The Read Ahead is a new series on Brightly that aims to explore current events, trends, and unique views in children’s and young adult literature. In this March 2016 installation, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich explores diverse representation in children’s literature, recaps recent award winners, and recommends some noteworthy book releases.
“Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?”
Walter Dean Myers, a celebrated author and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, wrote these words in a New York Times op-ed shortly before his death in 2014. The subject of representation in children’s literature was hardly new, of course: Myers had written about the same issues 30 years prior, in the same newspaper. Recently, however, the conversation around diverse stories seems to have reached new intensity. That debate is sometimes fraught, but vital nonetheless — because increasing diversity in kids’ books is, at its heart, about offering young readers the very best that the world of stories has to offer. It says to children, and to adults too, that all of our stories have value. So this month, we highlight some of the ways kid lit can offer a passport to new worlds — and help readers of all ages find the way home.
In January, much celebration greeted the announcement of the 2016 Youth Media Awards. There was a diverse array of winners across the board, with Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson’s picture book Last Stop on Market Street winning the Newbery Medal. While the Caldecott Medal is reserved for illustrators of picture books, the story-focused Newbery honors a book’s literary contribution — making a win by a picture book historic, and all the more impressive. (And there’s ongoing debate about whether it is actually the first ever picture book to win the Newbery Medal — check out librarian Betsy Bird’s recap on the subject here.)
Frustrated with school-curriculum book choices, 11-year-old activist Marley Dias made news with #1000BlackGirlBooks, her drive to collect 1,000 books featuring black girls for students in Jamaica. Winning the support of readers, authors, and publishers, as well as a $10,000 donation from Shutterfly at an appearance on “The Ellen Show,” the New Jersey native has already surpassed her goal. She traveled to the Caribbean earlier this month to deliver the books to Retreat Primary and Junior School and Library.
We Need Diverse Books continues to break new ground, most recently by announcing the winner of the first annual Walter Award, which honors the legacy of Walter Dean Myers (1937-2014). The inaugural featured category wasYoung Adult literature, and the award went to Jason Reynolds’s and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys. The biographical novel X, by Kekla Magoon and Ilyasah Shabazz, and the multicultural memoir Enchanted Air, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Edel Rodriguez, took home Walter Honors. The awards ceremony will take place on March 18, 2016, at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., where Myers’s son Christopher will serve as Master of Ceremonies. For more information about the Walter Award, visit Publishers Weekly.
The Brown Bookshelf is in its ninth year of “28 Days Later,” an annual month-long celebration of black creators of children’s literature that features both respected vanguards and promising “up and comers.” Look out for this February’s bonus Leap Year profile!
Every two years, the American Indian Library Association presents its American Indian Youth Literature Awards. In 2016, the winners include Little You, by Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett (Best Picture Book); In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse, by Joseph Marshall III (Best Middle School Book); and House of Purple Cedar, by Tim Tingle (Best Young Adult Book). Visit AILAnet.org for the complete list.
Each year, the global advocacy group LitWorld celebrates the power of sharing stories on World Read Aloud Day. On February 24, readers of all ages in more than 100 countries took action to remind us that literacy is vital for everyone. For more information, visit World Read Aloud Day 2016 here.
Lee and Low Books has released the results of the first-ever “diversity baseline survey,” and it remains clear that, as Walter Dean Myers noted, there is still “work to be done.” For a summary and analysis of the survey, visit this report from Jennifer Baker at Forbes.
Many mourned the loss of Francisco X. Alarcón, the Chicano award-winning author of Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems, Poems to Dream Together, Animal Poems of the Iguazú, and other books. Listen to Alarcón talk about being inspired by his father in this short video. For more on his life and work, check out this interview at The Miss Rumphius Effect blog.
Author and journalist Denene Milner recently announced the creation of her publishing imprint, Denene Milner Books, in partnership with Agate Books. The imprint will focus on black children’s books; its first offering will be a picture book, Early Sunday Morning, written by Milner and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Read the story behind the imprint here.
Mildred D. Taylor’s classic middle grade novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Penguin Random House and We Need Diverse Books have teamed up to sponsor a short story contest in its honor.
The Library of Congress named Gene Luen Yang, author of American-Born Chinese, Boxers & Saints, and Secret Coders, as the first graphic novelist National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. During his two-year term, Yang will promote “Reading Without Walls” — a program he created along with his publisher, First Second Books, and the Children’s Book Council — which “aims to excite young people about reading outside their comfort zones.”
Adult coloring books, like Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden, continue to grow in popularity and are touted as creativity boosters and stress relievers. Meanwhile, Harry Potter conjures up its own joy for coloring enthusiasts of all ages with the first official Harry Potter Coloring Book. This may comfort fans who mourn the loss of actor Alan Rickman, who brought Severus Snape to vivid life in the blockbuster films.
As debate surrounding Common Core curricula and standardized testing shows no sign of abating, the president of Scholastic Book Clubs, Judy Newman, asserts that encouraging independent reading is crucial to student success.
New Book Releases
Julie Falatko and Tim Miller’s inventive picture book Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask To Be In This Book) immediately began racking up praise as readers delighted in Snappsy’s feud with a hilariously intrusive narrator. Booklist calls their effort a “laugh-out-loud, mischievous romp.”
Kwame Alexander, author of the 2015 Newbery Medal-winning The Crossover, returns with a buoyant and funny picture book called Surf’s Up!, illustrated by Daniel Miyares. Frogs Bro and Dude have different opinions about how to spend a day at the beach, but Dude is soon captivated by Bro’s read-aloud of Moby Dick and the enduring power of stories. Warm up with the book trailer and a Q&A with the creators at Watch. Connect. Read.
Chris Grabenstein’s joyous and exciting middle grade celebration of libraries, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, won fans everywhere back in 2013. (My daughter was an early fan — it was one of those “Mom, you have to read this!” books.) This year brought the release of its much-anticipated action-packed sequel, Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, which has received praise both in trade reviews (check out Booklist and Kirkus Reviews) and from enthusiastic readers.
February also brought the return of much-lauded YA author Tanita S. Davis (Mare’s War, A La Carte, Happy Families) with Peas and Carrots, a novel that explores the subject of foster care. Publishers Weekly says Davis “gracefully and honestly addresses” issues of race. Kirkus Reviews also praised the novel for its “emotionally honest plot and candid conversations about race and class.”