Op-Ed

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.

Coronavirus is a wish your heart makes

I have a confession to make.

I went on a series of job interviews, back in December and January. I told the interviewers that what I wanted most was a shorter commute and to be able to spend more time with my family. Now, my entire family is working and learning from home and my commute is a stroll down the hall in my bedroom slippers.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a superhero. I thought it would be cool to walk around town with a mask on. Now, people look at me funny if I’m not wearing a mask. And by washing my hands, staying six feet away from other people, and not leaving the house, I’m helping to save lives. Like Batman, without the gadgets.

I’ve often imagined what it would be like to be an astronaut. Stuck inside a confined space for weeks or months, only venturing outside the vessel for emergencies. Now I know a lot better what that’s like, down to the sensation of not always knowing which way is up.

I’ve often wondered how it would feel to make a YouTube video that looked as polished and professional as a late-night talk show. Now, with talk show hosts broadcasting from their attics, that goal is within reach.

When I was a kid, I used to watch a local PBS show called Zoom. I wanted to be on Zoom back then, and now I can honestly say that I’m on a Zoom broadcast five days a week.

It hasn’t been an entirely pleasant pandemic, but it has made a good half-dozen of my wishes come true. Off the top of my head, two entire magic lamps’ worth of ironic wishes!

I don’t mean to minimize the pandemic. Families around the world are dealing with tragic deaths, prolonged illness, lost jobs, failing businesses, and an uncertain future. It’s all too easy to fall into despair. Which is why, more than ever, we need to stay positive and keep our spirits up. More than ever, we need to look for any silver lining we can find.

Has the pandemic given you more time to read? More time to write? Some interesting experiences? A good excuse to pick up new skills? Game nights with your children? Time to try out some new recipes? Did you spend $19.99 to watch Scooby Doo and Blue Falcon team up against Dick Dastardly and Captain Caveman in a pay-per-view brawl on your own television? On a Saturday morning? With a big bowl of sugary breakfast cereal? Because I can totally recommend that.

And also, more than ever, we need stories. Whether you’re writing stories, reading stories, or placing stories in front of a reader in your life, know that you are doing your part to guide the world back into the light.

What is your wish come true? Leave your silver lining in the comments, and thanks again for all you do.

My Quarantine Thoughts:

From last month, which already seems like a decade ago.

My Quarantine Project, Mythology in Verse:

A poem each week. Well, at least one.

From Mythology in Verse.

My Latest Quarantine Meme:

Because, among their other duties, Artemis and Apollo were gods of plague.

A B 😉: Emojis and the alphabet

Usually I blog about plot, character, and story, but my thought for today is on the more basic level of letters, sounds, and meanings.

My five-year-old knows phonics and lives in a word-saturated environment. This leads to such frustrations as trying to sound out “CVSPharmacy,” a word that, despite its appearance, begins with an “S” sound and has no “P,” “H,” or “hard C” sounds in it at all. This led her to the revelation that the letter “C” itself starts with an “S” sound, while the letter “S” starts with an “E” sound.

“’S’ should be spelled ‘see’ and ‘E’ should be spelled ‘ess!’”

I then explained that the letter “F” in “farm” is an unvoiced letter “V” that got its shape warped by hanging around with the letter “E,” while the letters “P” and “H” in “pharmacy” are filling in for a letter “Φ” that got left behind in Ancient Greece.

“English is dumb,” she concluded.

“Dumb with a ‘Silent B,’” I agreed. But what else would you expect from a language that developed on an island of Celts who got successively invaded by Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Romans, Normans, and Vikings?

The five-year-old is drawn to letters, but she 😍😍😍 emojis. These symbols are colorful, fun, and offer no barriers to a five-year-old’s level of understanding–except perhaps for 💩, which too closely resembles chocolate soft-serve.

Emojis add emotion and emphasis to casual texts, can replace words or entire sentences, and have become a necessary part of functional literacy in the digital age. Importantly, emojis are more accessible and easier to decipher than the rule-breaking glyphs and phenomes of English.

When you think about it, it’s a wonder that anyone ever learns how to read and write in English. It seems almost inconceivable that anyone would opt to learn English as a second language, especially if their native language actually spells things the way they are pronounced.

English is infected with weird idioms and slang, exceptions that swallow every rule, words like sheep and deer that can be both singular and plural, people saying things “literally” when they really mean them “figuratively,” and armed camps that will fight to the death over the Oxford comma.

Emojis, in contrast, offer lower levels of drama:

🐑 = Singular

🐑🐑 = Plural

👍 = Using the Oxford comma

👎 = Deleting the Oxford comma

The traditionalist in me wouldn’t trade the challenge of English for all the emojis in the 🌎. The English toolbox of 26 letters can express every 💡 a human can have. No language is more versatile. Or, if another language’s word offers a nuanced shade of meaning that English doesn’t yet have, English will steal that word.

English wasn’t designed to be versatile and nuanced. English became versatile and nuanced after centuries of borrowing from other languages. Which makes it logical to assume that English will eventually begin incorporating emojis.

As English readers become more comfortable mixing text and symbols on their phones, will we start seeing 🔥 incorporated into more formal communications?

🤹 becoming an expected part of advertising?

⚖️ having a legal meaning in contracts?

❤️ becoming a common name?

How long before 🤣 and ☀️ are included in the dictionary?

Will there be a time when we start teaching emojis in school alongside the alphabet?

Will future Sesame Street episodes be brought to us by 🍉, 🐺, and by the number 7?

💬 your 💭💭in the comments 👇.