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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Promoting Diverse Books

Last week I, like many of you, watched the announcements of the American Library Association's Youth Media Awards via twitter or live streaming.  I always get excited about these announcements, thrilled when favorites win, and fascinated to see what rose to the top for people who took the time to carefully consider, discuss, and re-read (listen or watch).

This year, I was especially excited to see what a diverse list won awards.  In the Newbery category, as many have pointed out, all three books honored include diverse protagonists (Crossover by Kwame Alexander, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson and El Deafo by Cece Bell).  Because we live in a less populous area of the country, our numbers are smaller across the board, including fewer people of color, fewer GLBTQ kids/families, fewer people with disabilities.  Sometimes librarians find that titles with diverse characters go out less frequently than other titles, and some librarians have a hard time putting their limited budgets into materials they don't expect to see circulating.

It is crucial to purchase these titles.  It is important for the kids and families who don't fit the dominant culture to be able to see themselves in the literature we provide for them, and it is also important for kids from dominant culture to see outside that.  There are so many things to promote about a good book--El Deafo not only deals with a girl coming to terms with her profound hearing loss, it is also about dealing with bossy friends, crushes, and sibling rivalry.  Plus, it's a funny and charming graphic novel.  The Crossover is about an African American basketball star, so great sports story, with plenty of family dynamics and accessible poems.

Sometimes, especially for those of us in the rural Midwest, we need to be extra-conscious of promoting these titles.There are many ways to promote a book.  Creating a list of books about sports?  Include The Crossover.  Creating a list about friendships?  Include El Deafo.  Booktalking to a group of fifth-graders?  Include both titles (plus Brown Girl Dreaming) in the mix.  Storytime?  Be sure to look for diverse books to round out the ranks.  It's best practice, and it's our job!

For a thought-provoking piece of writing about this, check out Amy Koester's Selection is Privilege post in her Show Me Librarian blog.

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