Talking Diversity & Book Awards

Last week I had the privilege of hosting a conversation on the intersections between diversity and the selection of books for awards and best-of lists. I got to pick the brains of Jason Low, Debbie Reese, Marilisa Jiménez García, Pat Enciso, and Daniel Kraus. Now you can enjoy their insights, which have just been published in this post for the Booklist Reader.

Our conversation brings to the fore a number of issues that impact both what books get considered for special recognition and how discussions of those books proceed. As the participants show, we’re finally deconstructing the notion that “diversity” and “quality” are in competition. Instead, how diversity shapes our understanding of what “quality” is.

Nowhere is this work more important than in the meeting room where book awards and other distinctions are deliberated. And, as we discuss, how books are reviewed also shapes which books get noticed. In our conversation, Jason Low points out the importance of “diverse reviewers… who can serve as a cultural sounding board when issues like nuance, perspective, and authenticity issues are in question.”  School Library Journal has been actively educating its reviewers and recruiting reviewers from diverse backgrounds. Booklist is working on this, too. In fact, just as we were wrapping up our conversation last week, Booklist issued this call:

Booklist is actively seeking book reviewers of diverse background, whether that background is cultural, racial, gender, or another. We are also looking for reviewers fluent in Spanish. Candidates with critical acumen and knowledge of a public-library audience should email writing samples (preferably published work) and reviewing preferences (fiction, nonfiction, adult, YA, picture books, graphic novels, audio, etc.) to one of the following:

Daniel Kraus, Books for Youth (

Donna Seaman, Adult Books (

Sarah Hunter, Graphic Novels (

Joyce Saricks, Audio Books (

If you fit the Booklist criteria, we encourage you to get your review on! At Latin@s in Kid Lit, we put excellent books on readers’ radars and highlight issues that relate to writing, publishing, promoting, and recognizing kid lit by, for, and about Latinas and Latinos. We’re eager to have more allies!

Reviewing not your thing? You can still draw others into the conversation around diversity in publishing and literature. Do you have a colleague who may not be plugged into these issues? Invite them to check out the resources we offer here at LKL. The Booklist Reader conversation includes a list of excellent websites that offer vetted book recommendations.

I hope the Booklist Reader piece prompts you to reconsider what diversity has to do with excellence as well as how you can advance diversity in your own reading and work. As Marilisa Jiménez García puts it in our conversation, “We need more than books. We need to cultivate a system of children’s and YA literature— reviewers, librarians, educators, professors, publishers—that holistically integrates people of color. We need bridges.”

So, how about it? What bridges can we build today?

Pitch Fiesta Update: 15 Writers Matched with Mentors to Prepare for the Event

We’re excited to provide an update on Latin@s in Kid Lit’s first Pitch Fiesta. The deadline for submissions was October 3. We received 21 entries and reduced that number to 15 viable contenders representing middle grade and young adult–realistic, science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, LGBTQ, and Southern Gothic.

So, here’s the thing. We had no idea how many entries to expect. I (Cindy) thought we’d get maybe a half-dozen, which the LiKL crew could easily manage to review and prepare for pitching. So, when we ended up with 15!! viable entries, we flashed the bat signal at our kid lit writer friends. For those of you who don’t know, the kid lit community is awesome, and in no time, we had enough people ready to mentor our writers.

Here’s the process: Each mentor has been matched with a writer. The mentor will review the writer’s query and first pages with a critical eye. The mentor will email comments, thoughts, questions, concerns, suggestions, etc. to the writer. The two will work to make the query and first pages as clean and agent-ready as possible. Polished queries will be posted on our site on November 12-13 for the agents’ review. We hope “I’ve got to have it” type sparks will fly and matches will be made between writers and agents! These sparks of love over a manuscript will eventually lead to more books by and about Latin@s!

For now, though, there’s work to be done. Still, we wanted to publicly say, THANK YOU!!! to the authors who stepped up to help! Many are members of the Fearless Fifteeners, the Diversity League, and/or the We Need Diverse Books Team. They all support diversity in children’s literature and want to “pay forward” the help they received on the path to publishing. Below are all of the mentors. Names and titles match with photos going lef to right. If you click on the photos, you will be taken to the authors’ websites for more information.

