize as true, whether or not they can personally relate to the circumstances.
We were pleased to see an increase in the number of honest works about the lives of gay and lesbian teens. Julie Anne Peters’s Keeping You a Secret is first and foremost a teenage love story, and Peters captures the giddy feeling of falling in love wonderfully. But she also addresses the repercussions faced by many lesbian and gay youth when high school senior Holland Jaeger is kicked out of her house after coming out. Luckily, Holland finds the safety net of the larger lesbian and gay community.
Glen Huser’s Stitches introduces a young teen who is targeted from early age as being different. Travis is barely beginning to consider his sexuality, but he’s the target of serious bullying because he stands out with his interests in sewing and puppetry and other nontraditional male past-times. Huser’s extraordinary narrative doesn’t flinch from detailing the harsh abuse—both verbal and physical—that kids like Travis so often endure. With its rich characterizations, it ultimately offers an uplifting, hopeful, often humorous story because of the support that Travis receives from many sources.
Like Keeping You a Secret, David Levithan’s hilarious debut novel Boy Meets Boy is also a love story, but Levithan’s world is not quite in the realm of realistic fiction. Rather, it’s an appealing and achievable fantasy world—a world where begin gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered teens are just teens, an ordinary part of life in their school and community; a world where the transgendered homecoming queen is also captain of the football team. By turning things on their side, Levithan offers an entertaining and insightful commentary on the way things are, and they way the might be. Teens defying gender expectations is at the heart of Andrew Matthews’s The Flip Side (Delacorte, 2003), in which a teenage boy’s discovery that he enjoys cross-dressing leads to a cascade of revelations among his classmates.
We welcome these books that give lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered teens visibility in fiction—something they can take to heart in real life.
Among the realistic novels for children and younger teens is Kevin Henkes’s Olive’s Ocean, in which 12-year-old Martha Boyle’s summer on Cape Cod features the thrill of her first crush and the humiliation of adolescent cruelty, all of which figures into Martha’s deepening sense of self and her future dreams. Deborah Ellis’s Mud City¸ set in the recent past, continues to examine the plight of Afghan refugees, as Ellis did in her two prior novels, The Breadwinner (Groundwood, 2001) and Parvana’s Journey (Groundwood, 2002). And Jacqueline Woodson’s Locomotion, another novel-in-poems, provides a moving character study of Lonnie, a young African American boy for whom writing has becomes a source of emotional survival, as well as something to nurture his future dreams.
It’s not just contemporary fiction that offers the opportunity for
children and teens to consider issues that resonate in real life. Historical
fiction, and even fantasy, can provide thought-provoking insight into personal
and social issues that resonate in today’s world.
Among the outstanding historical fiction we read this year were two memorable Holocaust narratives. In Uri Orlev’s Run, Boy, Run, a young Jewish boy spends much of the war masquerading as Christian as he makes his way from village to village trying to stay alive and one step ahead of the Germans. By the war’s end, he has lost all memory of who he was before the war, as well as the family he once had. In Jerry Spinelli’s Milkweed, a very young boy doesn’t know his name or where he’s come from when the story begins. The fact that he doesn’t miss what he can’t recall is just one of the ways the cruel, skewed events of the Holocaust have permanently scarred his understanding of the world.
Richard Peck’s The River Between Us is set against the backdrop of the Civil War in southern Illinois and tackles wide-ranging issues, from racism to the morality of war. Jennifer Donnelly’s debut novel, A Northern Light, is a masterpiece for young adults, examining the limits that class and gender imposed on a young woman coming of age in the early twentieth century. Donnelly’s fictional narrative was inspired by a real-life tragedy, and despite its historical setting, the book explores with great depth and sensitivity issues that are surely relevant today.
