Last fall children’s booksellers in the Northern California Children’s Booksellers Alliance and the New England Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council challenged each other to see which region could sell the most diverse books in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This year that challenge is back.
In 2015, both associations chose one or two new releases with characters who are incidentally diverse. The idea, explained Summer Dawn Laurie, chair of NCCBA and children’s and YA specialist at the Laurel Village Books Inc., grew out of a conversation at BEA with then NECBA cochairs Sara Hines, owner of Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Mass., and Hannah Moushabeck, children’s department director at Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Mass., plus Lauren O’Neil, children’s book buyer at Booksmith in San Francisco.
“Lauren said that she was telling her reps that she wanted more diverse books, and she felt that she was talking to the wall,” Laurie recalled. Aware of the excitement that had surrounded the bookseller competition to see who could sell the most copies of Varian Johnson’s The Great Greene Heist (Scholastic/Levine) in spring 2014, Laurie thought that a challenge would be a “perfect thing” for NCCBA to take on and to get publishers’ attention during the holidays. Hines and Moushabeck, who has since joined Chronicle Books, agreed.
For the inaugural year West Coasters picked Jim Averbeck’s picture book One Word from Sophia (S&S/Atheneum), illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail, about a girl with a diverse family who wants a pet giraffe; and Dana Alison Levy’s chapter book The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher (Delacorte), about a family with two dads and four racially diverse adopted sons.
New Englanders along with a few children’s booksellers in the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association handsold Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop on Market Street (Putnam), illustrated by Christian Robinson, which follows an African-American boy and his grandmother on their ride through town after church. His book went on to win the 2016 Newbery Medal and a Caldecott Honor.
Neither region claimed victory in 2015. It was clear that the biggest winners were the readers on both coasts who were introduced to books they might not otherwise have discovered.
New Rules for 2016
The Windows & Mirrors diverse book challenge between NCCBA and NECBA may be on for the 2016 holiday season, but the rules of engagement have changed slightly. The selling part of the competition is among the stores in Northern California, which are more numerous and closer geographically than those in the East. New England booksellers are focusing on integrating more diverse books into their holiday handsells. The goal, however, remains the same as at that initial conversation: to prove to publishers that booksellers can and will sell diverse books.
On the West Coast, bookstores are being asked to get behind either Andrea Beaty’s picture book Ada Twist, Scientist, illustrated by David Roberts (Abrams), or Jewell Parker Rhodes’s middle grade novel Towers Falling (Little, Brown). Some stores, like Hicklebee’s, have already begun promoting both. Late last month the San Jose bookstore sent out an e-mail newsletter featuring both titles under the header “two diverse books we love.”
On the East Coast, booksellers settled on eight titles, which better suits their decision to create a resource for diverse books. Ada Twist, Scientist was the only overlapping title between the two groups. The other NECBA selections include: F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell’s Maybe Something Beautiful (HMH), illustrated by Rafael Lopez; Erin Entrada Kelly’s The Land of Forgotten Girls (Greenwillow); Jason Reynolds’s Ghost (Atheneum/Dlouhy); Nadia Hashimi’s One Half from the East (HarperCollins); Laurie Halse Anderson’s Ashes (Atheneum/Dlouhy); Corinne Duyvis’s On the Edge of Gone (Abrams); and Stacey Lee’s Outrun the Moon (Putnam). A number of diverse books are also part of NECBA’s list of 79 “hot titles” for 2016, which was released at the trade show in mid-September.
“I was really pleased with [the list],” said NECBA co-chair Hines, who plans to put many of the titles in her store’s holiday window display, which will go up in mid-November. “We’re not telling booksellers what to do with it. Some stores will use the whole list; some stores will pick one book. It’s not about sales. We’re seeing the list more as a resource.” To make sure that resource is as comprehensive as possible in just a few books, NECBA had the folks behind We Need Diverse Books review it to see if there was anything that they had missed.
Alex Schaffner, a children’s bookseller at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass., who served as secretary for the NECBA diversity committee, said that her store will include picture books in its picture book display and try to include as many other Windows & Mirrors selections as possible in the store’s blog.
In the future, the NECBA committee would like to create a longer permanent list and provide more resources for booksellers, said Schaffner, who acknowledged that the project is still very small this year. Hines would like to grow it by having other regional associations adopt the Windows & Mirrors project for their stores.
Laurie considers it important to continue Windows & Mirrors annually. But she would like to see it expand to two seasons. She’d also like to see more unpublished diverse books get large pre-emptive bids from publishers. In the meantime Laurie said that she’s already seeing the program make a difference. Her store now has a permanent display space for Windows & Mirrors books, and some teachers and parents are beginning to ask specifically for diverse books.