Thursday, March 29, 2018

Cover Reveal: ANA MARIA REYES DOES NOT LIVE IN A CASTLE, by Hilda Eunice Burgos

I am thrilled to share with you the cover and a sneak peak of my debut middle grade novel, Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle, which will be published by Lee & Low’s Tu Books in October 2018.

Here is the official synopsis:

The Penderwicks meets In the Heights in this sparkling middle-grade debut!

Her last name may mean "kings," but Ana María Reyes REALLY does not live in a castle. Rather, she's stuck in a tiny apartment with two parents (way too lovey-dovey), three sisters (way too dramatic), everyone's friends (way too often), and a piano (which she never gets to practice). And when her parents announce a new baby is coming, that means they'll have even less time for Ana María. 

Then she hears about the Eleanor School, New York City's best private academy. If Ana María can win a scholarship, she'll be able to get out of her Washington Heights neighborhood school and achieve the education she's longed for. To stand out, she'll need to nail her piano piece at the upcoming city showcase, which means she has to practice through her sisters' hijinks, the neighbors' visits, a family trip to the Dominican Republic . . . right up until the baby's birth! But some new friends and honest conversations help her figure out what truly matters, and know that she can succeed no matter what. Ana María Reyes may not be royal, but she's certain to come out on top.

This book started out as a short story where three sisters worried about the possibility of getting a brother now that their mother was pregnant again.  It was inspired by my experiences when I was six years old and my younger sister was born.  Like Ana María, I have three sisters, my parents are from the Dominican Republic, and I grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City.  I also loved reading and school, but I never read any books about kids who were like me: bilingual, living in a small apartment with a large family, with many extended family members in another country.  So I decided to write one of those books myself.  Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle features a feisty girl who struggles to open her heart and her mind to what’s really important in life: family, friendships, and beautiful music.  Illustrator Lissy Marlin did a fantastic job capturing Ana María’s essence and neighborhood in this dynamic cover, which I am happy to share with you now  .  .  .    

And here is an exclusive excerpt:

     I walked down the hallway to the living room.  Doña Dulce was not alone.  As I came into the room, three people dressed in business suits stood up from the plastic-covered sofa where they had been cramped together.  One young woman and two gray-haired men.  My teacher shuffled toward me and took my arm.  “This is Ana María, one of my best students,” she said.
     “Hola, Ana María,” the woman said.  “Do you speak English?”
     “Of course,” I said.  I squinted at her, then remembered that Gracie always said that was my are-you-an-idiot look, so I quickly opened my eyes wide.
     “Oh, wonderful!” one of the men said.  “My name is Alan Flynn, and these are my colleagues Ms. Alonzo and Mr. Smith.  We’re from the Piano Teachers’ Association.”
     This was weird.  Every year Doña Dulce took her students downtown to be tested by the Piano Teachers’ Association.  We each brought a list of about ten pieces we had memorized, and the association judge picked a few for us to play.  Doña Dulce said this was how we knew we were really learning, and not just enough to satisfy her.  This past year I scored a 92, and Sarita got a 99, even though she probably deserved a 100.
     “The testers have been so impressed with the quality of Mrs. Sánchez’s students that we have invited her to bring two performers to our Winter Showcase.  Are you familiar with the Winter Showcase?”  I shook my head, and Mr. Flynn continued.  “We cosponsor it with the Eleanor School, and top piano students from all over the city perform at Lincoln Center.”
     The Eleanor School!  Would the scholarship people come to the showcase?  Could this help me get a full ride?
     “So,” Mr. Flynn said, “we will observe your lesson today and later select the two students who will perform.”
     “Okay,” I said.  I just stood there, not sure what to do next.  I couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility of that scholarship.
     “Come, come, sit down.”  Doña Dulce ushered me onto the piano bench.  She took her usual seat in the chair beside me.  The plastic on the couch grunted when the three visitors sat back down.               “Let’s start with Schumann.  ‘The Happy Farmer.’”
      I was relieved to hear that.  When I first learned to play “The Happy Farmer,” I struggled with some of the chords, but not anymore.  I started loudly with my left hand, softly with the right.  My fingers bounced on the keys, hitting the right notes on tempo, switching the dynamics at the correct moments, ending with a soft, slow chord.  By the time I finished, I had forgotten all about the Piano Teachers’ Association people.  But then I heard papers rustling and whispered voices, and, right away, I remembered.  “Very well executed staccato,” one man murmured.  “Great rhythm,” the woman said.  I looked at Doña Dulce without turning my head.  She was looking at me too.  We both smiled.
     The rest of the lesson went by quickly.  Every time I stopped playing I heard positive comments from the association people.  Then I would sit up a little taller and play a little louder for the next piece.  Not to brag, but by the time I played my last piece, I probably sounded like Sarita.  Doña Dulce also had me play a few scales and arpeggios to show that I had the basics down.
     When my hour was over, I stood up.  I wondered if I should just leave or turn around and say goodbye.
     “It was very nice to meet you, Ann Marie,” Mr. Flynn said.  He held his arm out and shook my hand just like a grown-up.
     “Ana María,” I said.
     He looked puzzled.
     “My name.  It’s Ana María, not Ann Marie.”
     Mr. Flynn lifted his chin, frowned, and said, “Ohhh.”  He looked a little annoyed.
     Maybe I shouldn’t have said that, I thought.  Maybe I won’t get picked now.

