A group of children’s book authors and illustrators is marking Women’s History Month this month by spotlighting on social media under the hashtag #kidlitwomen the social and gender inequities in the children’s literature community. Throughout the month of March, all members of the children’s book community are encouraged to not just celebrate authors and illustrators whose achievements have been previously overlooked, but also to consider solutions for eradicating social and gender inequality in the industry.
According to the initiative’s organizers, author-illustrator Grace Lin and author Karen Blumenthal, who set up the Kidlitwomen Facebook page, and the Twitter hashtag, #kidlitwomen, the goal is to “call attention to the gender inequalities of the children’s literature community, uplifting those who have not received their due, and finding solutions to reach equality for all.”
In an open letter posted on Facebook, Lin writes that she and Blumenthal conceived of #Kidlitwomen more than a month ago, while conversing with a group of male and female industry colleagues. “Our children’s literature community, a community that preaches to children about kindness and fairness, is egregiously not fair,” she wrote, pointing out that many people inside the industry treat male authors like “rock stars,” or they pass on suggesting a “girl’s” book for a boy reader, or they minimize the concerns of people of color in the industry.
“What have you done or encouraged or defended that you feel uncomfortable about?” Lin wrote. “We cannot cast blame only on organizations or demand that publishers shoulder all of the responsibility. By being a part of this community, we are all also part of the problem. But with that, we are all also part of the solution.”
In an email, Blumenthal recalled that Lin “really pushed [their colleagues] to think about solutions and not just complain.” Coincidentally, author Anne Ursu published in February a survey about sexual harassment in the children’s book industry, “which made this more timely.”
“We want to take the discussions out from quiet kitchen tables and private rooms,” Lin wrote in an email to PW. “We’ve talked enough in secret. If anything is going to change we have to start bringing everything out in the open. Luckily, the internet gives us the tools to do that. But more importantly, we need to go beyond the talk.”
Blumenthal added, “One of the reasons these issues have festered for a long time is that authors and illustrators work independently. Many of us are in communities where there are few published children’s authors or illustrators. It’s difficult to even start this kind of conversation outside of a small group. Social media can be pretty crazy, but as we have seen lately, it can provide a platform for a group of passionate people to be heard.”
It was author Meg Medina, Lin told PW, who suggested that they use Women’s History Month as an opportunity to promote the changes they want to see in the industry. “This idea to fill the month with posts, tweets, and essays with the gender concerns was born,” Lin said. “Many people were involved in its origin; this is definitely not one woman’s initiative.”
Kidlitwomen already has more than 2,500 Facebook followers, and there has been a steady stream of comments posted on Twitter with the hashtag, ranging from author Tom Angleberger urging other men to practice “less reply and more RT, dudes,” to a lively discussion of the racial/ethnic breakdown of Caldecott winners that was prompted by illustrator Christine Taylor-Butler’s blog in which she revealed that no woman of color has ever won the Caldecott. A number of prominent authors and illustrators are writing blogs that they are linking to #Kidlitwomen, with one by a different author or illustrator being published each day this month.
The first blog, posted on March 1, was written by author Shannon Hale, who narrated her experiences going into schools to talk about her books, which have such titles as The Princess Academy, and being confronted with the internalized misogyny of teachers, which inevitably percolates down to students. March 5’s blog was written by Medina on the subject of dealing with money as a female author and as a woman of color who grew up working class.
Lin and Blumenthal didn’t say if #Kidlitwomen will continue after March 31, although, they both insist, the conversations about disparities and challenges will continue—aided, no doubt by illustrator Mishka Jaeger’s collecting the daily #Kidlitwomen blogs and posting them on her website.