Sunday, July 26, 2009

It's Sunday Brunch Time. Deal with It!

Among other topics, today's Sunday brunch looks at a couple controversial issues in books for young readers and asks where and when you like to read.


Yesterday I woke up early and discovered it was raining. I immediately grabbed a couple books and got back into bed. Is there anything better than reading in bed on a rainy Saturday morning?

Unfortunately, I’d barely read half a page before I fell back to sleep -- and when I rewoke an hour later, the rain had stopped, the sun was blazing down, and I needed to get up and attend to other things.

But it got me thinking about favorite times and places for reading.

When I was a kid, I used to love laying on the floor reading with my feet pressed against the heating vents during the winter.

Our neighbors had a storage space just under the peaked roof of their garage and sometimes we would climb up there to play. The space was only a few feet long and maybe a couple feet wide, with just enough light coming through the grimy octagonal-shaped window to read by. It seemed so quiet and remote, sitting high up over the neighborhood reading a book. It’s been decades, but sometimes I wish I could head back there now with a book.

In the past, I really loved reading in the bathtub -- but too many books accidentally dropping into the water (especially one particular signed first edition disabused me of that habit.

Now I read a lot while eating out in restaurants -- fork in right hand, book in left.

And of course I love to read before falling asleep at night, although the older I get, the harder it is to remain awake. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve suddenly been awakened by the book in my hand crashing down on my face. No black eyes yet, but I think I’m getting a permanent dent (shaped exactly like the corner of a hardcover book) in the middle of my forehead.

What are your favorite times and places for reading?


Take a look at the cover of Justine Larbalestier’s soon-to-be-released young adult novel, LIAR.

I suspect that, after the early printings, this cover illustration will be changed. That’s my prediction based on the recent uproar regarding this photographic image which, as several readers of the ARC (advance reading copy) have pointed out, does not accurately reflect the character described in the book. The protagonist of LIAR is biracial and said to have short and “nappy” hair. Ms. Larbalestier addressed the controversy in a recent blog, stating that while she’s generally very happy with her publisher, Bloomsbury, she does not like the cover illustration they selected.

She then broadens the discussion with these thought-provoking remarks:

Every year at every publishing house, intentionally and unintentionally, there are white-washed covers. Since I’ve told publishing friends how upset I am with my Liar cover, I have been hearing anecdotes from every single house about how hard it is to push through covers with people of colour on them. Editors have told me that their sales departments say black covers don’t sell. Sales reps have told me that many of their accounts won’t take books with black covers. Booksellers have told me that they can’t give away YAs with black covers. Authors have told me that their books with black covers are frequently not shelved in the same part of the library as other YA—they’re exiled to the Urban Fiction section—and many bookshops simply don’t stock them at all. How welcome is a black teen going to feel in the YA section when all the covers are white? Why would she pick up Liar when it has a cover that so explicitly excludes her?

Well, why continue quoting, when you go to her blog and read her entire take on the issue as well as over two hundred insightful comments from readers.

I think this is the kind of discussion that sheds light on a mostly unspoken topic and could lead to some permanent and positive changes in the publishing industry. It certainly made me start thinking about covers of other books in which an illustration didn’t match the race of the protagonist. Chris Crutcher’s WHALE TALK comes to mind. Heck, even characters described as overweight or bespectacled often aren’t depicted that way on book covers.

This makes me appreciate all the more a book such as the just-published LIBYRINTH by Pearl North which features a compelling cover portrait of a character whose race is not, I believe, explicitly stated in the text:

...In other news, Justine Larbalestier's publisher, Bloomsbury, is said to be preparing a new biography of our nation’s current president and first lady:


Since we’re discussing controversial issues, I guess I might as well add another “hot topic” into the mix.

I don’t subscribe to the Horn Book Magazine, but I do occasionally see some of their articles distributed free on listserves or printed on their website. This past week there has been a lot of talk about a Horn Book opinion piece by Nikki Grimes, which asks “why can’t the Caldecott committee see its way clear to give the Caldecott Medal to an individual artist of African descent?” You can read the entire article here. I always enjoy an article that attempts to stir the status quo and I think that Ms. Grimes makes some intriguing points. The only thing that bothers me right now is the timing of the article. Over the past couple months I have been hearing reports about Jerry Pinkney’s forthcoming wordless picture book THE LION AND MOUSE, which has been described to me as “breath-taking,” “Pinkney’s best ever” and “The book which will finally win Jerry Pinkney the Caldecott!”

Ms. Grimes’ article is appearing just weeks before the publication of Mr. Pinkney’s book and now I wonder if the article will help or hurt the chances of THE LION AND THE MOUSE winning the Caldecott.

