There is no deficit of passion among leaders in the publishing industry on the subject of the lack of diversity in children’s books. Writers, editors, librarians, booksellers, and agents, along with organizations like We Need Diverse Books, are creatively attacking the problem. It’s the duty of everyone involved to confront the problem. Kirkus’ contribution is a new initiative called Kirkus Collections.
We all know all children need diverse books, white, straight, cis, nondisabled children just as much as their too-often-erased, too-often-dehumanized peers. But how can librarians find them? Standard subject headings may help them find books about the Underground Railroad, about the Trail of Tears, about Executive Order 9066, about Stonewall—but what about black kids, Native kids, Asian-American kids, LGBTQIAP kids just living their lives, whether here in the United States or in outer space? This is the need Kirkus Collections hopes to help librarians meet.
Kirkus Collections begins with positive Kirkus reviews of books with diverse content, which have been checked against resources such as Disability in KidLit, Latinxs in Kid Lit, and American Indians in Children’s Literature and also reviewed by experts in the various categories in order to identify those books that meet current standards of sensitivity and respect. To those reviews we have applied metadata to capture both marginalized identities and basic genre and format information. We have used this metadata in various combinations to curate lists: “Black & Disabled”; “Latinx Read-Alouds”; “LGBTQIAP Love Stories”; “Teen Romance with Male Asian Love Interests” (a small but, we hope, growing collection that may provide some redress of the wrongs wrought by Long Duk Dong and others of his ilk).
These lists are further refined with a filter that indicates a reader’s experience: learning, identification, or inclusion. A “learning” book is one where an issue associated with an identity is foremost: Hena Khan’s Amina’s Voice, in which talented Pakistani-American pianist Amina grapples with Islamophobia in the community and her religious uncle’s suggestion that her music is forbidden by Islam, is a learning book, as is Alex Gino’s George, in which the title character learns how to articulate her true, girl self. An “identification” book is one in which a character’s identity forms a cultural backdrop for the story that is inextricably intertwined with that identity. Valynn E. Maetani’s thriller Ink and Ashes, in which Japanese-American Claire finds her family endangered by figures from her father’s yakuza past, is one such; another is Look Up!, by Jung Jin-Ho, in which a child who uses a wheelchair makes a connection with another child in the city square below her apartment. And an “inclusion” book places a diverse character at the fore of a story that is not dependent on their identity. Trace Chee’s fantasy The Reader, which creates a world that is racially diverse and gives its protagonist East Asian features, provides an experience of inclusion, as does Gaia Cornwall’s Jabari Jumps, a picture book about a little black boy who conquers the diving board at the local pool.
To launch Kirkus Collections, we are partnering with Baker & Taylor, whose robust, already-established relationships with public libraries will facilitate distribution. Librarians who are clients will find Kirkus Collections available in TS 360, its ordering interface, and can use it to further diversify their collections in fell swoops rather than bit by bit. In order to help librarians promote their new acquisitions, we have created an outreach tool kit they can use, free of charge. We hope that soon all children all across America will find a slew of new mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors in their local libraries. Be sure to check out the essays by leading writers and diversity leaders that we’ll be publishing for the next month.
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