Happy Halloween! At The Brown Bookshelf, we have another reason to feel festive. February will kick off the 10th campaign of 28 Days Later, our annual Black History Month celebration of under-the-radar and vanguard black children’s book creators. To mark that milestone, we’re starting throwback Thursdays this week where we share a profile from our archive of more than 200 28 Days Later spotlights. Stay tuned for more special features and news throughout 2017.
Today, to begin our countdown, we’re reposting the first ever Brown Bookshelf blog entry. On October 31, 2007, Varian Johnson discussed why he and Paula Chase-Hyman started The Brown Bookshelf.
Our team has grown since its founding. The Brown Bookshelf began with five members. We’re now 10 strong. We’ve watched with pride as new voices have entered the field and books by black children’s book creators have won inspiring accolades. But nearly a decade later, we still have a long way to go.
The Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s multicultural publishing statistics from 2006, for instance, showed that 153 out of about 3000 children’s books received at CCBC had significant African or African American content. As Varian shared in his post below, 87 of those books were by black authors and illustrators.
In stats from 2015, the CCBC reported that out of 3,400 children’s books received, “261 had significant African or African American content.” That gain may seem like reason to celebrate until you realize that just 86 of those were by Black authors and illustrators, almost the same number as in 2006.*
* The overall number of books by Black children’s book creators increased slightly. The CCBC noted that an additional 14 books by black authors and illustrators in 2015 did not relate to their cultural or ethnic background.
Nearly a decade later, some of the same questions linger:
Why are more children’s books being published about African Americans and Africans by creators from other cultures than by black children’s book creators? Why do books by black authors and illustrators still struggle to get noticed? Why do some of our authors find it tough to get published even with a track record of honors and awards?
As Varian states in his post sometimes an author must be an advocate. We will continue to push for publishing parity alongside allies like The African American Children’s Book Project, Just Us Books, Lee & Low Books, We Need Diverse Books, American Indians in Children’s Literature, Cynsations, Latinxs in Kid Lit, Teaching for Change, AALBC and many more.
Nearly a decade later, we’re still here, shining a spotlight on voices that deserve to be heard.
Why The Brown Bookshelf?
by Varian Johnson
While speaking at a predominately African-American high school a few years ago, I asked the students to name some of their favorite books. I expected the students to name novels by some of my favorite YA authors—perhaps Walter Dean Myers, Jacqueline Woodson, or Virginia Hamilton. Instead, the students named authors such as Eric Jerome Dickey and Zane. Don’t get me wrong–I like Eric Jerome Dickey a lot, and both he and Zane have worked hard to achieve their much deserved success. However, for some reason I just didn’t feel comfortable discussing the works of Zane or EJ Dickey with a bunch of tenth graders. I found myself thinking about this again as I reviewed the statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. According to the CCBC, out of the approximately 5000 trade children’s books published in the United States in 2006, 87 were written by African Americans. 87 out of 5000. That’s 2%, if you’re generous with the rounding.
2% isn’t a lot by any means, but if we could somehow highlight a few of these books—help readers to see that good book by good authors are out there—perhaps the publishing and book selling industry would take notice. Perhaps that 2% could grow to 3%. And then to 4%. And so on and so on.
Sometimes, being a writer means that you have to put your own books down so you can cheer for someone else. Sometimes, you have to be an advocate instead of an author.