Diversity was a watchword at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association fall trade show, held October 8–10 at Portland’s Red Lion Hotel on the River. “More diverse representation in kids’ and YA books has been more out in force here,” said Sam Kaas of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Wash., who is PNBA’s Education Committee chair. PNBA’s three-day event kicked off with a bookseller panel, “Beyond the Bookstore Walls: Multicultural Outreach in the Literary Community.”
Rosanne Parry, bookseller at Annie Bloom’s Books and author of award-winning middle grade and YA novels, said her bookstore community is more diverse than it used to be. Located in Southwest Portland, the bookstore has catered for years to its significant Jewish readership. Now, Parry said, Annie Bloom’s is trying to meet the needs of its newest readers: Muslims, refugees from Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, and members of the LGBTQ community. (The nearby library recently hired a Somali-speaking librarian.)
Parry has had to rethink what a given buyer might want. She tells the story of Caucasian grandparents searching for books with children of color on their covers. “ ‘Oh!’ ” Parry said they exclaim. “ ‘That looks just like my grandson. And my grandson loved this book. Do you have more like it?’ ” She said, “Even our white customers are more diverse than we think.”
Diversity encompasses skin color, gender, intellectual capacity, sexual orientation, differently abled individuals, and more. Readers are clamoring for more than characters who are white and male. As Annie Carl, a Bothel, Wash., bookseller who struggles with a spinal birth defect put it, “Disabilities are the last thing to come into any diversity discussion. I never saw myself in books.”
According to Emily Adams of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Wash., Yak & Dove by Kyo Maclear (Tundra), a pick in PNBA’s holiday catalog, is a great example of what young readers—and those who read to them—are after. The story explores two creatures who look and act quite different from one another but share similar interests.
Also trending are books like those by Asia Citro. In books like Zoey and Sassafras: Dragons & Marshmallows (Innovation Press), she writes about Zoey, a grade school girl of color who loves to create and journal about science experiments. Citro, who is white and a science teacher as well as a kids’ book author in Olympia, Wash., said the majority of U.S. kids no longer are white. Yet, she said, that statistic isn’t mirrored in children’s books. “Zoey is black and so is her family. She’s just a black kid,” Citro said of her main character.
YA books also explore many of today’s tough topics, said Colleen Conway, a Pacific Northwest rep with Penguin Young Readers. They represent “some of the best writing out there, period,” and, she added, “they’re a really good way to start the conversation” about difficult subjects.
She and colleague Nic Dufort recommended book after book that teens—and adults— should be reading, such as The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore, and Dear Martin by Nic Stone, both of which explore race, race relations, and much more. Chris Satterlund, a district sales manager for Scholastic (“My territory is Alaska to Nebraska,” she quipped), said that these days, books for middle graders and teens are no longer just all about vampires or mystical beasts. Social issues abound.”
Refugee by Alan Gratz, for example, “should be in the hand of every fourth grader,” Satterlund said. “It’s the Diary of Anne Frank of this generation, and I don’t say that lightly.” Francis X. Stork’s Disappeared tackles a kidnapping across the Mexican-American border. And The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah delves into the refugee experience, immigration, and Muslim issues. Satterlund pointed, too, to debut author Kheryn Callender’s middle-grade novel Hurricane Child. The author is from the U.S. Virgin Islands and uses magical realism to write about the power of friendship.
Traci Chee, author of The Speaker (Putnam), book two in her Asian-inspired fantasy Ink and Gold trilogy, writes of a heroine on the run while trying to unlock the secrets of a book left to her by her murdered father. She introduced her book during an evening “Feast of Authors” event to rapt diners.
Books for kids covering topics other than diversity also were in abundance at PNBA’s trade show. “We need diverse books, yes,” Satterlund said. “But we also need universal things, not things that divide us,” she said with a nod toward both the current political climate and all things diversity.
For example, Caldecott Honor author Peter Sís regaled a breakfast audience about his latest picture book, Robinson (Scholastic Press). It’s a blue-and-green-hued adventure whose main character learns courage and acceptance through the magic of literature.
And for Oregon State University Press (the only university press in the state), its children’s book program relies on fiction to help teach about, say, old-growth forests, with an eye toward the Common Core curriculum, explained marketing manager Marty Brown. She cited award winners Ricky’s Atlas: Mapping a Land on Fire and Ellie’s Log: Exploring the Forest Where the Great Tree Fell, both by Judith L. Li, as examples.
Then there’s the immortal Harry Potter and all that J.K. Rowling has inspired, such as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, illustrated by breakout artist Olivia Lomenech Gill (Scholastic). “Harry,” said Satterlund with a smile, “Harry is evergreen.”