While it’s true that award committees are not supposed to take these types of outside considerations into the deliberations room with them, is that humanly possible? (And why write or publish such an article if it’s not meant to sway opinions?) The question is, will this article HELP Mr. Pinkney’s chances of winning or -- if the Caldecott jury is feeling contrary -- could it end up hurting him?

I’m reminded of the incident many years ago when four dozen authors and scholars sent an open letter to the New York Times stating that Toni Morrison deserved to win the National Book Award and/or Pulitzer Prize for her novel BELOVED. She ended up losing the NBA and winning the Pulitzer. Obviously no one can question Ms. Morrison’s supreme talent; she would later win the Nobel Prize for Literature. ...But I wonder how that letter impacted her shot of winning the NBA or Pulitzer. Did she ever ponder whether it prevented her chances with a "Nobody Tells Us What To Do" NBA jury? Even worse, did she ever wake up in the small hours wondering if BELOVED would have, could have, won the Pulitzer on its own merits, without the intervention of outside forces?


The big comics convention was held in San Diego this weekend. I bring this up only to note how the worlds of children’s books and comics have changed over the years. At one time they were considered to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. Some even considered comic books to be the “enemy” of children's literature. Now the two genres seem to have found some middle ground in the booming field of graphic novels. When the Printz Award for young adult literature was conceived, who could have predicted that it would someday go to a graphic novel (AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang, in 2007) or that a writer would pick up his Newbery Medal at ALA...and then be an honored guest at the Comic-Con two weeks later, as Neil Gaiman did this year? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a few children’s book editors didn’t make their way to San Diego this weekend to fish for talent.


Earlier in this blog I used LIBYRINTH by Pearl North (a pseudonym for Michigan author Ann Harris) as an example of a current hardcover book for young readers that features a person of color on the cover. When looking for pictures of that cover online, I actually came across two different versions. I thought they might be the American and British editions, but that does not appear to be the case. Now I am wondering if the second copy is a variant that was considered and dropped before the final decision was made. Does anyone know?

It's very interesting to compare the two. Not only has the protagonist gained a little friend on her shoulder, but in the actual final cover, her complexion is lighter, her hair is more luxuriant, she exposes more skin, and her eyes are shut.

I wonder what all this means....


In last Sunday’s blog I featured three titles called DEALING WITH BEING THE OLDEST CHILD IN YOUR FAMILY, DEALING WITH BEING THE MIDDLE CHILD IN YOUR FAMILY, and DEALING WITH BEING THE YOUNGEST CHILD IN YOUR FAMILY. School Library Journal blogger, Fuse #8, wrote in to say her “favorite” book in this series from Rosen Publishing was DEALING WITH PARENTS WHO ARE ACTIVISTS.

Who knew?

This got me checking around to find some of the other titles in the series. These are just some of them:


...I can’t tell you how many of these books I could use on a daily basis!


I’ve just learned of two children’s reading campaigns that are worth knowing about.

From July 1 through August 31, Macy’s is running a “Book a Brighter Future” campaign. A $3 donation gets you $10 discount on a $50 in-store purchase at Macy’s. And the three donated dollars will go to Reading is Fundamental.

Also, the children’s singing group The Wiggles is starting up a big tour and will be hosting book drives for “Reach Out and Read” on each of their 72 concert stops.

Thanks for visiting Collecting Children’s Books. Hope you’ll be back.


Daughter Number Three said...

Seeing the two Libyrinth covers side by side is fascinating.

My guess is that the one on the right was a tight sketch (note the comparative lack of detail in the papers in the background), but they also used the final version as an opportunity to change the quality of light -- the background is overall brighter, as is her face, as you noted.

The other thing that interests me is her overall gestalt -- I would read the sketch version as a girl, and the final as a young woman. I'm getting this mostly from her body shape and the neckline of her robe.

Her face in general is more sharply angled forward, which, combined with her closed eyes, makes her seem expectant, or as if she were soaking up the light coming in from the right side. In my opinion, this makes the final cover more interesting because it's mysterious.

Sam said...

I don't know if this is interesting to anyone but me, but...

The ethnicity of my character Marilla from Qwikpick is a bit of a mystery to the book's narrator, Lyle. (And to me.) But she is clearly not from the same standard Caucasian background as Lyle.

Somehow the cover illustrator, the amazing Derek Kirk Kim, drew a perfect picture of her and at no time was there any question of making her more white or more black or anything like that.

Bybee said...

Reading on the subway, if you can get a seat, is nice.