independent bookstores

Diversity in MG Lit #13 A Look At the Numbers

I am so happy to be back at the Mixed Up Files after a hiatus of a few months. I wanted to kick off the new decade of my series Diversity in MG Lit with a look at the numbers. Many of you are familiar with this infographic from Reflection Press by Maya Gonzalez. I like this one because it shows both where we are and how far we need to go to achieve something that looks like equity.

The number of books published in a given year don’t tell the whole story. Here are some other statistics that give both a fuller and a more encouraging picture.
  1. The NY Public Library recently published its list of the 10 most checked out books in NYPL history. Obviously this structure gives great advantage to the oldest books. Even so the number one spot went to The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats first published in 1962.  Fifty-eight years ago it was the first picture boy to feature a black boy as a main character. It was popular immediately and has been ever since As a bookseller I listen to authors and illustrators a lot. Hundreds of them over the years and many of our most prominent POC writers and illustrators, black men in particular, have pointed to The Snowy Day as a seminal influence on their work and their belief that there was a place for them in the world of books.
  2. The Flying Start feature of Publishers Weekly is designed to highlight up and coming authors and illustrators. In 2019 the Spring Flying Start list featured  2 of 5 or 40% diverse writers including Tina Athaide for Orange for the Sunset and Carlos Hernandez for Sal & Gabi Break the Universe. The Fall Flying Starts included 4 of 6 or 66% diverse creators: Brittney Morris for Slay, Christine Day for I Can Make This Promise, Joowon Oh for Our Favorite Day, and Kwame Mbalia for Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky,
  3. Our newest National Ambassador for Young Peoples Literature is Jason Reynolds, a brilliant choice. Even better, his selection makes 4 of the 7 people (57%) to hold this position Persons of Color. The others are Walter Dean Myers, Gene Luen Yang, & Jacqueline Woodson. 
  4. The American Booksellers Association holds its Children’s Institute every spring. In 2019 five out of seven (71%) keynote or featured presenters were POC. Of the 67 authors and illstrators that publishers brought to the conference to meet independent children’s booksellers from all over the country, 38 or 57% were of diverse backgrounds. (including disabled and LGBT+)
  5. The National Council of Teachers of English was held in November of 2019. Seven of their 10 keynote speakers were diverse. If you looked at all 28 of their featured speakers, you’d find 57% of them were POC.
  6. And finally the 2020 midwinter American Library Association will meet in just a few weeks. This year all six of their featured speakers are diverse. 100%!
I find those data points encouraging. We still have a long way to go, but it is nice to see that teachers, librarians and booksellers are taking leadership in demanding a more diverse representation at our professional conferences. And if you are wondering what you can do—just one person—to make a difference I have three suggestions.
  • Buy diverse books from an independent bookstore. Big box and on line retailers are never going to care about the welfare of authors or readers of any demographic. Indie booksellers do care and they have consistently over decades proven the best venue for making best sellers of little known or debuting authors.
  • Take a moment on social media to call out the folks that are working hard to help diverse books find parity. I’ll start: Hey fellow Portlanders our 2020 Everybody Reads author is Tommy Orange who wrote There There. He is Cheyenne and Arapaho and lives the urban Indian experience in California. His book is amazing! I can’t wait to talk about it with my neighbors and friends.
  • If you don’t see a diverse book you love in your school or library or bookstore, ask for it. Ask regularly. Schools, libraries and bookstores are here to serve you, the public. We spend a lot of time thinking and talking about what you want and what you need. Help us out! Change comes when we stand up and say something.

Stranger Things, Mall Bookstores, and 80s Books!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

It’s definitely been a while, and I missed all of you. Hope you’re enjoying the summer, because I know that I am. It’s always been my favorite season, because once school lets out, there are always endless possibilities. The sense of fun and adventure that each day might bring. Some of my best memories were during the summers of my youth and that’s kind of what I decided to write about today.

The reason for this trip down memory lane?

Well, let’s say it has to do with a certain popular, spooky show on Netflix. That’s right, Stranger Things. First off, it’s such a fun show on its own, but if you grew up in the same era that I did, it brings back waves of nostalgia. I tell my kids all the time how much fun the 80’s were. The movies, the music, and they look at me the same way that I probably looked at my parents when they would talk to me about the 50’s and 60’s. Actually, to be fair to both me and my kids, I was interested in the 50’s and 60’s and my kids are interested in the 80’s, and it makes sense, since there always seems to be that glorifying the time before as something special. I mean, I grew up watching Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, and they have Stranger Things and other shows which portray the 80’s as some magical time.

The only difference is, the 80’s really were the best time!

But getting back to Stranger Things and my youth, the portrayal rang true to me. Well, except for having to deal with inter-dimensional monsters and Soviet spies. As for everything else, yes, it was an idealized version of  the 80s, but the mall really was the epicenter of the teen universe back then. Movie theaters, food courts, record shops, arcades, and for me, bookstores. I’ve posted before about how much I miss Waldenbooks and B. Daltons. I would never go into the mall without stopping at one of them. And when I went with my dad, he’d ALWAYS buy me a book. Didn’t matter if we had just gone a couple of days before, he’d get me another one, because I read them that fast. Those memories are really among my best of mall life. And truth be told, I still think of those days every single time I go into a mall now. It’s a sense of loss that those days are gone, but even more that those stores are gone. The mall experience just isn’t the same for me without them.

