I did a little reflection on the past ten years in children’s book publishing last Sunday. It is depressing to look at the numbers and see how little the numbers of IPOC authored books has actually changed when compared to the overall number of books published.
What about the content in the books? Is representation improving there? I think a better question might be whether we’re getting any better at eliminating or catching instances of blatant racism, or reviewing for the presence of imperialism.
In 2016, Kirkus began providing racial identities of characters in youth literature under review. School Library Journal held several online workshops for librarians and reviewers however, the majority of professional reviews continue to adhere to traditional literary books review techniques with little to no critique based in critical literacy.
Consequently, bloggers catch more instances of stereotypes, misrepresentation and bias than traditional reviewers. Unfortunately, bloggers dedicated to diversity come and go. Does anyone else remember The Happy Nappy Bookseller, Reading in Color or Disability in Kidlit or Diversity in YA? There are others that have had shorter lives. Most tend to review books that align with their own identity and tend to follow the code of silence where one does not speak out publicly against their own. I struggle with this issue myself. If misrepresenations are found, they are usually pointed out only in books written by white authors. Also, those few of us bloggers who continue to focus on IPOC, LGBT centered books or those centered on people with disabilities prefer to use our time and energy lifting voices from our communities who don’t get the promotional attention of their publishers. We’ll fight the good fight when we’re aware of a problematic text, but I just can’t tell you how wearing that is.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that we have no idea what goes on behind closed does. Children’s book publishing remains a dinosaur that does not embrace transparency. They rarely admit an error, highlight a change or openly engage in dialog surrounding controversial books. It can feel like protests on social media are change books, but are they? Just, maybe. How many books were pulled from publication prior to blogs and social networking sites? Indeed, what kind of voice did marginalized people have before?
What follows is a listing of some of the disruptions in in children’s literature in the past decade. Heartfelt gratitude to Debbie Reese for maintaining a list of these occurrences on her blog from which much of my information is culled. Blog posts provided evidence I needed to document these changes because posts from publishers and other media sources have proven to be temporary.
Rather than identifying authors, I’ve highlighted the names of the publishers as they are the ones who ultimately hold responsibility.
6 Aug 2009 Liar cover is changed BLOOMSBURY
Apr 1, 2009. Straight Talk on Race Mitali Perkins writes about revising the end of The Sunita Experiment SCHOLASTIC when a reader pointed out “exotic Indian princess” in this story about South Asian teen.
Nov 1, 2009. Edit(s) to 1935 edition of Little House on the Prairie
21 Jan 2010 Magic Under Glass cover is changed BLOOMSBURY https://blackteensread2.blogspot.com/2010/01/thank-you-we-did-it-magic-of-glass.html
26 Jan 2010 Changes to the covers of the Mysterious Benedict Society LITTLE, BROWN BOOKS
1 July 2010 Silver Phoenix cover changed HARPERTEEN
3 Jan 2011 NEWSOUTH releases an edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that changes “nigger” to “slave” and “injun” to “indian”
13 Nov 2015 Changes to A Case For Loving ARTHUR A. LEVINE BOOKS
15 Jan 2016 A Birthday Cake for George Washington is recalled SCHOLASTIC
12 Aug 2016 Revisions to Out of Darkness CAROLRHODA LAB
13 Aug 2016 When We Was Fierce is pulled from the market CANDLEWICK
15 Aug 2016 ‘spirit animal’ will be removed from future editions of Dumplin’ BALZER + BRAY
8 Nov 2016 Publication of The Continent is delayed by publisher, HARLEQUINTEEN https://web.archive.org/web/20170307164600/http:/www.harlequinteen.com:80/image/152874005241 The book went on to be published in 2018 with few changes noted by Debbie Reese
1 Sept 2016 Use of “Columbus discovered America” leads to Sky Blue Water being recalled and revised UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA PRESS
31 Jan Publication of Blood Heir is delayed DELACORTE PRESS
28 Feb 2019 A Place for Wolves is withdrawn from publication SOURCEBOOKS FIRE
8 May 2019 LITTLE BROWN KIDS removes colorism from The Bad Mood and the Stick
18 Oct 2019 In which Jack in the HI JACK! series is changed from a monkey to rabbit VIKING
Also during 2019, racially insensitive images inside Punctation Takes a Vacation HOLIDAY HOUSE were removed. When I get back to my office, I’ll create a post that shows the difference in the newer editions. This is currently no documention of this online