When Eileen Robinson was a child, she read anything she could get her hands on. “I had the Childcraft encyclopedia set and Young Miss magazine, and later I sat behind the stacks devouring Judy Blume,” Robinson
says. “And I loved them all.”
But it wasn’t until later in life that she realized something had been missing from the library of books available to her: there were few if any Black characters—no one who looked like her. “I didn’t realize that being unable to see myself in what I read might have an impact on who I would become,” she says. “Now I do, and I’m fixing it for other children.”
When Robinson founded Move Books, she wasn’t just thinking about her own reading experiences as a child. In fact, one of the goals of Move Books is to appeal to boys who haven’t yet caught the reading bug—or who haven’t yet found themselves reflected in books. Robinson’s own son struggled with reading. He had a breakthrough, however, when he found a story and characters that clicked.
Move Books publishes titles that are fun and adventure-filled, many featuring characters from diverse backgrounds. Robinson believes that children’s books must represent a breadth of identities and experiences in the world. “It’s important that books incorporate themes that show more than just pain and victimhood,” she says. “Children need to be seen as joyful and multidimensional. Readers need to know that everyone is different and that’s okay. Even white children don’t always fit in with societal expectations, so you’ll see them here too—the ones who can triumph because their quirks and fears are the source of their own superpowers.”
Robinson believes Move Books wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for those who came before, such as African American publisher Just Us Books, which is run by Wade and Cheryl Hudson, who have been publishing children’s books since the late ‘60s. And she has partnered with numerous authors to create books that adhere to Move’s vision of inclusivity and joyful reading, including Paul Greci and Christine Taylor-Butler, whose The Lost Tribes series centers around a group of five multicultural friends who become embroiled in an incident involving ancient artifacts.
Butler, like Robinson, was aware of the dearth of enticing stories for young readers—particularly books featuring what Butler calls “Black joy”—and decided to take action. “Christine saw the absence of diversity firsthand in the books her daughters were reading,” says Robinson, who worked with Butler at Scholastic and was familiar with her writing. “When I went out on my own, we began talking about her science fiction/adventure series. The protagonists are everyday kids readers can relate to, but at the same time, there is a backdrop of culture that’s infused into the story, a source of their various strengths and abilities.”
The books also acknowledge that while relationships are not always easy, overcoming and embracing differences makes everyone stronger. “The Lost Tribes series resonates because it employs kids of color that get to have an epic adventure that’s not race-based,” Robinson says. “There are a lot of misunderstandings, and the characters don’t initially respect each other, but through adversity they find common ground to work through the puzzles they encounter. The Lost Tribes really destroys the stereotype that white kids won’t read books about kids of color. It’s a hero’s story.”
In addition to the publication of book three of The Lost Tribes series and the second book, Follow the River, in Paul Greci’s Surviving Bear Island series, Move Books is publishing its first title by William Thomas, HUM, a fantasy about a child who learns the language of llamas—plus two other stand-alone multicultural titles. And more Move Books are on the horizon.
The real proof of a book’s appeal lies in the responses of its readers. Robinson couldn’t be more pleased with the feedback she’s received from fans of Move Books. “A librarian tweeted that one of her students was devouring The Lost Tribes series and had doubled his reading score,” Robinson says. “Another wrote that she had a student who struggled with focus but his parents found him reading Tribes when he was supposed to be sleeping.” Bringing the joy of diverse reading to the next generation is Robinson’s idea of the very best kind of return on investment not only for Move Books but, more importantly, for readers.