Other Realms of Possibility: Fantasy Fiction
Works of historical fiction are based at least in part on actual people,
places, or events in the past, and their authors have the challenge of authentically
recreating the period in which they are set. The task for fantasy writers
is to create new worlds—or newly imagined realities for life here
on earth. The publishing trend for fantasy novels for children and young
adults was still riding high in 2003. Among the many fine titles we read
were those that, like the best contemporary and historical fiction, offer
essential truths about human struggles, or about society as a whole. But
the pure entertainment value of fantasy literature cannot be denied, at
least for those who are attracted to the genre, and often for those who
forswear an attraction to it. The combination of a richly imagined setting,
appealing characters, and a well-conceived and executed plot can be irresistible.
The eagerly anticipated fifth Harry Potter book arrived with the student wizard transitioning from child to adolescent. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix finds Harry Potter in a much more emotionally tumultuous state than prior books, complicating his relationships with others and giving this volume a less upbeat tone. At the same time, the engaging cast of characters continues to grow and intrigue, and the plot still packs a punch, particularly in the final third of this hefty tome. Once again, we’re in J.K. Rowling’s thrall, awaiting volume six.
Author Tamora Pierce, creator of the ever-popular Lionness Quartet, revisits her fantasy realm 20 years after its 1983 premiere to spotlight the teenage daughter of her now middle-aged heroine knight. Aly is a substantial young woman in her own right, struggling to establish her identity in the shadow of her mother’s fame in Trickster’s Choice.
Another popular fantasy series gained a sequel this year, with Garth Nix bringing his story of a reluctantly heroic librarian to a close in Abhorsen. Although light on the character development that was so strong in Lirael (HarperCollins, 2001) and Sabriel (HarperCollins, 1996), Abhorsen sports a fast pace, engaging plot, and satisfying answers to questions left hanging in the previous books.
Diana Wynne Jones sets the standard for consistent quality in the fantasy genre, and with The Merlin Conspiracy she continues to fulfill expectations with a story featuring an elaborately structured multiverse hovering on the edge of magical chaos – unless an unlikely coalition of teens is able to avert disaster.
Finding a unique take on Arthurian legend is quite a feat, but Jane Yolen does just that in The Sword of the Rightful King. Rich with realistic portrayals of the expected players, the familiar story sports a well-devised
twist that will keep readers guessing right up to the final revelation.
In addition to works by established authors, we welcomed notable new voices to the fantasy genre in 2003. Suzanne Collins’s debut novel is a quest set in subterranean New York City. Gregor the Overlander features an everyday kid as its protagonist, a boy thrust into the role of hero and uncertain if he’s up to the task. Collins’s adventure is not only riveting, but it will make its readers view cockroaches in a new (and kinder) light. City of Ember is another underground fantasy, in which the prospect of eternal darkness sparks 12-year-olds Lina and Doon to embark on a dangerous mission to save their city. A successful blend of futuristic fantasy, adventure story, and intriguing mystery, author Jeanne duPrau’s setting strikes an immediate chord with anyone who’s ever cowered in the dark. She also invites readers to contemplate both the finer and darker sides of human nature.
Another first-time author, Philip Reeve, creates instant fascination with his vision of the future: cities in Europe have been rebuilt on huge caterpillar treads, allowing them to roam the earth in search of smaller and weaker towns to prey upon. Mortal Engines is dark, sometimes gruesome, and immensely imaginative in its concept of “municipal Darwinism.”
Finally, Inkheart, German author Cornelia Funke’s intricate page-turner, revolves around a 12-year-old girl and her father, who has the ability to “read” characters out of books and into real life. An enviable skill? Not when the characters are evil. But despite the dangers, Meggie can’t resist experimenting. Does she share her father’s extraordinary ability? Funke’s second novel published here in the United States firmly establishes her as a gifted and popular author.
Words from Afar: Translated Literature
Inkheart was one of a number of significant translated books published
for children and young adults in the United States in 2003. We commend the
efforts of U.S. publishers to acquire works originally published in other
nations. Such books can build bridges--helping children and young adults
in this country understand the larger world in which they live.