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt, and I look forward to sharing the whole book with you in October!

Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle is available now for preorder at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Where Do You Stand, MG Literature by Eden Unger Bowditch

The Graphics Fairy

The history of children’s literature is something of a jumble. John Locke claimed that children should learn by playful and fun reading material. John Newberry was one of the first to produce works for specifically for children. And so it began…though sensibilities have certainly changed. Or perhaps…changed back?

There are myriad familiar (and less familiar) stories that have been passed down through the ages from storytellers to children, who then grow up to be storytellers themselves. There are familiar versions (edited from perhaps somewhat disturbing earlier versions) of fables and fairytales that we know from Disney films and from other gently (or severely) altered publications from the 1930s through the 1950s. Traditional versions of stories, like “The Little Mermaid”, are very different than their Disney reinventions. Disney does not have the ill-fated mermaid as losing the love of the prince and falling overboard to die and become at one with the sea foam. Along with other forms of censor, Grimms’ Fairytales and Hans Christian Anderson stories were re-envisioned to provide ‘happily ever after’ endings and offer clear divisions between good and evil. Stories, in which the protagonist may have behaved badly, perhaps chopping off a head or two, would still present the ambiguously good hero as righteous. And then, fearful of the delicate sensibilities of the young, grown-ups began to change these beloved old tales to fit into nice packaging and send the reader to a happy place. Even John Newberry, namesake of the Newberry Award, seemed to be called into question since he wrote, in the letter from “Jack the Giant-killer” that “Little Master Tommy” would be “whipt” if found to be lacking in appropriate skills and demeanor. Goodness! We could not let our children know that there was any such thing! The little mermaid got the guy and no child would ever have to hear about chopped off noses or cloven boys who were raised by witches. It was believed, for those interim years, that scary stories had to be abolished. From the people who brought the fig leaf to Michaelangelo’s nudes, we got clean and happy, all day, every day.

But then, psychology gave us a surprise. Children LIKE scary and WANT to hear stories of danger and yuck. Children who learn to navigate the treacherous fantasy and can better cope with the real. And why stick to the straight and narrow? These stories were handed down and altered over the centuries. Why not take it further? We now have stories like The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas and Wicked by Gregory Maguire, both revisiting the ideas we have always held about good and evil and who is right or wrong. We now understand that it is a fine thing for kids to read Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales or tales of the Grimms closer to the originals, which can often be fairly disturbing.

Middle Grade books still straddle ideas about adolescence and issues that are considered to be challenging to childhood innocence. But, perhaps, we know how smart and capable young people are. We know that every story isn’t tied up with a bow. We have learned that being on the edge of your seat is sometimes an important place to be when reading a book. There are such fine authors here at PMGM and I, personally, have been on the edge of my seat more than once as I perused the pages of their novels. And it was, indeed, a fine place to be.

