Happy Holidays: A Few Favorites from 2013

Hello everyone!

It’s been a long time since the last post, but I’m hoping a time well spent, with good, promising seeds planted. A few people, who happen to not have a Facebook account, asked me how they could keep in touch and “follow” my progress. The answer is this blog, and my Twitter account. To answer some of the questions I’ve been asked, here is what has happened since the last post, which still reflects my current life: work, writing every day, editing a newsletter for Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators with Beth Hull, and school. Little sleep but happiness nonetheless, and gratitude for the opportunity to tend with passion to all the areas mentioned.

I’m curious: What were your highlights this year? What is one literary event, one piece of information that you wish would go viral because it’s so good it’s making a difference?
Here are some of the news or discoveries that gave me hope in 2013, in bullet points:

2013 in retrospect – click on the links for more info

Good News
* Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award 2013. I wasn’t aware of that award until recently. Though set in the United Kingdom and not in America, it positively adds to the awards created to promote awareness on the great multicultural stories told and published, and I hope it does so in America as well.
* “In March 2013, First Book purchased $1 million worth of culturally-diverse content from two publishers: Harper Collins and Lee & Low Books. Those purchases, which Kirkus Reviews called a “colossal commitment,” were unprecedented for a nonprofit, and served as the first major step in creating a new market for multicultural children’s literature.” – See more at: http://www.firstbook.org/first-book-story/media-center/press-room/288-the-stories-for-all-project-first-ever-market-solution-to-the-lack-of-diversity-in-kids-books#sthash.KCXUrSi2.dpuf
*Literary agent Barry Goldblatt created a scholarship for children’s book writers of color: “Vermont College of Fine Arts and Barry Goldblatt Literary Announce The Angela Johnson Scholarship.”

A few favorite articles
* The Horn Book: Talking About Race in Children’s Literature: Commentary and Resources.
* Tina Kügler‘s Illustration of Equality, served with sobering numbers about cultural diversity in children’s books, and links to additional helpful articles.
* npr.org: As Demographics Shift, Kids’ Books Stay Stubbornly White
* The Guardian: More calls for books about non-white children
* NBC Latino: No Latino children’s literature in annual book list – again
* Posts by award-winning publisher and activist Lee & Low Books. If you’re not already familiar with their blog, here’s a link to wet your socio-cultural appetite: Literary Agents Discuss the Diversity Gap in Publishing
* Ellen Oh: Why Being a POC Author Sucks Sometimes
* Series of posts on Courage, highlighting several writers, by librarian Edi Campbell. Here’s a sample: About Courage #3: Margarita Engle
* From Soraya Chemali, of Huffington Post: What Does it Mean that Most Children’s Books Are Still About White Boys?
* This article by a UK teacher, which I believe also applies beyond the British borders: “You can’t do that! Stories have to be about White people”

Book Lists
* The Birthday Party Pledge has a list of books with culturally diverse contents, categorized by interest. It is also a great cause to support.
* CBC Diversity’s book lists, which include: 50 multicultural books every child should know, 30 multicultural books every teen should know, 101 ways to combat prejudice, and more.
* New York Public Library’s 100 Great Children’s Books of the past 100 years. Congratulations to all books creators, notably these ones, for making it to the list – I’m so proud and excited for the groundbreaking meaning behind these nominations, for your books being so sought after, and for your hard work being celebrated: Mitali Perkins, Rucksana Khan, Lucía M. Gonzalez, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Yuyi Morales, Jerry Pinkney, Jacqueline Woodson, Ed Young, just to quote a few.
* I’m adding the following list because multicultural books can also be found via publisher’s catalogs, and because that list might be helpful to several writers and illustrators as well: Small Presses of Color, with thanks to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Scool of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison for putting that wonderful resource together.

Causes You might be happy to know about
* Books+Water/Waterbridge Outreach: this is bittersweet to blog about. Bitter because the amazing multicultural literary non-profit PaperTigers had to stop its activities. I learned So much from their work over the years, and connected, thanks to them, with amazing books lovers and writers from around the world. I miss their website, but it is still available for everyone to consult, and serves as an archive haven. Sweet because the PaperTigers team is now focusing all its energy on bringing more multicultural books to undeserved communities, as well as drinkable water – note: the lack of drinkable water in several continents is the number one cause of death, and prevents many children from attending school, among causing other problems such as wars. Please check out their website, support that great cause if you can, and spread the word. For more information on Books+Water/Waterbridge Outreach, visit www.waterbridgeoutreach.org. Warm thank you.
* First Book. You heard the good news about First Book’s purchase of 1 million dollars worth of multicultural books. Hear this too: Publisher Random House will match 3 times any donations you make to First Book to support that great cause. I thank Media Bistro’s Galley Cat for the information. Read more about it here, please spread the word as well. This is good until December 31.
* Ventana Sierra, founded by bestselling author Ellen Hokpins. Foster care children are often left to fend for themselves once they turn 18. Ventana Sierra thrives to offer them a place to live, while setting up with a mentor with whom they learn a craft that will allow them to make a living – via internships, etc. Ventana Sierra accepts donations, but also raises money via an online store and advanced writers workshops, the next one taking place taking during the weekend of June 6, 2014. For more information on Ventana Sierra, visit http://ventanasierra.org. To learn more about the workshops, click here.