The effort that goes into publishing a translated book is tremendous. Often the editor does not speak the original language of the text, and so relies on summaries by one or more readers fluent in the language in order to determine whether or not to pursue the rights to a foreign title. The editor must find a qualified individual to translate the text, someone who understands the nuances of both the original language and English, and who can consider both the literal meaning and literary integrity of the original. It’s a complex job, but one to which a number of editors are committed, with the support of their publishing houses.
Of the more than 3,200 books we received at the CCBC in 2003, we documented 67 translated titles that originated in 13 nations. Most of the translated books we see each year are picture books, but in 2003 there were many high quality translated novels as well.
We documented 15 works of fiction or nonfiction of substantial length, a number indicative of the amount of work involved in publishing such a book. In acknowledgment of that work, and of the importance of bringing these international voices to young readers here, ALSC/ALA’s Mildred L. Batchelder Award acknowledges the publisher of the year’s outstanding translated title (picture books are ineligible unless the text is of substantial length). The Batchelder Award is not always conferred; a committee may decide that no title merits the award in a given year.
One of the most unusual longer translated books published in 2003 was The Man Who Went to the Far Side of the Moon written by Bea Uusma Schyffert and translated by Emi Guner. First published in Sweden, this highly original work of nonfiction recounts the Apollo 11 mission from the point of view of astronaut Michael Collins, who kept the home fires burning in the space capsule while his colleagues Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first two men to walk on the moon.
First published in France, Daniel Pennac’s Eye of the Wolf tells two life stories, one from the perspective of a refugee child and one from that of a wolf caged in a city zoo. Israeli author Uri Orlev based his new Holocaust novel, Run, Boy, Run, on a true story he heard from a survivor who, as a child, escaped from the Warsaw ghetto and spent the rest of the war on the run, sometimes helped by strangers and sometimes betrayed by them.
We saw translated books of substantial length from an unusually diverse group of nations this year: from Sweden, Pers Nilsson’s Heart’s Delight (Front Street); from Denmark, Bjarne Reuter’s The Ring of the Slave Prince (Dutton); from France, Anna Gavalda’s 95 Pounds of Hope (Viking); from Germany, Mirjam Pressler’s Malka (Philomel); from Italy, Francesco D’Adamo’s Iqbal (Atheneum); and from Spain, Luis Sepulveda’s The Story of a Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her to Fly (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic). We find this level of commitment to translation encouraging in these times of global strife.
Books for Every Child: Multicultural Literature
Just as we affirm the importance of international voices in literature
for children and teens, we cannot state strongly enough the importance of
multicultural literature for children and teens. All children need a wide
range of books that reflect their own lives, and also the world in which
There are varied definitions of “multicultural literature” used in the field of literature for children and young adults. No single one is correct. At the CCBC, we use the term to mean books by and about people of color: Africans and African Americans, American Indians, Asians/Pacifics and Asian/Pacific Americans, and Latinos.
We know there is enormous diversity within any cultural group, and we know no single book can speak to the experience of an entire group. That is why it is so important to have a wide range of multicultural literature available in classrooms and libraries. There is a wide range of outstanding multicultural titles in print and available (though books will go out of print if they are not purchased). And even though the overall number of multicultural titles published each year is a small percentage of the overall total, there are always a significant number of exemplary books among them.
There are a number of resources available to teachers, librarians, and parents searching specifically for outstanding multicultural titles to share with children, from the Coretta Scott King, Américas, Pura Belpré, and other award lists; to specialized bibliographies published in professional journals or as professional resource books, such as the National Council of Teachers of English Kaleidoscope series (NCTE, various years); to the occasional, welcome focus on multicultural literature in publications aimed at parents and the general public, such as Black Books Galore's Guide to Great African American Children's Books and its companion volumes (John Wiley, various years). But we are also pleased to see that multicultural literature has generally become an integral part of the discussion of children’s and young adult literature in resources such as children’s literature textbooks for students studying to become teachers.