Thursday, March 22, 2018


As graphic novels become more and more well known, many writers want to learn more about this dynamic sector of children's/teen publishing.

If you're interested in trying your hand at a graphic novel project, here are some tips and resources.

Author Stacy Nyikos takes us through her exploration process as she sought to learn as much as she could about graphic novels. She leaves us a wonderful trail of breadcrumbs to follow in this post from the blog Through the Tollbooth.

If you want to get a handle on terminology and classifications within graphic novel formats, this article by Ally Watkins from School Library Journal is helpful:

"An important thing to remember at the start: comics are not a genre, they’re a format. There are many genres of comic books and graphic novels, but they’re all written in the comic format." See more here.

Diving into graphic novels, and reading a ton of them is a great way to begin figuring out how you might construct a narrative. Read about some current graphic novels here:

And here:

Ready to tackle a project or put together a graphic novel proposal? Here are four resources that will help you figure out how to structure your proposal/manuscript:

 Getting a Graphic Novel Published, Part II (How Cathy G. Johnson landed her agent, Jen Linnan) (the pitch)

What's in a Graphic Novel Proposal?  Blog post by Faith Erin Hicks

An Inside Look at the Submission Process, by Gina Gagliano at First Second Books.

Graphic Novel Terminology, podcast featuring Gina Gagliano and Alison Wilgus.

Jessica Abel/Wikimedia Commons

Interested in diving deeper?  Check out these twitter accounts:

Cathy J, Johnson, cartoonist, educator, podcaster:  @cathygjohn
Flame Con, the LGBTQ Comic Con:  @FlameCon
First Second Books, "All Graphic Novels, all the time":    @01FirstSecond 
Brittney Williams, comic artist, animator: @AnotherBrittney 
Jen Bartel, illustrator, comic artist:      @heyjenbartel 
Melanie Gillman, cartoonist:         @melgillman 
Kat Fajardo, artist, illustrator, anthology editor:       @katfcomix 
Faith Erin Hicks, cartoonist:   @FaithErinHicks 

Good luck and have fun!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Chris Eboch on Editing Your Novel during #NaNoEdMo (or any time)

Did you do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) last year? Even if you didn't, do you have a manuscript ready to edit? March is National Novel Editing Month (NaNoEdMo)! Planning your editing can make it less of a chore.

Some time ago I published a post on Editing Your Novel after #NaNoWriMo. I focused on "big picture" editing, so start there if that's what you need. Today's post focuses on fine tuning. They are both excerpted from You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers.

Fine Tuning

Once you are confident that your characters, plot, structure, and pacing are working, you can dig into the smaller details. At this stage, make sure that your timeline works and your setting hangs together. Create calendars and maps to keep track of when things happen and where people go. Then polish, polish, polish.

How Much Is Enough?

How much editing you need to do depends on your goals for the story. If you simply want to write down the bedtime stories you tell your children as a family record, a spelling error or two doesn’t matter too much. If you are going to submit work to a publisher, you need to be more careful. Some editors and agents say they will stop reading if they find errors in the first few pages, or more than one typo every few pages. If you plan to self-publish, most experts advise hiring a professional editor to help you shape the story and a professional proofreader to make sure the book doesn’t go out with typos. Weak writing and other errors could cause readers to get annoyed and leave bad reviews.

With a Critical Eye

Bill Peschel, author of Sherlock Holmes parodies and other books for adults, and a former newspaper copy editor, says, “Reading with a critical eye reveals weak spots in grammar, consistently misspelled words, and a reliance on ‘crutch words’ [unnecessary and overused words] such as simply, basically, or just. While it can be disheartening to make the same mistakes over and over again, self-editing can boost your ego when you become aware that you’re capable of eliminating them from your work. It takes self-awareness, some education, and a willingness to admit to making mistakes.”

This stage of editing can be time-consuming, especially if you are prone to spelling or grammatical errors. “Be systematic,” Peschel says. “Despite all the advice on how to multi-task, the brain operates most efficiently when it’s focusing on one problem at a time. This applies to proofing. You can look for spelling mistakes, incorrect grammar, and your particular weaknesses, just not at the same time. So for effective proofing, make several passes, each time focusing on a different aspects.”

