Wednesday, April 30, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks. It's kind of a big deal.

Just a quick note to say how proud I am of the children's lit community right about now. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign officially starts tomorrow, and people are so excited that it's already trending. I think part of what's made it so difficult to get major publisher support behind books about underrepresented groups is that many of those books have felt like homework assignments. I love historical fiction, including historical fiction about difficult times and places, but it's not my "this is fun!" side that loves it. Having this important discussion in a casual place like Twitter adds to the sense that this topic is not all academic, not all depressing, and definitely not all about the past.

How come my Twitter feed added 30 new tweets in the time it took to write that paragraph? Oh, that's right, it's because of that crazy-popular hashtag.

(Join us. Join us. Join us.)

On a somewhat related note, hope to see many of you at NESCBWI this weekend! Even if you're all attached to your phones.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Fault in Our Starmakers

(Expands upon a comment to Laurie Halse Anderson's post, shared by Jo Knowles.)

I've been pretty conflicted about the whole John Green controversy. To summarize said controversy: in any given week in at least the past few months, John Green has held a huge number of the top slots on the YA bestseller lists. Often, other slots go to authors he has mentioned on his blog or otherwise promoted. John Green is a straight cis white male, and most of his main characters fit into most or all of those categories.

My conflict: these complaints come from a place I respect. As you probably realize if you've read this blog before, it is very important to me that literature for young people and otherwise represent people who are not straight, not cis, not white, and/or not male. But at the same time, I respect John Green. I enjoy his work, I can't in all honesty deny that I'm at least a little bit of a nerdfighter, and I can't imagine he'd disagree that it's important to show characters who are not straight, not cis, not white, and/or not male. Becoming anti-John Green doesn't feel right to me, but neither does dismissing the representation concerns.

Here's the view I think I've settled on, and it's quite similar to Laurie Halse Anderson's: John Green is one of many good YA authors. (To add to LHA's impressive list: Sara Farizan! Benjamin Alire Saenz! Walter Dean Myers! e.E. Charlton-Trujillo! Nova Ren Suma! Jo Knowles! Laurie Halse Anderson!) And JG does write outside his own experience. Hazel Grace is a notable exception to the "male" category and is also a well-rounded portrayal of someone with a significant illness. One of the two Will Graysons is an exception to the "straight" category; yes, the wonderful David Levithan wrote half that novel, but I bet JG's involvement helped it reach many of its readers.

The problem is that when the mainstream media, especially the media outside of exclusively kid/yalit outlets, focuses so much attention on one author, it puts pressure on that author to be the answer to all of YA's problems. It's not necessarily JG's job to check off every representation box. It's The Damn Media's job, and it's our job as gatekeepers, to show the public how many choices are out there.

ETA: It was pointed out to me that many writers simply feel uncomfortable writing about the experiences of other races, which I think is reasonable. I've made some very tentative attempts at it in my own writing and hope to do more, but I'll admit that I second-guess myself constantly. To my mind, this is another reason why it should not be on one writer's shoulders to represent everyone who needs to be represented; it's also a good reason that we need to pay attention to a variety of writers.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Make way for confessions.

Okay, fine. There’s no trilogy in the works to my knowledge, and I guess Make Way for Ducklings can survive as a standalone. While we’re at it, Twitter friends, I am quite seriously excited to hear Norton Juster speak at the BPL tonight, but the Phantom Tollbooth sequel is Justerumor.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

I guess this was inevitable.

We all know that adults are reading YA. (Look at the "Age of YA Book Buyers" chart here: the largest chunk is a demographic that basically includes neither teens nor parents of teens.) We know that many of these crossover readers like suspense, and they, or the publishers catering to them, like trilogies. But it didn't occur to me until I saw the first galley today that publishers would take this knowledge a step further. Several steps, even - all the way into the picture book section.

Make Way for Ducklings is a standby everywhere, and it's a huge seller in the Boston area; at our store, at least, it's consistently the best-selling picturebook. I can't even imagine how sales will skyrocket once the push begins for the two sequels: The Ducklings Are Coming, The Ducklings Are Coming (Fall '14) and Seriously, Get Out of the Ducklings' Way (Spring '15). Drunk on the power of stopping traffic (not an unremarkable achievement - have you seen Beacon Street at rush hour?), the ducklings take over Boston. They convert the Swan Boats into Duck Boats, Fenway Park into Fenway Pond, and the Sam Adams Brewery into a bakery just for the bread crusts. Prolific author James Patterson, whose name will be on the project, promises that the whole trilogy will be appropriate for young children, but I'll be reviewing the galley of that last book carefully when it's available so I can help customers make informed decisions. Rumor has it someone tries to whack Oack.

Casting has begun for the first movie. Idina Menzel will be the voice of Mrs. Mallard, and I'm really hoping there'll be a show-stopping number called "Let Us Go."