Cindy L. Rodriguez: WHEN REASON BREAKS (Bloomsbury)

Ashley Hope Pérez: WHAT CAN’T WAIT and THE KNIFE AND THE BUTTERFLY (Carolrhoda Books)

Zoraida Córdova: THE VICIOUS DEEP trilogy (Sourcebooks Fire) and LUCK ON THE LINE (Diversion Books)

Heather Marie: THE GATEWAY THROUGH WHICH THEY CAME (Curiosity Quills Press)


Erin Entrada Kelly: BLACKBIRD FLY (Greenwillow Books)

A.L. Sonnichsen: RED BUTTERFLY (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Anna-Marie McLemore: THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS (Thomas Dunne)

Ronald L. Smith: HOODOO (Clarion)

Kerry O’Malley Cerra: JUST A DROP OF WATER (Sky Pony Press)

Dhonielle Clayton: TINY PRETTY THINGS (HarperTeen) and THE BELLES (Disney-Hyperion)

Holly Bodger: 5 TO 1 (Knopf Books for Young Readers)

Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung: LITTLE MISS EVIL (Spencer Hill Middle Grade)

Carrie Firestone: The title of Carrie’s debut novel hasn’t been finalized, but she will be published in 2016 by Little Brown & Co.

  2012AuthorPhoto500pixels  317988_632439229822_92623787_n

Heather-AuthorPhotos-3-WEBSIZE  Kelly Jones  Erin Entrada Kelly A.L. Sonnichsen Anna-Marie McLemoreRonald L. SmithKerry CerraDhonielle Clayton Holly Bodger Kristy and Bryce  profile photo






Shine a Bright Spotlight on Unsold Diverse Books: An Idea Inspired by Hollywood’s Black List

By Patrick Flores-Scott

I’m happy to have the opportunity to be blogging here at Latin@s in Kid Lit!

Once again, I’ve got the We Need Diverse Books movement on my mind.

If you’re reading this post, I’m sure you’re very aware that children’s literature does not reflect the true diversity of this land. And you’re very likely to agree that it must.  And you can explain the myriad reasons why it must. And you’ve most likely asked yourself, How do we fix this? And I bet you’ve got ideas.

It’s going to take many ideas from myriad sources and a lot of people working together in every phase of the publishing industry to make change happen.

I’d like to use this post to throw one possible idea into that mix. For many reasons, I’m not the guy to put this one into action, but I think it’s an idea worthy of consideration, and it would be very cool if someone ran with it.

The idea is stolen from Hollywood. It’s called the Black List. I’m not referring to the mid-last-century process of blacklisting supposed Hollywood communists and those who refused to name names, in an effort to keep them from ever working in this town again. And I’m not referring to NBC’s TV show, The Blacklist. I’m referring to the Black List, which is a list of the best unsold scripts for each calendar year. Simple as that.

The List was started by Franklin Leonard in an effort to bring attention to scripts that otherwise, may never have seen the light of day, and in an attempt to create a path to success for yet-to-be-produced screenwriters.

Check out this link to an interview with Franklin Leonard. It’s is a great introduction to the Black List.

In the interview, Franklin Leonard states that:

“…the more that we can do to shine a very bright spotlight on people doing ambitious and very high quality work, the more likely it is that those scripts get made. I think the role we play is to shine that bright spotlight and say, “Here’s a bunch of stuff that maybe you overlooked, that maybe you loved but you didn’t pull the trigger on for whatever reason; it might be worth taking a second look.”

He goes on to say that’s exactly what happens when the list comes out each year. There are meetings all over Hollywood where executives go over the list and reconsider scripts they’d previously passed on, or they find new scripts that they then request from writers and agents.

Since 2005, over two-hundred films that made it onto a Black List have been produced. Some of them include Argo, American Hustle, The Descendants, Juno, The Wolf of Wall Street, Slumdog Millionaire, The Social Network, and The Wrestler.

In an attempt to start a dialogue, here are some ideas about how the Black List could work in the world of kid lit:

The Kid List (or whatever it’s going to be called) committee would solicit manuscripts from writers from underrepresented backgrounds, or manuscripts with underrepresented main characters, regardless of the writer’s background.

The purpose of The Kid List would be to connect publishers with manuscripts that an esteemed committee would deem worthy of publication. It would also be a vehicle for connecting unrepresented writers with agents. Furthermore, the list could be used as a form of mentorship for writers of promising manuscripts that do not make the list. These writers would be given quality feedback and the opportunity to resubmit to the list the following year.

The manuscripts could be sent from agents or from individuals who do not yet have representation. I picture manuscripts coming from unpublished writers, but I think it’d also be appropriate for a published author to submit a manuscript that has gone through the traditional editorial submission process without garnering a deal.

At the end of the year, the committee would create a list made up of  (whatever number) of manuscripts that they feel are worthy of publication. I picture the list being unveiled by the committee during one of the major book conventions.