One pass might focus only on dialogue. “Read just the dialogue out loud,” editor Jodie Renner suggests, “maybe role-playing with a buddy or two. Do the conversations sound natural or stilted? Does each character sound different, or do they all sound like the author?”

Do You Use A Lot Of Words When You Only Need A Few?

Wordiness (using more words than necessary) is a big problem for many writers, so make at least one pass focused exclusively on tightening. “Make every word count,” Renner advises. “Take out whole sentences and paragraphs that don’t add anything new or drive the story forward. Take out unnecessary little words, most adverbs and many adjectives, and eliminate clichés.” Words you can almost always cut include very, really, just, sort of, kind of, a little, rather, started to, began to, then. To pick up the pace in your manuscript, try to cut 20% of the text on every page, simply by looking for unnecessary words or longer phrases that can be changed to shorter ones.

Make additional passes looking for grammar errors, missing words, and your personal weak areas. For example, if you know you tend to overuse “just,” use the “Find” option in a program like Microsoft Word to locate that word and eliminate it when possible.

Even if you’re not an expert editor, you may be able to sense when something is wrong. “Trust your inner voice,” when you get an uneasy feeling, Peschel says. “It can be something missing, something wrong, something clunky, and if you stick to it – read it out loud, read it backwards, look at it from a distance – the mistake should declare itself.”

Fool Your Brain

By this point, you’ve read your manuscript dozens of times. This can make it hard to spot errors, since you know what is supposed to be there. Several tricks can help you see your work with fresh eyes.

Peschel says, “Reading the same prose in the same font can cause the eye to skate over mistakes, so change it up. Boost the size or change the color of the text or try a different font. Use free programs such as Calibre or Scrivener to create an EPUB or MOBI file that can be read on an ebook reader.”

Renner also recommends changing your font. Print your manuscript on paper if you are used to working on the computer screen. Finally, move away from your normal working place to review your manuscript. “These little tricks will help you see the manuscript as a reader instead of as a writer,” she says.

“An effective way to check the flow of your story is to read it aloud or have someone read it to you,” freelance editor Linda Lane notes. “Better yet, record your story so you can play it back multiple times if necessary. Recruiting another person to do this will give you a better idea of what a reader will see.”

Some software, such as MS Word 2010, has a text-to-voice feature to provide a read aloud. Lane adds, “If recording your story yourself, run your finger just below each line as you read to catch omitted or misspelled words and missing commas, quote marks, and periods. Also, enunciate clearly and ‘punctuate’ as you read, pausing slightly at each comma and a bit longer at end punctuation. While this won’t catch every error, it will give you a good sense of flow, highlight many shortcomings, and test whether your dialogue is smooth and realistic.”

Some people even recommend reading your manuscript backwards, sentence by sentence. While this won’t help you track the flow of the story, it focuses attention on the sentence level.

Finally, certain computer programs and web platforms are designed to identify spelling and grammar errors, and in some cases even identify clichés. While these programs are not recommended for developmental editing (when you’re shaping the story), they can be an option for later polishing. (They can also make mistakes, though, so don’t trust Microsoft Word’s spelling & grammar check to be right about everything.)

Break It down

Looking at all the steps to successful self-editing may be daunting, but break them down into pieces, take a step at a time, and don’t rush your revisions. “This whole process could easily take several months,” Renner says. “Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by putting your manuscript out too soon.”

Each time you go through this process you’ll be developing your skills, making the next time easier. “Like anything else, self-editing becomes easier the more you do it,” Peschel says. “When it becomes second-nature, you’ll have made a big leap toward becoming a professional writer.”

Editing Description

For each detail, ask:

  • Does it make the story more believable?
  • Does it help readers picture or understand a character or place better?
  • Does it answer questions that readers might want answered?
  • Does it distract from the action?
  • Could it be removed without confusing readers or weakening the story?
  • For illustrated work, could the description be replaced by illustrations?

