Thursday, May 23, 2013

The whirlwind children's lit life

It's been a busy week or so in the Boston children's lit world, partly because of Children's Book Week and partly just because. Last Tuesday saw a mini-reunion of NESCBWI conference attendees at a YA panel at the Newton Free Library featuring Erin Dionne, Jo Knowles, and Gina Rosati. What struck me most besides the friendly atmosphere was how involved Newton-area teens seem to be in reading. They comprised a significant percentage of the audience, they'd read some of the authors' books for their book club, and it sounded like quite a few of them were aspiring writers. Cue the awwwwwws.

The next night, Charlesbridge and the Children's Book Council held a discussion entitled "Diversity on the Page, Behind the Pencil, and in the Office." I thought the event started a number of great discussion threads, and I mentioned to one of the organizers I'd love to see the discussion continue online, so I'll start here with one point that came to mind. One of the panelists pointed out that book purchases often depend on how we present the books - a book about runaway slaves can be presented as a story of courage, for instance, instead of as a story about the experience of an "other" group. I agree that this is the ideal, and in many cases, it does work well. For instance, we've had great success selling Anna Hibiscus as a funny chapter book about a girl's adventures with her big family, which by the way lives in "Africa, Amazing Africa." But what about a book like Drama? It's not immediately clear from the cover or the what-it's-about pitch (middle school stage crew! What's not to love?) that homosexuality plays a significant role in the plot, and we live in a world where some people are afraid of certain kinds of otherness. If the potential reader is young enough (say, under ten) that the book's innocent portrayal of gay preteens might raise questions, I feel I have to be honest about that with the customer; it doesn't help anything if he or she finds out later and thinks that liberal lady in the bookstore is trying to trick people into giving children books with an agenda. (To be fair, quite a few of our customers are absolutely fine and then some with giving their children books that have gay characters. But one can't assume, and I know there are parts of the country where it's a much bigger problem.) In any case, the event was well-attended by people from all facets of the industry, and it was great to see that so many people care about this issue or series of issues.

The PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Night was this past weekend; congratulations to winners Anna J. Boll and Katherine T. Quimby! Both are Vermont College grads, and it was sweet to see classmates standing up there together. Katherine's manuscript, in particular, tied in with points raised in Wednesday's diversity discussion. I hope both stories go far.

And last night was Kidlit Drink Night, where we talked about all of the above and more (over music that was too darn loud). A raffle of signed books raised over $150 for violence prevention with Boston teens, with the promise of further fundraising with the remaining books. Cool!

No wonder I'm behind on my reading.


  1. Shoshana! I have strong feelings about both Drama & Anna Hibiscus, haha - I honestly think that Drama can be billed as a book about discovering who you are. I think the point of the book for me is about the protagonist realizing that she only needs to be herself, regardless of whom she is or is not dating. & maybe she comes to that because there ARE no viable men to date, but I think regardless of whether or not people approve of lgbtq friendly books (and let's face it, mid-grade needs MORE of that), young people also need to learn that growing up is about discovering who you are, not partnering up. I love Drama. With all of my heart. I'm sorry about the run-ons & the fragments. All the feels.

  2. Oh, I agree! To me, very few good books are solely about who dances with whom, as it were. My only concern is that when I'm selling the book, I have to consider how the customer might feel. I might adore Drama and want to get it into as many young hands as possible, but if the lgbtq characters are likely to be a big deal to a customer, I need to make sure I don't lose his or her trust by appearing to try to sneak something in under the radar.