Beyond the Cover: Open up

Many of us couldn’t be more proud of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, which rattled BEA14 last month. It gives us more reason than ever to examine our buying and reading habits. Now who doesn’t like a story about a dog?

Shiloh Sounder Because of Winn Dixie

Looking at the covers of these award-winning stories, you might make the mistake of thinking that only certain people are the target audience for each book. But how much smaller our world would be if we never met Winn Dixie, Sounder or Shiloh! When we limit ourselves, we miss the chance to discover great stories and broaden our worldview.

Place the blame on marketing. Suddenly everyone has the data to know which demographic is buying what. But by pigeonholing buyers, the market assumes that readers only want to read about people just like them. Especially for children, a book may be their first exposure to experiences unlike their own.

A campaign in England, PinkStinks, is fighting the designation of boy or girl books. “Books should give children the chance to explore new things and ideas, and labeling books, and certain subjects, as only for one gender prevents them from doing this,” says Alexandra Strick, of children’s literature project Inclusive Minds.

It’s true that male protagonists still outnumber female characters by two to one in children’s picture books but also less than 8 percent of children’s books in 2013 were written by or about people of color. And, the thinking goes, white readers won’t buy a book with a person of color on the cover. To my mind, this is a tragic mistake: if we don’t read about each other, how will we understand the world today?

The publishing industry is getting the message that we need to prepare for a more multicultural future. But here’s something you can try at home!

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Instead, read the back. Read the inside flap. Then read the first paragraph to see if you want to keep reading. Here are the first lines of some favorites:

  • “ ‘Our land is alive, Esperanza,’ said Papa, taking her small hand as they walked through the gentle slopes of the vineyard.”
  • “My sister, Lynn, taught me my first word: Kira-Kira.”
  • “There are four Captain Stupendous fan clubs in Copperplate City, but ours is the only one that doesn’t suck.”

Curious? I know. Read on!

1 Comment
  1. Wonderfully said. Yes, to more of a “worldview” and not such a narrow, targeted one.