Use more details for unusual/unfamiliar settings. Try using multiple senses: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and the feeling of touch. Especially in picture books, use senses other than sight, which can be shown through the illustrations.

Editing Resources:

I haven’t tried this, but the “Hemingway App” is designed to identify overly long or complicated sentences, so it might be helpful in learning to simplify your work for younger audiences.

Grammarly is an app that claims to find more errors than Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar check option, including words that are spelled correctly but used incorrectly.

Resources for Writers, by editor Jodie Renner, list several of her editing books as well as blog posts on various writing topics.

The Plot Outline Exercise from Advanced Plotting helps you analyze your plot for trouble spots. Get the exercise as a free download from my webpage.

Fiction University, by middle grade author Janice Hardy, has great posts on many writing craft topics.

Author and writing teacher Jordan McCollum offers downloadable free writing guides on topics such as character arcs and deep point of view.

In “A Bad Case of Revisionitis,” Literary agent Natalie M. Lakosil discusses when to stop revising.

Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages, with 50+ traditionally published books for children. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; Bandits Peak, a survival story, and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs.

Chris’s writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers and Advanced Plotting. Learn more at or her Amazon page. Chris is an Regional Advisor Emerita for SCBWI and has given popular writing workshops around the world. Chris also writes novels of suspense and romance for adults under the name Kris Bock; read excerpts at

Monday, March 12, 2018

Ten Things to Keep in Mind AFTER getting a Book Deal so You Don't FREAK out! by Hilary Wagner

Some day it will happen! Some day, you will wake up, thinking it's a normal day and then, suddenly, you get the call. YOU HAVE A BOOK DEAL! Here are some quick tips to help you through the process so you don't lose your mind!

1. Don't be scared of working with your editor! You'll do fine! Your editor is your friend and sounding board. They want to make your book the very best it can be.

2. Be prepared to take what you consider the most special parts of your book...OUT! The key here is you consider them the best parts. Your editor can see things you don't from an outside perspective.

3. Concerns? TALK TO YOUR AGENT! He/she knows the business and they will tell you if you're concerns are justified or you're freaking out for no reason. (I would fit into the "freaking out for no reason" category). If you don't have an agent, reach out to others you know who've been published. Most of your fellow writers will be thrilled to help you out and share their experiences.

4. Don't be afraid to ask your publisher LOTS of questions-- if you don't ask, you won't get.

5. Your publisher may change your release date several times--this is totally normal, especially for a debut.

6. Know that you have NO control over the cover art...but be happy when your publisher does ask for your input and/or gives your book a fabulous illustrator, and if they don't give you the illustrator of your dreams, have a nice piece of cake (preferably chocolate) and tell yourself, they know what they're doing.

7. Bear in mind that Barnes & Noble, along with big box sellers and Indie stores, do NOT pick up every book, even from big publishers! There is nothing you can do if they decide not to carry your book in their brick and mortar stores, so don't worry about it--it does not mean your book won't be successful.

8. Don't fret if you start on a one book deal (becoming the norm these days), but be merry when they buy the sequel six months later--off a proposal no less! That means they like you, they really, really like you!

9. There are a lot of things out of your control in publishing--in fact--most things. Before giving yourself a facial tick, take a step back, inhale a deep solid breath, and realize no matter what's in store for you, you made did're a first-rate writer--YOU!

10. Rinse and Repeat! In other words, write another book. ;)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Why #Kidlitwomen Matter on International Women's Day by Kell Andrews

Today is International Women's Day, a day for "motivating and uniting friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive" amid the longer Women's History Month. It's also a day that in past years seemed to be recognized mostly with a flurry of social media posts that got lost amid trivial celebrations of International Pancake Day and Talk Like a Pirate Day.

This year is different, and it's about time. It doesn't feel like just a hashtag, and that's partly because of other movements defined by hashtags, like #yesallwomen, #metoo, #weneeddiversebooks, and now #kidlitwomen.

