by Kathleen T. Horning, Merri V. Lindgren, and Megan Schliesman
© 2014 Cooperative Children’s Book Center
(This essay originally appeared in CCBC Choices 2014)
Refreshing! We wrote that in notes about our reading, or said it as we informally discussed books, quite a lot over the past year. Often, we were referencing the portrayal of sex and sexuality in young adult literature. There was a matter-of-factness, occasionally a frankness, to teens and sex that we appreciated, with the act itself often angst-free and pleasurable. (Relationships? Those can be complicated.) We hope we continue to see more books like Julie Halpern’s The F-It List and Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince, which acknowledge the reality of sex in some teens’ lives.
We also continued to enjoy young adult literature that pushed against the upper end of the age spectrum (see The Summer Prince, above). Once again, we found more and more books featuring characters beyond the age of eighteen, or that focus on the lives of adults as well as teens.
At the other end of the spectrum, way at the other end, we relished a number of fine picture books. But finding terrific new books for babies and young toddlers was much harder this year than last. Among those we were thrilled to discover were several books by Native authors and artists—what a delight! Julie Flett’s Wild Berries, her collaboration with author Richard van Camp on Little You, and Quanaq Mikkigak and Joanne Schwartz’s Grandmother Ptarmigan, from Inuit publisher Inhabit Media, were so welcome.
From Kathi Appelt’s response to a friend’s challenge to “Write something funny,” The True Blue Scounts of Sugar Man Swamp, to the blithe Bollywood-inspired adventure in Uma Krishnaswami’s The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic, we loved the books that made us laugh this year. We also appreciated when the laughter came in the midst of stories exploring substantial topics. Among books that deftly balanced the dark and the light were Amy Timberlake’s One Came Home, Rita Williams-Garcia’s P.S., Be Eleven, and Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.
Substantial is the word for some of the best non-fiction this year, too. There are always some terrific short volumes for elementary-age children, but we were delighted with the heft—intellectual and otherwise—of some of the books for older children and teens, including Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies by Nell Beram and Carolyn Boriss-Krimsky, The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb, and Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty by Tonya Bolden.
We’d love to see more great poetry books for the youngest, and for older children and teens, but delighted in Jane Yolen’s Wee Rhymes, for the nursery set, and in Joyce Sidman’s What the Heart Knows for middle school and middle grades. One thing we especially miss is the era when every year seemed to bring one or more terrific, thematic young adult poetry anthology, although we did appreciate one slim volume with a big punch: Indivisible: Poems for Social Justice, edited by Gail Bush and Randy Meyer.
CCBC 2013 Statistics on Multicultural Literature
And speaking of books we’re looking for…. The CCBC receives most of the new trade books published each year by large trade publishers in the United States, and every year we document the number of books we receive by and about people of color. We’ve been doing this in one way or another for almost thirty years.
Every few years there is a flutter of media attention surrounding the dearth of multicultural literature for children and teens. Editors and publishers, authors and illustrators, librarians and teachers, and parents are interviewed about the low numbers of books in comparison to the overall total number of books published. But the importance of creating and publishing and purchasing and sharing outstanding books by and about people of color is constant. Whether or not stories are running in the New York Times, in your local paper, or on your local radio station, children and teens are in need of books that speak to who they are.
We received approximately 3,200 books at the CCBC in 2013. Of those,
- 93 books had significant African or African American content
- 67 books were by Black authors and/or illustrators
- 34 books had American Indian themes, topics, or characters
- 18 books were by American Indian authors and/or illustrators
- 61 books had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content
- 88 books were by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage
- 57 books had significant Latino content
- 48 books were by Latino authors and/or illustrators
(Note: as we received books after CCBC Choices 2013 was published, check here for up-to-date statistics: ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp)
The multicultural content across the books represented by these numbers varies widely with regard to accuracy and authenticity. The books represented by these numbers include everything that came into the library with a 2013 publication date, from formula series non-fiction books (e.g., a “Countries of the World” series including titles such as Kenya and Venezuela ) to stand-alone trade titles to paperback originals. It should also be noted that the number of books by authors and illustrators of color does not represent the number of book creators of color—many individuals wrote or illustrated more than one book.
We know the numbers are important, but they are far from the only important thing to consider when it comes to multicultural publishing for children and teens. The books themselves matter. Of course the more books there are, especially books created by authors and Illustrators of color, the more opportunities librarians, teachers, and parents have of finding outstanding books for young readers and listeners that can speak to the experiences of individual children while affirming their presence as part of a larger world.
If we were going to identify only one thing about multicultural publishing in 2013 that stood out, it was books by and about Native Americans. We have eight—eight!—books in this edition of CCBC Choices by and about American Indians and First Nations peoples. They include two novels by American Indian authors, Tim Tingle’s How I Became a Ghost and Eric Gansworth’s If I Ever Get Out of Here. There are also four picture books and one work of non-fiction. It’s interesting to note that of the eight books we are recommending, five were published in Canada, two of them by a small Inuit publisher. Of the three published here in the United States, one is from an independent publisher. Only two of the books with Native content we have included in Choices are from mainstream U.S. publishers.
We are also pleased, after a dismal 2012, to see an increase in the number of Latino picture books, including Yuyi Morales’s buoyant Niño Wrestles the World. We are also always on the lookout for picture books about contemporary African American children, and were pleased to see titles such as Max and the Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper and This Is the Rope by Jacqueline Woodson, which seamlessly ties the present to the past. We also appreciated how Loretta Seto weaves traditional tales into a contemporary story of a young Chinese American girl in Mooncakes.
Among offerings for older readers, a few of the most arresting and inventive books we read, multicultural or otherwise, were graphic novels, including the brilliant pairing of Saints and Boxers by Gene Luen Yang, and I See the Promised Land, offering a destiny-driven perspective on Martin Luther King, Jr., with Arthur Flowers providing the narrative to accompany art by (East) Indian Patua artist Manu Chitrakar.
As we said, the numbers are important but it’s the books themselves that make a difference. These and other titles, whether recommended here in CCBC Choices or by multicultural book award committees and other groups committed to paying attention to, and focusing attention on, the importance of multicultural literature, are one of the ways we all can have an impact. We can read them, we can purchase them, we can share them with children and teens. It’s true that kids don’t just identify with books about characters that look like them—a reality that works across racial and cultural lines. But too many children for too many years were invisible in literature for youth. Too many children are still far from visible today. Some of us can’t imagine that experience—lucky us. Others of us find it far too familiar. Let’s all work to make sure every child has a wealth of literature from which to choose—books that speak to the many dimensions of who they are and what they aspire to be.