So, now you might be asking, “Jonathan, that’s sweet, but is this post just about a stroll down memory lane? Does it have anything at all to do with actual books?”

Well, I’m glad you asked.

You see, like I said, watching that show got me thinking about my youth, and going to the bookstores, and what did I buy there? Books, of course! And I just wanted to share some of the books that came out in the 80’s that I enjoyed and think need a revisiting now!

So, because I know that you’re all anxiously waiting for the list, here we go:

Okay, the first one is a cheat. I admit it. But, technically, it came out in 1980, even though the series is much, much older. I devoured The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books, and I specifically remember buying The Mystery of Smugglers Cove. Probably read it in one day, too. This one, I remember well because it took place in Florida. Who knows, maybe that helped influence my move here, years later.

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman: This one is in my mind for several reasons. I remember getting this book because of the author’s name. I had no idea at the time that he was this huge entity in the kidlit world. All I knew was it was a Jewish last name and I wanted to read it. I had such a desire to read stories that featured Jewish characters because there weren’t many, and I wanted to see myself in books. There’s still a huge need for that. (Cough, cough, We Need Diverse Books committee). The book wasn’t specifically Jewish, but it seemed like it, and that was close, and it was also a good book on its own. Entertaining and funny. And I remember it even more fondly, since years later, I was fortunate enough to actually meet Sid Fleischman at a Florida SCBWI conference and take a workshop with him. He really was the nicest man. He wasn’t doing well, but still spent quite a bit of time talking to me that weekend, and I’ll always cherish that.

Being a writer who loves Spooky things, and actually belonging to a group of SpookyMG writers, you know I have to include Scary Stories to tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. Was this book actually scary? Heck, yeah! Definitely took quick peeks around the room when I was reading. My daughter has seemed to pick up on my love of spooky stories, and we’re both very much looking forward to the movie adaptation later this year.

 

Next we have The Wish Giver by Bill Brittain. This was a scary, funny story, like the ones I’m so fond of. It deals with a wish-giver who grants wishes that go horribly wrong. Sound familiar? Well, that’s because it’s a take on the Monkey’s Paw story. I love that tale so much, that one of the first things I wrote was an updated Monkey Paw tale. Seek this book out!

Okay, I’m going to end this on another cheat here, but not really. For anyone who’s listened to my school visits, you know I ALWAYS mention this series. The Choose Your Own Adventure books were among my favorites. And when I said that my dad used to get me books all the time, more often than not, he bought me one of these. I finished them off in a day. They were so dog-eared to keep track of all the different endings. And the best part about these books, to me, was that it was in second person. So, it was always YOU are the star, meaning me. It was easy to put myself into all those situations and imagine myself doing them. I’m happy that my kids like them now.

Well, there you have it. My short list of 80s books. It was a fun time with some really great books. I’d list more but Dorian Cirrone said that I needed to stock the supply room at Mixed-Up Files Headquarters and she gets testy when I don’t do it right away.

So, those were some of my favorites, now tell me some of yours in the comments!

Until next time, here’s the third most popular member of the site signing off . . .

 

Diversity in MG Lit #10 Growing the next Generation of Writers

Many writers felt the spark of story in them when they were very young. But many never found the support they needed to develop and hone their skills at a young age.
When I visit schools for my books I often encounter one or two children out of hundreds who are hungry for more interaction than a school visit is designed to offer. Nine years ago I formed the League of Exceptional Writers a free mentoring workshop for young readers ages 8-18.
Because I’m a member of the SCBWI in Oregon, I approached them about providing a small honorarium for the authors and illustrators who were mentors to the League each month. I approached Powells Bookstore about hosting the events and providing promotional materials. Here’s an example of what they made for the last. year. Every month from October to May eager young writers pull up chairs at the bookshop and dig into the nitty gritty of making books with published authors, professional illustrators and other folks who work in the book industry, designers, editors, agents, audio book producers, etc. The League has seen its members grow from shy beginners in 3rd or 4th grade to active writers at their high school newspaper to editors of college literary journals. One has even gone on to work as a designer at a publishing house in Boston.
I mention this not to self-congratulate but rather to offer a model that could be easily replicated elsewhere. The SCBWI is a gently aging organization. Their survival depends on drawing in new young members year after year. What better way to promote the organization than to start mentoring young writers now. Most independent bookstores would be receptive to the idea of hosting a writing club for kids. So please consider starting a League of your own in your home town.
Many cities and states have writing enrichment programs in place such as the Writers in the Schools program sponsored by Oregon Literary Arts. Consider volunteering or donating money to these programs.
And finally if you have a young writer in your life, here’s a book they might enjoy. BRAVE THE PAGE: a young writer’s guide to telling epic stories by Rebecca Stern and Grant Faulkner is a kid friendly guide to writing a boo,k taking the NANOWRIMO model. The tone is peppy and practical. The text answers most of the questions even an adult writer has about the process of writing and the focus is solidly on the writing process rather than selling a manuscript. I think it will work well for avid writers as young as 9 and as old as 14 or 15. Brave the Page is on sale in August of 2019 and is available in audio.