While diversity in hiring was a key theme of the first full day of programming Children’s Institute, held in Portland, Ore., from April 5–7, the need for young people to have diverse books was central to the conference's close.
“I don’t see no point [sic] in formality among family,” Jason Reynolds, author of Long Way Down (Atheneum/Dlouhy, Oct.), said in a breakfast keynote that went on to appeal to his bookselling family not to neglect books that speak to children like he was in Washington, D.C.
A prolific writer today, Reynolds gave up on books from the time he was nine years old until he went to college and took a job with Karibu Books. The store, which has since closed, was located in his D.C. neighborhood and stocked African-American literature—and Harry Potter. Instead of reading books, Reynolds, who grew up in the 1980s, listened to rap, read liner notes in albums, and wrote poetry.
The work of rappers spoke more directly to him than books like To Kill a Mockingbird or Moby-Dick.“Rappers are the white authors of our generation. They know me, my language, my codes, my family, my block,” Reynolds said. Unlike his friends, who wanted to be one of the Michaels (Jackson, Jordan, or Tyson), his idol was Queen Latifah until his friend Christopher Myers suggested that he try putting his own tongue on the paper.
Twelve-year-old Marley Dias, who launched the #1000BlackGirlBooks drive and has amassed more than 9,000 books on books focused on black girls, which she has donated to students and to school libraries, spoke in conversation with Suzanna Hermans, co-owner of Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, N.Y.
Dias used her talk as an opportunity to request that booksellers connect more with schools and make available black girl books, including ones from self-published authors. Dias’s own book, Marley Dias Gets It Done and So Can You! (Scholastic, Jan. 2018), encourages other kids to do what she has done and follow their passion, whether it be books, sports, or something else entirely.
In the final keynote of the conference, Rachel Ignotofsky, author of Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World (10 Speed), spoke out against institutionalized sexism and the lack of accessible material about women in science are particularly concerning. “We have to make sure that no one’s brain power is left to the side,” she said.
The message of diversity delivered by Reynolds Ignotofsky, and Dias, part of a new generation of writers, was especially welcome to a new generation of booksellers attending the institute. More than half of the 240 booksellers from 160 bookstores were first-timers—from Jody Brenerman, who with her brothers is in the midst of transitioning their family’s toy store, G. Willikers in Portsmouth, N.H., into a bookstore, to Amy Hesselink, who manages La Playa Books in San Diego, Calif., which opened in October, and Noëlle Santos, who is readying The Lit. Bar, which could open in the Bronx, N.Y., as early as this fall.
“As is very clear here at the Children’s Institute,” ABA CEO Oren Teicher said, “a new generation of booksellers are contributing essential new ideas and perspectives.” Looking out over the booksellers gathered at the post-CI 5 trivia party, a closing round of trivia, Teicher added, “It’s been a great three days. But when you see all these new stores, all these new people, these are the future. This new generation, these new stores, are bringing a sense of energy. It makes me very confident in our future.”
No date or location has been set for next year’s Children’s Institute.