CCBC Statistics on Multicultural Literature
In 1985, the CCBC began to document the number of books for children and young adults by and about African Americans each year. In 1994, we expanded the effort to include books by and about all people of color. A complete archive of the statistics we have compiled over the years is available on the CCBC website at: www.education.wisc.edu/pcstats.htm.
We have seen the numbers ebb and flow over the years, but have yet to
see multicultural literature make up more than 10 percent of the total number
of new books published. This percentage drops to less than 5 percent when
it includes only titles written and/or illustrated by people of color. Furthermore,
these statistics represent only quantity, not quality or authenticity, to
which we play close attention as we evaluate books at the CCBC, often seeking
the outside opinions of colleagues and experts in the field.
Of the nearly 3,200 titles we received at the CCBC in 2003, we documented the following with regard to books by and about people of color:
• 171 books had significant African or African American content.
79 books were by Black book creators, either authors and/or illustrators
(most, but not all, were among the 171 titles with African or African American
• 95 books featured American Indian themes, topics, or characters. Of these, only 11 were created by individuals identified as American Indian authors and/or artists.
• 78 books were about or significantly featured Asians/Pacifics or Asian/Pacific Americans. 43 were specifically by book creators of Asian/Pacific heritage (most, but not all, were among the 78 books with Asian/Pacific content).
• 63 were on Latino themes and topics. 41 were created by Latino authors and/or artists (most, but not all, were among the 63 books with Latino content).
Overall, we saw fewer books about people of color in 2003, but a higher
proportion of those that were published were written and/or illustrated
by people of color. The exception here is with American Indian literature,
for which there were 30 more books about Native peoples than there were
in 2002, but only five more by Native authors or illustrators. We saw the
greatest decrease in the number of books by and about Latinos, in spite
of the apparent growing awareness on the part of publishers of a Spanish-speaking
Latino population in the United States.
To locate all of the books in this edition of CCBC Choices about people of color, we refer you to the subject index, which provides headings for each specific racial/cultural group as identified within the books we’ve selected, and a list of all books fitting that subject.
Books by and about Africans and African Americans
Author Angela Johnson won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2003, making her the
third children’s author ever to have won one of the “genius
grants.” She also won both the Printz Award and the Coretta Scott
King author award for her singular novel, The First Part Last, a lyrical
story about a teenage father who chooses to raise his infant daughter. Johnson
also published a novel for younger readers this year, A Cool Moonlight,
which deals with a lonely young girl who has a serious skin disease.
Jacqueline Woodson and Sharon G. Flake are both outstanding writers of contemporary realism and they both published novels this year with young protagonists facing life challenges. Woodson’s Locomotion deals with 11-year-old Lonnie, who writes poetry to express his anger and grief after the death of his parents in a tragic house fire. In Begging for Change, a sequel to Money Hungry (Hyperion, 2001), teenaged Raspberry Hill and her mother have gotten off the streets but are still struggling financially, and Raspberry is still obsessed with money—so much so that she steals from her best friend.
Writer Walter Dean Myers and his artist son, Christopher, once again collaborated on an original picture book for older readers. With poems mimicking the structure of eight-bar blues, Blues Journey is an exploration of the art form, illustrated with sophisticated blue-tinted illustrations. Hope Anita Smith’s first published book, The Way a Door Closes, is a series of engaging poems about a 13-year-old boy dealing with his father leaving home.
The Way a Door Closes is illustrated by Shane W. Evans, a gifted young artist relatively new to the scene of children’s books. Evans also illustrated Fishing Day, a picture book by Andrea Davis Pinkney about the complexities of race relations in the Jim Crow South. Folk artist Winfred Rembert also depicts what African American life was like in the South prior to the Civil Rights Movement in his moving autobiographical portrait, Don’t Hold Me Back. This painful period in American history culminated in the murder of 15-year-old Emmett Till in 1955, an event widely regarded as the catalyst for the modern Black Civil Rights Movement. Chris Crowe’s Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case, provides today’s teens with an absorbing account of the trial and its impact on American society.
