I hate it when the end of the year book lists or the best books of the year come out.
I repeat: I HATE IT WHEN THE END OF THE YEAR BOOK LISTS OR THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR COME OUT EACH YEAR.
Publishers and agents love these lists if their authors are on them. It’s great press. And I’d be lying to say that I wouldn’t want to be on one of these lists one day. But these lists reveal something sad and ugly about the children’s and YA book market — it’s still lily white. The lack of racial diversity reflected on these lists is heartbreaking, disappointing, and above all, annoying. And I know many will say: “There’s more books written by minorities nowadays,” “There are more books featuring people of color,” or “Maybe the books written about minorities or for minorities aren’t that good,” and “Get off my soapbox!”
Here goes that black girl again, same complaint. That’s fine. I hear you. But I am still going to shout about it until it changes.
There aren’t enough books that make those lists that reflect diversity (and I am specifically looking at racial diversity versus other types). These lists show YA and MG’s dirty little secret — mainly white teenagers are written about.
If aliens were to use our libraries and bookstores as indicators of our society, and take a look at what the human offsprings are encouraged to read or what materials are celebrated, what would be reflected? What would they glean about our realities? Whose culture would they learn about? Who would be forgotten? What kind of children get to see their lives reflected on the page? Who is left out?
Earlier in the year NPR published the 100 best or favorite Teen Books. I was eager to see what they picked since I read exclusively children’s and teen books and I’m a teen book librarian.
I was appalled.
I was irritated.
I was disappointed.
There are only THREE titles on the list that feature people of color – Nancy Farmer’s The House of Scorpion (love this sci-fi book that takes place in a futuristic America near the border of Mexico, featuring a Mexican kid), Sandra Ciscernos’ The House on Mango Street, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
Here’s my take:
Adult Classics (that happen to have a child or teen protagonist) Shouldn’t Be Included
I don’t think classics like To Kill A Mockingbird, The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, Fahrenheit 451, Dune, etc, should be included. These pop up on other lists — do they have to show up again? Put them somewhere else. Don’t get me wrong, I love these texts and think every teen should read them, but do they need to occupy a space on this particular list?
I don’t think so. These books aren’t even shelved in the teen section of any library or bookstore, so for them to make this list is kind of annoying.
And some may argue with me and say that To Kill A Mockinbird has diversity. Yes, it has black people in it, and shows the evils of the Jim Crow south, but I don’t consider it a diverse book. It’s a book about a certain time period told from the viewpoint of a white child who is figuring out racism. I’m still debating whether it’s a book black children need to read. It may be a book for white kids to figure stuff out. I don’t know. That’s another blog entirely.
The John Green Problem
Why does John Green need to occupy 5 slots on the list? Is this really necessary? John Green fans please do not send me death threats or nasty email messages or comments. I get it. I respect his writing and story-telling abilities. But I don’t think he deserves FIVE slots on the list. Can he get one slot and a mention of all his titles? Geez. All FIVE of his titles? I still can’t get over it. People might label me a John Green hater, but he doesn’t NEED FIVE slots. No author does. One slot should be enough to give other authors opportunities. I feel like the YA/MG real estate is getting gobbled up.
Multiple Titles by the Same Author
Like above, I wish that an author can be recognized once on the list. So that means Laurie Halse Anderson, Cassandra Clare, Sarah Dessen, and others who pop up once or twice, you should have one slot only for the canon of your work.
What is the criterion for these lists?
I think the list-makers should let readers in on how they selected these books. Maybe this will shed some insight into how a list like this is complied and maybe seek to answer the diversity question. Is it sales? Is it a poll that they send out?
I plan on analyzing other lists, like The Atlantic Wire’s Y.A./Middle-Grade Book Awards, 2012 edition, for PART II of this rant.