Kids of Color and the New American Whitewashing is Colleen Mondor's latest feature at Bookslut. Mondor interviews a number of authors about covers, their input into covers, and books about kids of color. As Mondor notes, "The cover issue, a very visual representation of what is wrong in publishing, brought into question just how much control authors have over the presentation of their stories, and in particular continues to be a sore spot among many readers and writers."
A visual representation. Which means while part of the issue is who is on the cover, the bigger issue isn't about whether or not a person appears on the cover. That said, I agree with Mitali Perkins that faces on covers is not always the best marketing decision. Faces on covers can distract from what the images the reader creates in his or her head. But even if we start seeing less faces, the bigger issue of how many books there are, period, exists.
One of the people Mondor interviews says, "All the others were clearly brown characters, and some booksellers/librarians have told me off the record that this hindered their purchasing as they don't have a "community to support such books." Mondor responds, "While I try to wrap my head around just what community would support “such books” (and what on Earth “such books” are), I found myself becoming increasingly disheartened by how silly this all is."
Honestly speaking, I see adults more likely to select books that are pure mirror than kids. Sometimes, it is almost ridiculous. A request for picture books about moving is met with half rejected, because it shows the family moving into a one story house, not a two story house.
It's dangerous to have only mirror books available to kids. The child believes everyone is just like them, as they look around their community and only sees white faces; the books on the library shelves and bookstore reflect that reality. So everything, and everyone, outside the community becomes "the other," different, not understood. Taken to an extreme, the child becomes a teen becomes an adult who has no ability to see or understand how anyone could think, believe, do, or act in any way other than the way they themselves do.
"Community" cannot be defined as one town; it has to include the county, the state, the country, the world. On the one hand, is it shortsighted for gatekeepers to define their community as one town? Yes. On the other, when the adults in the community only want mirror books for their kids? That's a hard place to be. And all the reasons for it are too much for one blog post.
What's a gatekeeper to do? Have the books available. Booktalk and handsell all books. And since, in my humble opinion, kids want books about action, adventure, mystery, fantasy, ghost stories, etc., have books that reflect the wide range of people who live in the greater community -- one country, one world, not one neighborhood -- that are action, adventure, mystery, well, you get the picture.
And before you start seeing "the gatekeeper" as the other, not you -- that is, you're reading this thinking I'm not a librarian, bookseller, teacher, so this doesn't apply to me -- think about your own initial reading choices, and those you pick for your child or give as a gift, and what you ask for in your library or bookstore. Best way to let YOUR gatekeeper know books are wanted in your community? Tell them, by the books you read, request, check out, buy.
Back to Mondor's article. It's well worth the read. And then head over to her blog, Chasing Ray, where you can comment about it.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy