We at Third Place Books are committed to fighting systemic racism. Today we want to share one of our efforts to hold the publishing industry accountable in this fight as well.
For too long our children’s book buyers have noticed a dangerous trend in children's publishing where publishers are marketing diversity by simply putting a Black person on the cover even though the author/illustrator of these books is often white. We find this practice to be extremely deceptive to our customers who come in asking for diverse books and are given an inauthentic representation of diversity.
In hopes of promoting racial transparency and pushing for #OwnVoices in children's publishing, our children's book buyer penned a letter addressing these concerns while urging booksellers and book buyers to help put a stop to this practice. Please join us in letting our demands be heard and consider signing our open letter on change.org!
To the children’s publishing industry at large,
I am writing this letter to express my frustration at how the publishing industry has chosen to handle the lack of diversity in children’s literature.
I am a children’s book buyer who has had the privilege of working in this industry for over 20 years. With the current public outrage, we have seen a surge in requests for Black storytelling told by Black storytellers. My frustration stems not only from a severe lack of these particular books, but from the consistent release of Black stories from white authors and white illustrators in the last few years. I would perhaps not be so discouraged if these attempts at diversity did not feel so deceptive. If the publishers are so committed to pushing out these books, I should not have to jump through so many hoops to find out that the author is not Black. The fact that the book jacket does not make this information blatantly apparent indicates that the publishers are disingenuous in their contributions to true literary diversity.
An article published in the School Library Journal this past January reported results from the updated Diversity Baseline Survey completed by Lee & Low Publishers. The survey reflected that there has not been a significant change regarding diversity since 2015, the industry is still over 70% white. We need systematic changes starting with publishers emphasizing and valuing BIPOC creators and Own Voices throughout the publishing process. It is crucial to pay BIPOC authors and illustrators for authentic representations of their experiences and communities. We can't keep allowing the publishing industry to profit off of Blackness while saying "Black Lives Matter" if they refuse to make significant strides to actually hire Black creators.
My customers are demanding books that showcase Black voices. Thinking they are promoting Black authorship, they do not realize the book they are buying with a Black character on the front is actually written by a white author. This is especially apparent in the illustrated, graded, and early chapter book selections. Black children need to see themselves honestly portrayed within the covers of books, and they should not be shortchanged on this. While strides have been made within children’s and young adult literature, Black voices are still grossly underrepresented. I believe that a commitment not to buy books about Black protagonists written by white authors is a concrete step on a path to doing better for my customers from all backgrounds and the industry as a whole.
I, together with the undersigned, demand that these changes be made. Booksellers are on the frontline catering to what our customers ask for. We are committed to looking at what our publishing reps are asking ourselves to buy and asking ourselves how our buying choices uplift Own Voices. We are not necessarily removing books from our shelves. But moving forward, we are making a conscious effort to buy books that offer authentic representation. We ask that publishers understand and standards for transparency, diversity, equity, and inclusion to help bring about positive change in this industry.