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Black Publishing Power

This week, we’re supporting a campaign to show support for Black Lives Matter in the bookstores in addition to participating in our nationwide protests. The #BlackPublishingPower challenge urges people to buy any two books by Black writers between Sunday, June 14, and Saturday, June 20. Check out the hashtag #BlackoutBestsellerList on Twitter for ideas about what to buy. Also see this Mixed-Up Files post f or this one or ideas about other ways to support and create equity for Black creators.

Black publishing Power

Diversity in MG Lit #17 Equity for Black books and their creators

It’s my goal with these posts to shine a light on new diverse books for young readers at the middle grade level. It’s a regular feature on the Mixed Up Files Blog because the disparity in attention that diverse books receive is an ongoing problem. Recent events, however, call for a more systemic look at racism as it exists within the children’s book industry.
I have been writing for the last 25 years and have had published work for the last 11 years. In that time I’ve met people at all levels of the publishing and bookselling industries. Across the board I’ve found kind folks with good intentions. There has been an awareness of the inequalities in the industry as far back at the 1920s or 30s. Efforts have been made over the last hundred years, and yet time after time they have come woefully short of anything that looks like equality.
Rather than cast blame I’d like to look at the retail side of the equation and a handful of concrete ways all of us can make book sales grow, especially for POC authors & illustrators. It’s not the entire solution, but one sure way to make more money available for Black authors is to make books more available to Black families. Here are a half dozen steps you can take to do right by authors of color.
  1. Buy your books from Black-owned bookstores. Here’s a list of them by state. If there’s one near you, please become a regular customer. If not order from one once in a while and have them ship the books to you.
  2. Support Indie bookstores. Most new voices are first discovered and promoted by indie booksellers. Indie bookstores are a venue for book events for local authors not given a publisher-sponsored tour. And indie bookstores selling books at their cover price are the ones that give an author their full royalty. Those venues on line or elsewhere that offer discounts on books are giving the author less in royalty. Royalties are what make it possible for an author to continue writing.
  3. Donate to BINC. BINC is the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. They provide assistance to booksellers which helps them stay open in the face of difficulty. The assistance includes help with serious medical expenses, eviction prevention, funeral expenses, disaster assistance, domestic violence survival, utility shut-off prevention, and many other things. Donate here. Every little bit helps, especially now when so many book stores are struggling.
  4. Read books from Small Presses. Even the big publishers agree that the most daring and diverse books come out of small, independent, regional, and university presses. If you are a librarian, especially one on a book award committee, please give equal attention to the small press gems from Amistad, Just Us Books, Cinco Punto, Orca, Charlesbridge, Lee & Low, Enchanted Lion, Lerner, , and the many others listed here.
  5. Get involved in small business politics  If I could wave a magic wand I’d love to give every neighborhood and town it’s own vibrant independent bookstore. Sadly many people live in a book desert. If that’s your community, spend some time at your town’s council meetings. Ask the local small business association what you can do to bring a bookstore to town, The American Booksellers Association has a small business issues section that offers, state-by-state some suggestions for advocacy for bookstores. This kind of advocacy can be boring and feel far removed from the heat of the moment but if we want Black businesses to flourish in the future we have to lay the groundwork for it now.
  6. Use and promote your public library. Librarians are often at the forefront of advocating for diverse books. If your local library is not as inclusive as you’d like, The American Library Association has materials to help a library conduct a self audit and take steps to diversify the books on the shelf. If the books on your state reading lists and battle of the books lists are not reflecting Black lives, speak up. Librarians choose those lists; they need to hear from you. If they’ve consistently done a good job of serving the Black community—give them that feedback too. Help your library by using it regularly, requesting Black-authored books regularly, and supporting it with your votes when the library levy is on the ballot.
  7. Advocate for a full time teacher-librarian in every public, private, and charter school. Librarians pay a key role in introducing young readers to diverse voices. They also support diverse authors by buying their books. Show up at school board meetings. Pay attention to how school funding is allocated. Make sure there is always budget for diverse books and the librarians who support them.
  8. Most important of all–Vote. Vote in every election, especially the local ones. Be a well-informed voter, drawing your information from a variety of sources. Be a passionate voter, advocating for free access to the ballot box for all. Speak up when voting abuse happens. And always, always, keep in mind the readers you serve as a parent, teacher, librarian or bookseller. Serve not just your immediate interest but their long term benefit.

Summer Reading for Right Now and Later

I had an original topic for this post, something light and fluffy about summer reading but I just can’t pull it off. The incredible outpouring of frustration and anger happening in all corners of the country has, for many of us, pulled our focus from everything else.

So instead, I want to offer up this space to highlight some of the amazing books by black authors that it has been my pleasure to read over the last year, in no particular order.  I whole heartedly recommend you add them to your library, classroom or summer reading list.

(summaries from author website, book jacket or Amazon)

The Last Last Day of Summer, by Lamar Giles

Otto and Sheed are the local sleuths in their zany Virginia town, masters of unraveling mischief using their unmatched powers of deduction. And as the summer winds down and the first day of school looms, the boys are craving just a little bit more time for fun, even as they bicker over what kind of fun they want to have. That is, until a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time. Now, with the help of some very strange people and even stranger creatures, Otto and Sheed will have to put aside their differences to save their town—and each other—before time stops for good.

 

 

 

Genesis Begins Again, by Alicia D. Williams

Genesis hates many things about herself. Like that her skin is so dark that her family members and classmates call her names. Like that her father gambles away their rent so often that they’re regularly evicted. When Genesis and her mom find themselves with nowhere to go, they head to her grandmother’s house, where her mom and grandma fight all the time. Grandma wants Mom to leave her father and thinks she should have married a light skinned man to begin with. Despite this, Genesis is liking her new school, making some new friends, and the choir teacher thinks Genesis is talented enough to perform in the talent show. But neither the citrus fruits nor the lightening creams are working, so how can Genesis believe anyone else likes her or believes in her with her dark skin when her own family doesn’t seem to?

 

Ghost, by Jason Reynolds

(a fav series of my now teenager daughter!)  Though Ghost, real name Castle Crenshaw, has always been running—he’s just never done it on a track team. But after he challenges an elite sprinter to a race, and wins, suddenly a new path is open to him. The track coach thinks Ghost and his natural talent would make a perfect addition to the team. Ghost joins up, and finds the team is full of kids with their own problems, and that the running is much harder than he expected it to be. But he also knows that no matter how fast he runs, there are some problems that threaten to keep up with him.

 

 

 

The Jumbies, by Tracy Baptiste

(read the series!) Corinne isn’t afraid of anything, especially not jumbies. Those are just trickster creatures parents make up to scare their kids into behaving. When Corinne spots a beautiful woman named Severine in the town market, she knows something big is about to happen. And when it comes, it’s Severine at her house, bewitching her father, and it’s only the first step in Severine’s plot to claim the island for the jumbies. To save her home, Corinne must face the jumbies and draw on magic she didn’t know she had.

 

 

 

A Good Kind of Trouble, by Lisa Moore Ramee

Twelve-year-old Shayla only wants to follow the rules. But now in middle school, she’s no longer sure what the rules are. Not with her friends and not with her classmates. Her sister’s involved in Black Lives Matter, which Shayla doesn’t think is for her. But after a protest, Shayla decides some rules are okay to break, and she starts wearing an armband to school in support of BLM. The principal announces that the armbands aren’t allowed, and Shayla’s given an ultimatum. Though Shayla’s always tried to avoid trouble, she might be in even more trouble if she can’t face her fear and do what she knows is right, even if someone else has decided it’s wrong.