The “Hole” in KidLit

May 22, 2017

For years I worked as an anthology editor for McGraw-Hill and other educational publishing houses. My job was choosing literature for elementary schools, pairing fiction with nonfiction, commissioning new pieces to work with published works, and balancing a very long list of authors and illustrators to ensure that we had even numbers between sexes and ethnicities. Finding authors and illustrators of color was always a challenge as a result of a lack of diversity in the KidLit industry, but the one area that always remained a huge problem was finding science or technical texts written by authors of color.

For every educational publishing company I worked with as an in-house editor, or as a consultant/freelancer, this was a problem. It’s been a long time since I left school and library publishing, so I hadn’t thought about this problem in a while, but it all came back to me while having a conversation with Preeti Chhibber, who works for Scholastic on the Reading Club selections. When The Jumbies (my MG novel) was chosen as a Scholastic Reading Club book, it was featured in a We Need Diverse Books special edition flyer. As Pretti and I cooed over the pages of the flyer, she confessed that they had a very difficult time finding science books written by authors of color. There were plenty of biographies of scientists, but that’s not exactly what they were looking for. The writer they were able to feature was Neil deGrasse Tyson. A great choice, but surely he couldn’t be the only one.

I racked my brain trying to think of a nonwhite equivalent of someone like Seymour Simon, who was a go-to author for science nonfiction, and came up empty.

Hence, the hole in KidLit that authors of color need to fill. The school and library market is very interested in diversifying their offerings, and having a book selected for an anthology means kids all over the country will read your work. It’s a big deal. And I know there are authors of color who also like science topics. So, what are you waiting for? There’s a hole you need to plug.