The make-up of the selection committee would be crucial to the success of The Kid List. In order to shine that spotlight that Franklin Leonard talks about, the folks on the committee would need to be bright lights in their own right. They should be influential librarians, well-regarded booksellers and big-name authors. It would be a major time commitment—maybe like being a member of the BFYA committee—but I think there are enough big-time players out there who value diversity in children’s literature and who would like to play a role in making that diversity happen.

Recruiting a selection committee, creating its rules and structures… all that, would be a big challenge for some dynamic, driven passionate individuals. Are you one of them?

My big fear would be that the list would come out… and nothing would happen. Editors and agents would greet it with a big whatever. I just don’t think that’d be the case. I truly believe that, for the most part, editors would like to publish more “diverse books.” But change is hard. People need a nudge. They need help. They need to be educated and they need someone they respect telling them it’s okay to go for it. But more than all that, The Kid List would create marketing buzz for books before they’re even sold. What publisher wouldn’t want a piece of that?

I could picture the first Kid List coming out and one book being published off that list. It might not seem like much, but editors and agents would know that a cool book from an unknown author was sold, at least in part, because of The Kid List. They’d check it out a little closer the next year and maybe then a few more books would be published because of The List. From there, it’s not hard seeing a time and place where The Kid List has done for diversity in kid lit what the Black List has done for Hollywood.

And it’s not hard to picture young writers from diverse backgrounds, inspired by the idea that there’s a path that I can take to get a book published. And the characters in that book can look like I do.

There it is. One idea. Let me know what you think. Or don’t, and just go for it.

PatrickFS1Patrick Flores-Scott was, until recently, a long-time public school teacher in Seattle, Washington. He’s now a stay-at-home dad and early morning writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Patrick’s first novel, Jumped In, has been named to a YALSA 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults book, an NCSS/CBC Notable Book for the Social Studies and a Bank Street College Best Book of 2014. He is currently working on his second book, American Road Trip.

Guest Post: Self-Publishing Often the Only Recourse for Writers of Color

By Zetta Elliott 

“I am an immigrant.” When I visit schools, I always start my presentation with these words. Next, I ask the students to guess my country of origin. Their answers are often predictable and sometimes surprising: the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico—Italy! When I tell them that I don’t speak Spanish but I do speak a little French, they call out a different list of countries until someone gets it right: Canada.

I open with my immigrant status in part because I once had a Latina approach me at the end of a presentation in Brooklyn and say, “I hate that word.” I didn’t ask about her status, but it was clear that she felt there was something shameful about being an immigrant. So I announce my own status with pride and use my presentation to demonstrate how my early years in Canada helped to shape the writer I became after I migrated to the US twenty years ago.

Immigration is a charged issue here, and though Canadians aren’t generally mentioned in the national debate, there’s still a pretty good chance I could run into trouble in Arizona. As a mixed-race woman of African descent, I often get read as Latina. Here, in New York City, I walk with my driver’s license, my passport, and my green card at all times because my Afro-Caribbean father taught me that some protections are reserved for citizens only (and only those citizens who aren’t brown like me). My father also urged me not to get involved in social justice movements, but I chose to disregard that advice.

I’m a black feminist—or what my father would call “a troublemaker.” I began to write for children over a decade ago because I couldn’t find culturally relevant material to use with my black students. I came to the US to attend graduate school, and there I developed a deeper understanding of intersectionality and invisibility. The title of one black feminist anthology encapsulates this perfectly: All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave. Black women too often find themselves erased from discussions of racism and sexism, and when it comes to children’s literature, it can be just as easy for Afro-Latin@ kids to fall through the cracks.

Published by Skyscape, 2010

In 2000, I started a book club for the girls in my building. They were all black and we had been meeting for weeks before I realized that half the girls in the group were Panamanian. When they were with me, they spoke the black vernacular of their African American peers, but at home they spoke Spanish. When I wrote my YA time-travel novel A Wish After Midnight, I decided to give my protagonist a hybrid identity—Genna Colon’s mother is African American but her father is an Afro-Panamanian immigrant. When her father leaves the family to return to Panama, Genna yearns for a connection to her Latino heritage, but her jaded mother insists that race trumps ethnicity: “in America, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what language you speak. Black is black and you might as well get used to it.”

