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A Few Observations: Literature in 2018

by Kathleen T. Horning, Merri V. Lindgren, Megan Schliesman, and Madeline Tyner

© 2019 Cooperative Children's Book Center

This essay originally appeared in CCBC Choices 2018

Read essays from other years.

Everything we do at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), a library of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, begins and ends with books. They are the focus of most of our reference work and they form the basis of our outreach services. They are the work we take home almost every night, and often what we talk about when we return the next morning.

The CCBC serves as a statewide book examination center, and we received review copies of approximately 3,500 new books for children and young adults published in 2018. This included the majority of the trade books published    in English by large corporate publishers in the United States as well as books from some smaller U.S. and Canadian trade publishers, some U.S. educational publishers, and some small-press and independently published books.

CCBC librarians read extensively—although we can’t read everything—to create CCBC Choices (and the thematic bibliographies on our web site based on Choices recommendations). Our goal is to develop an annual list of outstanding titles for youth from birth through high-school age.

As we read throughout the year and begin to build the Choices bibliography, we are looking for books that stand out for literary and artistic quality; we are also looking for accuracy and authenticity. We may choose a book because it offers unique or unusual content, especially when we know there is a need for and interest in books on its topic based on our discussions with individuals working directly with children and teens.

Our goal is to create a diverse list of titles that offers something for everyone; as well as a list that reflects the many and varied experiences and identities of children and teens today.

Each one of us brings different experiences, tastes, and perspectives to our reading. There are many books one or more of us appreciated that are not in this edition of CCBC Choices. Some are titles we didn’t all agree on; others are books we liked, just not quite enough to make them a Choice. Sometimes a book arrived too late for us to consider it for inclusion. Sometimes, we simply missed a great read.

Publishing in 2018

As we read hundreds of books to consider for inclusion in this edition of CCBC Choices, and as we examined and documented each of the thousands of 2018 titles that arrived at the library, we noticed a few things worth commenting on.

We noticed, for example, that there were a number of exciting children’s and young adult literature debuts from authors and illustrators of color and First/ Native Nations. Among them were Elizabeth Acevedo (The Poet X), Hilda Eunice Burgos (Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle ), Kheryn Callender (Hurricane Child), Maxine Beneba Clarke (The Patchwork Bike), Adib Khorram (Darius the Great Is Not Okay), Henry Lien (Peasprout Chen:Future Legend of Skate and Sword), Oge Mora (Thank You, Omu), Dawn Quigley (Apple in the Middle), Randy Ribay (After the Shot Drops), Mary Louise Sanchez (The Wind Called My Name), Jamillah Thompkins-Bigelow (Mommy’s Khimar), Ngozi Ukazu (Check, Please!) and Kelly Yang (Front Desk). And that’s only some of them.

We noticed smaller publishing endeavors continuing to make critical inroads in responding to the ongoing need for books that accurately and authentically reflect many aspects of diverse cultures and identities today. We are grateful to the contributions of publishers like Alaska Northwest and SeaLaska Heritage Institute, whose “Raven” tales included in this edition of Choices also kept the 398 section of our shelves from being bare as folktales were hard to find this year.

We continued to notice how many picture books feature brown-skinned protagonists with no specific cultural or ethnic identifiers as part of the depiction, and wonder whether these books truly serve as what critic and scholar Rudine Sims Bishop calls “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors.” We’re skeptical, even as we appreciate many of them for their stories, and for the decision to not default to white protagonists.

We saw groundbreaking books for young children that move away from binary gender norms and expand LGBTQ+ offerings for young readers, including Julián Is a Mermaid and Jerome by Heart.We spent time considering Julián in light of the author being neither Latinx or LGBTQ, both essential aspects of the story, but decided that what the book offers is too important to not include it on our list. We saw—as we always see—incredible creativity in writing and artistry, from Yuyi Morales’s Dreamers and Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Blue to M. T. Anderson’s and Eugene Yelchin’s singular collaboration on The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge; Elizabeth Partridge’s arresting Boots on the Ground and Gail Jarrow’s riveting Spooked! (even as we continue to hunger for more substantial literary non-fiction) to Duncan Tonatiuh’s expansive Undocumented.

And we saw books reflecting and responding to the current political and social climate in our country and around the world, in ways both overt (We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices; Dreamers; The Unwanted; Unpresidented) and more subtle (I Walk with Vanessa; Blood Water Paint).

2018 By the Numbers

For years, the CCBC has been known for documenting the number of multicultural books we receive each year. We are continuing to gather those numbers, but the 2018 publishing year marked a change in how we are doing it. Rather than keeping track only of books we receive that are by and about people of color and from First/Native Nations, we are documenting the content of EVERY book we receive, making note not just of race and ethnicity, including whiteness, but of many other aspects of identity, from whether main characters are LGBTQ+ to their religion (when indicated), to whether the book is about a non-human character.

This shift marks a good time to also change where and how we document these numbers. For years, we have done so in this introduction to CCBC Choices, but the numbers we printed were often out-of-date by the time the booklet was published, as additional books trickled in after our copy deadline.

We have always maintained up-to-date numbers on our web site, and from this point forward we will make our web site the source for this information, which can be updated as needed.

As in recent years, we will use the CCBC blog to occasionally dive more deeply into each year’s numbers, exploring various dimensions of what we observe.

Still, we do have one number to report: 258. That’s how many books we recommend in this edition of CCBC Choices. Among them are books that are funny, and books that broke our hearts. Books that inform, and books that entertain. Books that are windows, books that are mirrors, and books that are sliding glass doors. Sometimes a single book was all of these things and more to one or more of us.

We hope the same is true for you and, more important, the children and teens for whom you will be reading and choosing.

 


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