The #kidlitwomen conversation is wide-ranging and intersectional, and we can turn conversations into action. (Follow on Twitter, Facebook, or view an aggregated list of posts)

#Metoo brought a reckoning in industries including film, and now extending to children's literature, as spurred by Anne Ursu's article about sexual harassment in kidlit.. #Weneeddiversebooks launched a nonprofit and challenged the industry to reexamine how they acquire, market, and honor books, engendering #ownvoices as a call to move beyond publishing diverse stories to promoting diverse creators.

International Women's Day is so much more than books. It's about equal rights and opportunities for women, girls, and nonbinary people around the world. Lives, jobs, education, and bodily and legal autonomy are at stake. Of course children's publishing is just a small slice of it, but it still matters. And as a children's book author, I can advance change in my own industry more effectively than I can influence another one.

#Kidlitwomen matters to me. 

As a middle-aged, mid-career, mid-list author, I am easily overlooked. Women in similar situations can never know why.

As with everything in publishing -- from getting an agent and being published, to marketing support, reviews, awards, and speaking fees -- there are so many factors that it's difficult for an individual to know when bias exists. The system relies on imposter syndrome -- you have to wonder, "Maybe I didn't get that award (panel, agent, contract, review) because I'm not that good."

I am not an official part of #kidlitwomen or its organization, but the conversation has let me know that I'm not alone. It's given me a place to wonder aloud when even questions once seemed forbidden.

#Kidlitwomen matters to the industry. 

#Kidlitwomen has generated hard data about illustration awards and conference participation, and more data is a prod to change, as we've seen in reports about diversity (see
Yamile Saied Méndez's post about CCBC's 2017 Multicultural Report ).

There's not a lot of transparency in the industry around promotion and money. On social media, everyone's books and careers appear to be doing great, but only because we're only showing a small part of the truth. Shining this light means that we in this industry -- creators, editors, publishers, marketers, book buyers, reviewers, teachers, librarians, and consumers -- can examine how we are maintaining a system that lifts male stories and creators over women -- especially since it's often other women who are doing that lifting.

And most importantly...

#Kidlitwomen matters to kids.

Children of all gender identities need to see books that reflect the panoply of experiences from the voices and imaginations of women around the world and from every community. The only way that happens is when those stories are published, promoted, and put in front of them. Kids need to see that stories and voices of women and girls are lifted up, both for their universality and their specificity.

We need the talent of all children, of all genders, and the books we create can help ensure that children recognize and develop their own talents.

About Kell Andrews: Kell is the author of Mira Forecasts the Future (Sterling, 2016) and Deadwood (Spencer Hill Press, 2014). Her next picture book, The Book Dragon, will be out from Sterling October 2, 2018. She lives outside Philadelphia with her funny husband and two brave daughters.

Monday, March 5, 2018

On My Reading List: The Last Panther by Todd Mitchell (post by Paul Greci)

I write survival stories and I totally gravitate toward reading them. Here’s the most recent addition to my reading list.

 This first paragraph of The Last Panther (seen below) grabbed me because it has an excellent mix of action driven by the setting, plus suspense. It makes me want to keep reading.

 "The netters were pulling something to shore. Kiri couldn’t see what they’d caught from where she stood on the beach with Paulo, but six or seven netters had waded into the surf to haul on the lines, so whatever the nets held, it must have been big."

About the book:

Eleven-year-old Kiri has a secret: wild things call to her. More than anyone else, she’s always had a special connection to animals.

But when Kiri has an encounter with the last known Florida panther, her life is quickly turned on end. Caught between her conservationist father, who wants to send the panther to a zoo, and the village poachers, who want to sell it to feed their families, Kiri must embark on a journey that will take her deep into the wilderness.

There has to be some way to save the panther, and for her dad and the villagers to understand each other. If Kiri can’t figure out what it is, she’ll lose far more than the panthers—she’ll lose the only home she’s ever known, and the only family she has left.

About the Author:
TODD MITCHELL is the author of a few other books for middle-grade and teen readers, including The Traitor King, The Secret to Lying, and Backwards. Currently, he teaches creative writing in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he lives with his wife, two wily daughters, and one very smart dog. You can visit him (and arrange to bring him out to your school) at

If you’ve read or are planning to read a recently published survival story I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Thanks for stopping by.