Last minute deadlines you might be interested in:
* SCBWI’s SPARK Award, recognizing and celebrating excellence in children’s books self-published or non-traditionally published in 2013. You need to be a SCBWI member to apply.
* Call for submission for Kaleidoscope, a Diverse YA Fantasy and Science Fiction anthology, published by Twelfth Planet Press.

Wishes for 2014
More buzz, a deeper connection between readers and the creators of culturally diverse books, continued smart marketing of said books, wishing more writers, publishing houses and publicists to make the most of the abundance of the social platforms to spread the word, enthusiasm and passion for kids books with characters from ALL walk of life.

Wishing you a safe, warm and inspiring holiday season,


Update 12/28/13
* From Inside ‘A Fuse #8 Production,’ by Elizabeth Bird: 2014 Kids of Color: Things Are Looking Up

Monday Interview: Mary Rodgers, VP & Editor-in-Chief of Lerner Publishing Group

Today I’m excited to interview Mary Rodgers, Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of Lerner Publishing Group, an independent award-winning publishing house based in Minnesota. Founded in 1959, Lerner Publishing now has several imprints, including the well-known Carolrhoda Books. Lerner Books is known for its amazing collection of nonfiction books. The company also has an imprint devoted to books in Spanish. Some of the imprints do publish fiction ranging from picture books to young adults. Lerner’s Bad News for Outlaws, written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, won the 2010 Coretta Scott King award. Congratulations! 🙂

I met Mary at a SCBWI conference, and I have rarely seen a publisher more excited to talk about multicultural books. I am honored that she agreed to this interview.

Nathalie: Mary, thank you so much for joining us today.

Mary Rodgers: Thanks Nathalie. I’m happy to be here.

What are your thoughts on the state of multicultural books in the U.S., i.e. are there “enough,” are they needed, is there a market?

MR: Lerner Publishing Group has been publishing multicultural fiction and nonfiction titles for more than fifty years. In fact, Harry Lerner, founder of our company, is proud that in the 1960s, when bigger publishers weren’t buying true multicultural art (i.e., art in which people of color were a natural part of the story), his little start-up company was.

But to answer your questions, the incredible diversity within the U.S. population creates an ongoing need for multicultural titles. The market for some of these titles may be regional—that is, the sales may cluster where the groups are clustered—but there’s definitely a need.

How does Lerner Books acquire multicultural manuscripts? (Note: is there a quota? Do you specifically look for them?)

MR: There’s no quota. Much of our nonfiction, however, is series driven. When we develop a new series, we make sure that stories about people of color are part of the mix. So in that sense we specifically plan to include multicultural subjects.

As a publisher, what are the challenges you encounter when it comes to publishing and marketing a book showcasing cultural diversity?

MR: We want any multicultural book that we publish to faithfully and fairly represent the culture in question. The visuals, as well as the text, need to achieve this. We avoid stereotyping and try very hard to achieve a balance of ethnicity, gender, and age in our multicultural titles.

What are some of your favorite non-fiction titles, books you think should have a place on every library and family book shelves?

MR: I’m lucky to be able to read strong nonfiction every week in my work. I love a good story, but I also love to browse. On the upper grades side, we’ve published two series that always catch my eye for browsing. One is Images and Issues of Women in the Twentieth Century. It covers the evolution of the roles of women in the 1900s. The other is Decades of Twentieth-Century America. It discussed various aspects of American culture—politics, media, sports, literature, economics—in each decade. I’ve browsed these with family and friends. Both series are fabulous conversation starters. On the younger side, picture book biographies—such as Bad News for Outlaws, which just won the Coretta Scott King Author Award—are a lot of fun too.

What type of manuscript is Lerner Books currently looking for?

MR: Good stories, mainly. Strong multicultural nonfiction, whether offered as single titles or in series, begins with good topics. “Good” can signify that the topic is highly curricular, meaning that young readers need solid, informative material on the topic because they are likely to run into it in their studies. “Good” can indicate that the story is gripping, unusual, or new in some way. Or “good” can simply mean the topic is of high interest to kids and has entertainment value. Strong nonfiction also relies on an authoritative voice that wants to tell a good story.

Last but not least, do you have a message for writers of color and/or writers of books with multicultural content?

MR: Know your topic well and be able to explain difficult or sensitive ideas in an interesting way. Understand your audience—what do they already know? What would surprise them? What would engage them? Look for stories that haven’t been over published.

Dear Mary, thank you very much for being a champion of cultural diversity in children’s literature, for your words of advice and for your time. 🙂

For more information on Lerner Publishing Group, please visit:
o Lerner Publishing’s website
o Learn about LPG’s award-winning imprints here!
o Submission Guidelines
o Lerner Classroom
o LPG’s Blog
o Facebook
o Follow Lerner Publishing on Twitter!

Some of Lerner Publishing Books