As part of its diversity initiative, the Children’s Book Council and Children’s Books Boston sponsored a speed-dating program on May 14 called “A Place at the Table,” with 40 booksellers, librarians, publishing professionals, and educators. Simmons College’s Center for the Study of Literature hosted the event with six area authors and illustrators, who moved from table to table during the course of the evening and led discussions around a handful of questions designed to foster conversations about inclusiveness. A final exercise, suggested by librarian/diversity facilitator Sam Kane with Nashoba Brooks School in Concord, Mass., was to write down three action steps to take during the next three months.
The writers and illustrators were selected because of the diversity displayed in their work: Francesco X. Stork, who was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and whose protagonists are often Mexican-Americans; Anne Sibley O’Brien, who was raised by medical missionaries in South Korea and who has been involved in diversity education; Lesléa Newman, whose most recent book for teens is a novel-in-verse about Matthew Shepard’s murder, October Mourning (Candlewick); Susan Kuklin, who interviewed and photographed transgender teens in Beyond Magenta (Candlewick); Nicole Tadgell, who has illustrated more than 20 books, including the forthcoming Friends for Freedom (Charlesbridge, Sept.) by Suzanne Slade; and Richard Michelson, author of numerous books including As Good as Anybody (Knopf).
At some tables the conversation focused on how big retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Target may dictate how diverse covers look, how textbook publishers need to satisfy diversity concerns to get their books adopted in states like California and Texas, and whether what matters about diversity is that children have a chance to see themselves or to see others reflected in the books they read.
In order to make it a safe room, participants were asked not to quote anyone without permission. Without breaking that confidentiality, perhaps Stork summed up best why it’s important that children have access to inclusive literature: “I think the most important thing you can do in terms of inclusive literature is to have great literature.”