Two of the greats in African American children’s literature, Virginia Hamilton and Ashley Bryan, retold traditional tales. Hamilton’s posthumously published Bruh Rabbit and Tar Baby Girl is a retelling of Tar Baby completely different from the version she published in her classic work The People Could Fly (Knopf, 1985). Bryan retold and illustrated a Zambian folktale that celebrates blackness and inner beauty with Beautiful Blackbird.
Books by and about American Indians
Sixty-two of the 95 books in our count of books by and about American Indians
were formula nonfiction series books, a proportion that has been fairly
typical throughout the years. We value original nonfiction about contemporary
Native children, such as Yvonne Wakim Dennis’s and Arlene Hirshfelder’s
Children of Native America Today.
In the past, traditional stories have been the mainstay of American Indian literature for children, but we noticed a marked lack of Native folktales published this year. In his singular book Our Stories Remember: American Indian History, Culture, and Values through Storytelling, Joseph Bruchac ingeniously uses traditional stories from many nations to offer insights into the commonalities of Native cultures. Lakota author/artist S.D. Nelson offers an original story based on traditional Lakota beliefs in The Star People.
One of the most welcome books this year is the new edition of Ramona Maher’s Alice Yazzie’s Year. Originally published in 1977, it set the standard for authenticity and excellence in contemporary Native children’s literature, and was sadly out of print for many years. This new edition includes dazzling full-color paintings by Navajo artist Shonto Begay. Like Alice Yazzie, Lawrence Loyie also lived in a loving and nurturing Native family and community. As Long as the Rivers Flow, an autobiographical account of his tenth summer, is especially poignant as the story ends with him being taken away to Indian Boarding School, a harsh reality for most Native children of his generation.
Books by and about Asians/Pacifics and Asian/Pacific Americans
One bright new voice on the publishing scene is Lisa Yee, whose novel Millicent
Min: Girl Genius marks a delightful debut. Yee writes with sensitivity and
humor about a 12-year-old genius who is an academic standout, and a social
outcast. It’s impossible to feel sorry for Millicent; she’s
unaware that her life is lacking real friendship. Yee’s marvelous
first-person narrative captures Millicent’s astonishing intelligence
as well as her incredible naïveté. Millicent emerges as funny,
vulnerable, and highly appealing as she discovers there are things she doesn’t
know but is willing to learn for the sake of newfound friendship.
Another fresh new voice is John Son, whose first novel, Finding My Hat (Orchard Books / Scholastic Press, 2003), is part of Orchard’s First Person Fiction series about immigrant experiences in the United States. Son’s novel walks an edgy, humorous line as it chronicles a Korean American boy’s experiences navigating the uncharted territory (in his family) of being a first-generation American.
Most books about the Hmong are produced by local or regional publishing ventures in areas of the United States where there is a significant Hmong population. But the history of the Hmong people of Southeast Asia became inextricably linked with our nation’s during the Vietnam War. Tangled Threads by Pegi Dietz Shea is the first novel about the Hmong published for youth in the United States. This chronicle of a 12-year-old Hmong girl’s difficult acclimation to American life touches on that wartime history as well as painting a vivid portrait of an immigrant child’s transition to a new, ultimately hopeful life. Tangled Threads is a welcome addition to the handful of trade books about Hmong experience and culture that are available for youth.
Japan is the setting for Elizabeth Partridge’s Kogi’s Mysterious Journey, a Japanese folktale retold with an emphasis on Kogi’s journey as an artist, which includes his incredible transformation into a fish as he searches for artistic perfection. The tale is graced with Aki Sogabe’s amazing cut-paper illustrations. In Stone Soup, Jon J Muth has set the traditional European folktale in China, and recast the trickster as three Buddhist monks who help a village poisoned by suspicion and fear see the value of community, generosity, and kindness.
