Why we do what we do

Some days I look up from a full day of Brown Bookshelf preparation, writing, promotion or whatever is on my plate and I wonder what possessed me to add such a detailed initiative as 28 Days Later onto my workload.

I could plead temporary insanity.  But what might my Brown Bookshelf cohorts excuses be?  Could it be possible that we’re all a little loopy?

Then I’ll run across something like the 2007 Librarians’ Choices , a list of 100 children’s books and it hits me, “Ohhh yeah…that’s why.”

According to Becky’s description of the program:
The goals of the project are twofold, to develop participant knowledge base about current books for children and young adults and the ability to read and write critically about these books and to use this experience to create a professional resource for others interested in choosing outstanding and intriguing books for the young people they serve.

So I reviewed the list anxiously, hoping to see some newly familiar names to me, in the way of African American authors. But I saw (with respect) the “usual suspects.”

Christopher Paul Curtis, Carole Boston Weatherford and Sharon Draper.

In fairness, Becky points out that they certainly didn’t review all books on the market. But did attempt to make the list as thorough and comprehensive as possible. And I take that on its word.

Speaking unofficially on behalf of other Black children’s writers, it’s hard not to feel invisible when lists like this are announced and only the same authors are mentioned. Especially since some of the authors included on the list are new authors – several were peers of mine in the Class of 2K7.

How are these brand new authors discovered and put in front of the committee?

Are publishers not getting African American children’s authors in front of projects like the Librarians’ Choices?

Are the books by African American children’s authors being considered but not making the final cut?

Obviously, these are rhetorical questions. And I’m neither whining or poking holes at the Librarians’ Choices list. But, it’s a reminder why The Brown Bookshelf has a long road ahead of it.

Here’s to seeing some new names join the trailblazers on lists like these in ’08 and beyond.

3 thoughts on “Why we do what we do

  1. It’s always interesting to see just what the publisher sends to the TWU review center. I’m not 100% sure on the 2007 list, but in each edition of the book, they list which publishers sent materials to be reviewed for the project. The 2006 book shows 30 contributing publishers. However, that is false representation in some ways. Because those 30 publishers certainly didn’t send out each and every book they published in the course of a year. Also there are more than just 30 publishers out there. We know it at the time. (And in previous years, based on what I’ve been told, the professors have contacted publishers requesting specific books be sent out to consider.) In addition to reviewing–considering–those books we have on hand from the publishers, each of us has access to various local public and school libraries. We also–as a group–follow the review journals throughout the year to see which books get starred.

    I think you make a good point. An important point. We certainly can’t choose books for the Librarians Choices list if the publishers don’t send them OR if the local libraries we have access to don’t order an item for their collection. And perhaps the libraries feel more comfortable ordering titles for their collections from the established authors–those familiar names that have come to represent success–than in branching out to try new authors. Maybe the libraries are bound by rules that say they can only order books that receive starred reviews–many school libraries–at least the ones I’m semi-familiar with have such policies in place. Maybe review journals spend more focus on reviewing established authors than on reviewing and highlighting new talent.

    In the past–before I started receiving review copies of my own–I was one of the more determined participants. I would try to seek down as many books at the library–the books we didn’t have access to–so I could give them a chance to be included. And now that I receive some of my own review copies, I try to incorporate as many as I can. There are big differences, big gaps. And I know I’m not the only one. A good many participants are either public or school librarians and they use their libraries, their review centers, as a way of filling in as many gaps as possible. Some years we have ten participants. We’ve had as many as fourteen or fifteen. But even if every one of us was determined and dedicated to reading and committing to the task full-time, there’s no way that we can read every book published.

    But it is hard to look for a book–search for a book–that you’ve not heard of. In some ways we”re dependent on what the publishers send, what local libraries have, and reliant on what news we hear of books in review journals and on online list servs. Some books get a lot of buzz, a lot of attention, bring up a lot of discussion, but many books don’t get that extra-spotlight attention.

    Perhaps you can enlighten me, and maybe I need to become more educated in online resources for keeping track of new African-American authors. But what advice can you give for those in the field–either reviewers or librarians or teachers–in how to keep up-to-date, current, and knowledgeable about up and coming talent? Obviously, this blog exists, this site exists, but what resources are there so that I can become as familiar with new authors, new illustrators?

    For example, the class of 2k7 was effective–in my opinion–in letting others know that they exist. They were good at promoting themselves. Their presence on the web and their interaction with the kidlitosphere community was strong.

    (For the record, we didn’t receive every 2k7 title. We received about a third of them. I’m still not sure which criteria publishers use (if any) in deciding which review centers–which reviewers–get what title.)

    Thank you for recognizing that the exclusion of new African-American talent wasn’t malicious on our part.

    One other brief aside, I think what is frustrating about this process is the humanity of it. We can’t read all the books in six months or four months or however long the project lasts depending on the year. And there are *many, many* titles that we read as individuals later on in the year that we would certainly have included on our list if we’d read them in time. Come March or April, I always have new favorites that would have made the previous year’s list if I’d’ read them in time. And I’m sure others would agree with me. Every year there are big books, important books that we miss for one reason or another.

    And a wee little note for those reading this post but not the full list, there were other African-American authors and illustrators recognized on the list besides those three. They may all fit under the category in some ways of “The Usual Suspects.” (Though I think Janice N. Harrington doesn’t exactly qualify under this label. But I could be wrong, I suppose.) But the list does strive for diversity and variety in many layers.

  2. Becky, thank you for stopping by and educating us on a bit of the process for Librarians Choices.

    And I think this very thing – us connecting with one another to find out how things work is the solution. Or at least one of them.

    As an author, I’m all too familiar with the fact that the politics of publishing may preclude some books from ever reaching librarians. We had publishers submit names for the 28 Days Later campaign and most only sent a name – usually a new book they wanted to promote. So, in that respect, I understand how the publisher outlet , ironically, may not yield a comprehensive outlook on what books are out there.

    And I think your point about library policies about starred reviews is a huge one that we can’t overlook. Editorial reviews are so important when talking about library and school sales. And that can exclude a good number of books regardless of the author’s race.

    We created the BBS because there isn’t any comprehensive resource where one can gather this information. We’ve looked and it’s just not there. One of our partners is the Black Caucus of the ALA because we’re hoping to find the talent in hopes they’ll spread the word.

    We’ve chosen to look at the landscape and fill the information void rather than wonder why so many of these authors are staying under the radar. And getting in front of reviewers and librarians like yourself and your colleagues is exactly what will help us both in our endeavors.

    I appreciate your insight and your tireless efforts to spread the word about good literature. I don’t know how you do it between the Librarians Choices and Cybils! You’re a reading machine, lady. Hats off to ya.

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