Magazine article Texas Library Journal

Children's Book Diversity Summit

Magazine article Texas Library Journal

Children's Book Diversity Summit

Article excerpt

Back in 1998 TLA hosted a wildly successful summit on diversity in publishing. Bringing authors and publishers from across Latin America, TLA provided a forum for a groundbreaking exploration of issues both librarians and publishers face in bringing increased diversity to readers. This past conference in Austin, TLA once again hosted such an event. Focused on diversity in children's literature, the three-hour summit allowed authors, illustrators, librarians, editors, vendors, publishers, reviewers, and vendors to delve into the topic (and scarcity) of diversity in books.

Thom Barthelmess, youth services manager with the Whatcom County Library System, facilitated the summit by asking participants to introduce themselves. As they did so, diversity was largely defined as an all-encompassing term for heritage, race, social class, religion, orientation, language, beliefs, inclusion and multiculturalism. The conversation examined tolerance versus acceptance. Participants raised issues such as pigeonholing readers, targeting audiences (both good and bad approaches), understanding the inherent great capacity in young readers, and improving the use of BISAC codes (subject headings assigned by the Book Industry Study Group). Naturally, with a large Texas librarian representation, the issues were translated down to the local level: "What diversity fills Texas?" and "Our readers have limited English language skills."

The summit both energized participants and opened the door for much greater emphasis and action in this area. Just weeks after the diversity summit, Jason Low, summit participant and publisher of Lee & Low Books launched a diversity survey to gather data on book publishing staff and reviewers. School Library Journal, also in attendance at the summit, revealed the demographic information of their reviewers soon after Jason Low's request. Participants agreed that three hours at TLA was just the beginning. Much more time, deliberation, and discussion were needed. As a way to share the ideas surfaced at the summit, attendees have submitted some of their reflections about the event and the many ideas and challenges presented. "We were just getting warmed up," says author Cindy Pon. As is the case when so many complex issues abound, there are no simple one-size-fits-all solutions.

"I was impressed with the diversity at the TLA Diversity Summit, not just racial and ethnic diversity but the diversity of roles in the creation, evaluation, distribution, and promotion of books for young people. I was also impressed by the fact that so many were willing to be open about the subject. There were, of course, many of us who have been working in this area for a long time and who feel a sense of urgency and some frustration about the fact that more progress has not been made in the field. Flowever, I felt a degree of optimism, because we were speaking about the issues in a holistic way. There was strong recognition that this is not just a problem that can be solved by focusing on one segment of the field of young people's literature. I was struck by the spirit of cooperation and collaboration in the room and the sense that the field needs to get this right for all children, not just young people of color." - Deborah Taylor, coordinator, School and Student Services, Enoch Pratt Free Library

"This was my second diversity summit in the last few months, and I particularly appreciated the inclusion of reviewers. DIA for Diversity in Action is sometimes used to describe the literacy initiative Children's Day, Book Day, El día de los niños, El dia de los libros (Día). One suggestion I have to move us beyond the discussion phase as a group is to agree on two [or] three actions that we could take individually or collectively between now and September 1 to share what we learned. What can we DO to create a National Diverse Book Community?" - Pat Mora, author, presenter, literacy advocate

"...[Publishing representatives said, 'They would love to publish diverse books, but diverse authors are not the ones querying them. …

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