Japanese author/artist Kazuo Iwamura teamed with American author/artist Eric Carle to create a picture book modeling international friendship in Where Are You Going? To See My Friend. The Carle/Iwamura collaboration is one of a number of welcome books showing contemporary children of Asian/Pacific heritage. Others include Carole Lexa Schaefer and Pierr Morgan’s Someone Says, and Mavis Jukes’s You’re a Bear, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher with art that features a lively and imaginative young girl who just happens to be of Asian Pacific heritage, an adopted member of a white family.
Books by and about Latinos
The number of books by and about Latinos was disappointingly low in 2003.
We appreciate publishers’ efforts to produce more Spanish language
materials to meet the needs of this fastest-growing segment of the U.S.
population. But efforts must go beyond translating previously published
picture books (the quality of which vary greatly) to creating more new works
with significant cultural content, ideally making them available in both
English and Spanish language editions, or publishing them as bilingual volumes.
Of course, new works are being created, sometimes by veterans in the field of children’s and young adult literature, and sometimes by dynamic newcomers. One of those exciting new arrivals to the children’s literature scene is author/artist Yuyi Morales. Morales’s lush paintings transform Kathleen Krull’s fine picture book biography of Cesar Chavez, Harvesting Hope, into a stirring and powerful literary experience. Morales shows her playful side in Just a Minute, her original trickster tale grounded in Mexican American culture and featuring a sly grandmother who outwits the ever more petulant death with delay tactics and considerable charm.
First-time author Nancy Osa’s debut novel, Cuba 15, is a coming-of-age tale featuring Violet Paz, a singular 15-year-old girl whose growing interest in Cuba creates tension in a family where Cuban traditions permeate life but where Cuban politics are a touchy subject among family members who fled the country two decades before. An aunt who sees things differently from the rest of her family helps Violet find the courage to start asking questions so she can ultimately make up her own mind. D.H. Figueredo’s picture book The Road to Santiago is set in Cuba in 1958, just before Castro came to power. The child-centered story focuses on a young boy’s fear that the disruption caused by the rebels who are attempting to overthrow the government will prevent him from making it to his abuela’s house for Christmas Eve.
Alma Flor Ada has created a diverse body of books for young readers, from folk tales to fiction to her own autobiography for youth. In ¡Pio Peep! she has teamed with F. Isabel Campoy to create a delightful collection of beloved Latin American nursery rhymes. The bilingual volume features English translations by poet Alice Schertle. Fine poems in and of themselves, they are true to the spirit of the original Spanish language verse that will be recognized by many Spanish-speaking families.
The new series “Get Ready for Gabí,” written by Marisa Montes and illustrated by Joe Cepeda, provide independent readers with a spirited Puerto Rican American protagonist who is navigating her bicultural and bilingual world. Titles to-date include Who’s That Girl and A Crazy Mixed-Up Spanglish Day, both published by Scholastic Press in 2003.
Groundwood Books, a small Canadian press, produced two intriguing volumes of Latino literature in 2003: Little Book of Latin American Folktales edited by Carmen Diana Dearden and translated by Susana Wild and Beatriz Zeller, and Zipitio by Jorge Argueta. Both offer young readers in the United States rich immersion into Latin American folk and cultural traditions.
The continued creation of a diverse body of excellent multicultural literature for youth benefits from the ongoing commitment of small publishers like Groundwood, as well as Lee & Low, Children’s Book Press, Cinco Puntos, Just Us Books, and others who are devoted exclusively to publishing multicultural literature for children (and often to developing new authors and artists of color). The commitment of large trade book publishers who seek out diverse voices, sometimes developing imprints devoted to multicultural titles and/or themes, is also critical. We commend their work, even as we’d like to see more effort put into books that reflect the diversity of the world in which we live.