Paul Greci is the author of Surviving Bear Island, a 2015 Junior Library Guild Selection and a 2016 Scholastic Reading Club Selection. Forthcoming in October 2018 is Follow the River, a sequel to Surviving Bear Island published by Move Books. In January 2019, Paul's first young adult novel, The Wild Lands will be published by Macmillan.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Hello, Diverse Kidlit. It's 2018. How are you?

I'm still basking in the brilliance of Black Panther. I'm still thrilled that the Newbery Medalist is Hello, Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly, a Filipino-American woman. And I'm not ecstatic only about  the medal winner. Did you take a look at the diversity that glows from the whole Newbery list? The Caldecott medal? And of course, the Coretta King Scott and Pura Belpré medalists and honors?

Does this mean our call for more Diverse Books has been answered? That we "made" it and now we can continue back to the usual programming?

This post is an invitation for dialog, and I realize I might be preaching to the choir. Our Project MG Mayhem audience is a group of people in love with children's literature, and the children we serve in our daily lives. As Daniel Tiger says, "Sharing is caring," and one of my languages of love is sharing books that reflect the childhood experience in all its facets, whether it be by my own writing or the writing of others with the same commitment as mine. For me, one of the greatest pleasures is matching a young reader with a great story I know they will love, either because it will act as a mirror or as a window into the lives of those with other experiences. This last time at the school fair, I was pleasantly surprised by the abundance of characters of color either in the covers or acting as protagonists in a variety of genre and storytelling form. I did however realize something the CCBC strongly notes in their yearly report on diversity in books.

If we look at the numbers compiled and provided by the CCBC in their 2017 Multicultural Report, we'll see that although the number of books with diverse characters has encouragingly increased from last year, only a small fraction of them were written by authors from communities considered as minorities:

  • 340 had significant African or African American content/characters.
    • 100 of these were by Black authors and/or illustrators. (29.41% #OwnVoices)
  • 72 had significant American Indian/First Nations content/characters.
    • 38 of these were by American Indian/First Nations authors and/or illustrators. (52.78% #OwnVoices)
  • 310 had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content/characters.
    • 122 of these were by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage. (39.35% #OwnVoices)
  • 216 had significant Latinx content/characters.
    • 73 of these were by Latinx authors and/or illustrators. (33.8% #OwnVoices)  
(Taken from the CCB Blog) 

The full study is more extensively reviewed on their website. Take a look at it please. 

In the rush to get more diversity in kidlit, a new phenomenon was born, that of the Sensitivity Reader. I was one myself, exclusively reading others' manuscripts with Latinx representation with so much demand for my services, that I put my own writing on the back burner for more than a year. My reasons for quitting being a Sensitivity Reader are echoed on this telling post by Justina Ireland, who previously had created a resource list for industry professionals listing a variety of cultural consultants (or sensitivity readers). In her post, she explains why she won't be promoting the "list" anymore or updating it. 

If we look at the diversity in not only the authors and illustrators ranks, but also agents, editors, reviewers, and book sellers, we'll see that there's still a long road to go. New York Times bestseller author, Dhonielle Clayton, recently expressed a wish that there were more Black women who could review her new book, The Belles. Based on the replies and the backlash to her tweet, it's blatantly obvious that her wish expressed a dire need for more representation on all levels of the publishing machine. 
Maybe our problem in kidlit (and literature and arts in general) has never been a need for more diverse books, but a need to decolonize our stories, as Junot Diaz explains in this interview from 2012. 

My friends, I don't have any answers or witty conclusions, but like I said earlier on my post, what do we do with the numbers we have? How do we best serve our readers from every culture and background better? 

If according to the CCB studies "A character in a picture book was 4 times more likely to be a dinosaur than an American Indian child," after all the push for diversity in the recent years, how is it best to proceed from now on? Where do we go from here?
Again, I don't have any answers, but being an immigrant, a Latina children's author living in the US, this issue touches me closely. It not only affects me professionally, but personally. Where are kids like my kids in kidlit? And when my kids do see themselves, what narrative are my children learning? Written by whom? I think about all these questions all the time. I'm eager to learn your thoughts.