The Brown Bookshelf, an organization that works to increase awareness of the work of contemporary Black children’s authors and illustrators, issued a call to action on Monday, demanding that decision-makers in the children’s book community “assess and change traditional practices that marginalize the work of Black children’s literature creatives.”
Black children’s book authors and illustrators tweeted their support for this call to action all day on Monday by tagging their publishers and agents with the hashtag #BrownBookShelfUnited. As of Thursday afternoon, there were just over 100,000 Twitter impressions.
According to Brown Bookshelf co-founder Paula Chase, the organization was inspired to issue this call to action after hosting the Kid Lit Rally 4 Black Lives virtual event on June 4 led by Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds, and Jacqueline Woodson, which aimed to provide a safe space to empower children while educating them about race and racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. “After years of speaking to parents, librarians and educators,” Chase said in a statement sent to PW, “We realized it was time to go directly to the publishers and those responsible for promoting, distributing, and selling books and ask them to do the work that will strip practices that have worked against Black creatives.”
A steering committee of Black children’s authors and publishers is spearheading the initiative: Chase and Brown Bookshelf contributors Kelly Starling Lyons and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich; Just Us Books founders Cheryl Willis Hudson and Wade Hudson; and author Renée Watson. The committee has issued a set of demands in conjunction with the call to action. Publishers are asked to prioritize the work of midlist authors and illustrators through “significant and sustained investment of financial and other resources”; collaborate with constituencies in the Black children’s literature community, including Black media/social media influencers, conference coordinators, festival directors, booksellers, educators/librarians, marketing professionals, and book reviewers; and revise hiring practices to increase the number of Black people in publishing “at every level.”
“As in other areas of our society,” Wade and Cheryl Hudson wrote in a joint statement, “racial disparities and unequal treatment of Black book creators and other book creators of color plague the children’s book publishing industry. These disparities must be addressed.”
Rhuday-Perkovich added, “We already know that great things happen when Black creators are empowered in other media, and children’s publishing must be a part of that positive change. I think of Lucille Clifton’s words: ‘You might as well answer the door… the truth is furiously knocking.’ ”