Such a simplistic understanding of race is not uncommon, but many scholars, activists, and artists advocate for an appreciation of multiplicity—recognizing and respecting the specificity of blackness instead of reducing it to a single generic identity. As a black feminist writer, one of my goals is to counter the marginalization of black children in literature by writing stories about kids who are silenced and/or rendered invisible. I try to avoid the all too familiar “types” that seem to show up over and over again. Hakeem Diallo is a gifted basketball player but he’s also Muslim, biracial (black and South Asian), and he dreams of becoming a chef one day. Dmitri is a bird-watching math whiz who loses his mother to cancer and so lives with his elderly white foster mother. Judah is a Rastafarian teen from Jamaica who dreams of moving to Africa.


Self-published through CreateSpace under Rosetta Press

In 2009, I went to see the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novella Coraline. I had some issues with the representation of women in the film, and went home thinking of a way to write a story about black boys and dolls. The end result was Max Loves Muñecas!—one of four chapter books that I self-published in May. The story follows three homeless boys in 1950s Honduras who are taken in by a kind woman who makes dolls. I was inspired by my father’s childhood in the Caribbean. He was raised by his grandmother on the island of Nevis, and with no money to spare, my father learned to make his own toys out of recycled materials. They were poor but my great-grandmother made sure my father was always presentable and well behaved. Respectability meant a lot since the family had so little.

I knew I wanted my story to take place within the Caribbean basin, but I had limited knowledge of Latin America. I chose Honduras for the setting of Max Loves Muñecas! because the best doll maker I know is Afro-Honduran designer Cozbi Cabrera. Also my community college student Saira, a Garífuna woman, gave a presentation in class about the murder rate in Honduras—the highest in the world. This is due, in part, to street violence fueled by gang members who have been deported from the US. My story isn’t set in contemporary Honduras, but the book does challenge gender norms and exposes the tender, creative side so many boys are forced to conceal.

I often write about boys because I have seen firsthand how expressive, sensitive boys shut down as they mature and assume the hard, unfeeling posture of a young “thug.” Boys around the world are socialized in a way that leaves them unable to reveal their authentic selves and the consequences can be devastating—especially for girls, but for boys and men as well. As a feminist I realize that if I want to end violence against women and girls, I have to start paying more attention to boys.

These issues mean a lot to me, but social justice is not generally a priority for the children’s publishing industry. For the past five years I have written essays and given talks about the glaring inequality within publishing, and the issue has garnered more attention recently thanks to the social media campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Several editors rejected Max Loves Muñecas! (the last one wrote, “Zetta is such a lovely writer and I did enjoy this story – but I just don’t think we can find a big enough market for it”) and so the story sat on my hard drive for five years until I finally decided to self-publish it. I found a Honduran illustrator, Mauricio J. Flores, on Elance; he completed ten black and white illustrations and I used the print-on-demand site CreateSpace to publish the book.

The biggest challenge with self-publishing is finding a way to connect your books with readers. The Brown Bookshelf recently ran a series called “Making Our Own Market,” and I contributed a guest post in which I shared my core objectives:

  1. To generate culturally relevant stories that center children who have been marginalized, misrepresented, and/or rendered invisible in children’s literature.
  2. To produce affordable, high-quality books so that families—regardless of income—can build home libraries that will enhance their children’s academic success.
  3. To produce a steady supply of compelling, diverse stories that will nourish the imagination and excite even reluctant readers.

If these objectives resonate with you, I hope you’ll give my books a chance. The bias against self-published books is hard to overcome; major outlets refuse to review them, and only a few book bloggers are willing to give self-published books a chance (thank you, Latin@s in Kid Lit). Many are poorly written and shoddily produced, but when publishing gatekeepers exclude so many talented writers of color, self-publishing is often our only recourse. If we wait for the industry to change, another generation of children will grow up as I did—without the “books-as-mirrors” they need and deserve.


IMG_1198Born in Canada, Zetta Elliott earned her PhD in American Studies at NYU. Her poetry has been published in several anthologies, and her plays have been staged in New York and Chicago. Her essays have appeared in Horn Book MagazineSchool Library Journal, and The Huffington Post. Her picture book, Bird, won the Honor Award in Lee & Low Books’ New Voices Contest and the Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers. Elliott’s young adult novel, A Wish After Midnight, has been called “a revelation…vivid, violent and impressive history.” Ship of Souls, published in February 2012, was included in Booklist’s Top Ten Sci-fi/Fantasy Titles for Youth and was a finalist for the Phillis Wheatley Book Award. Her third novel, The Deep, was published in November 2013. She currently lives in Brooklyn.

Other books by Zetta Elliot. For a full list, visit her blog.

Published by Lee and Low, 2008

Published by Skyscape, 2012

The Phoenix on Barkley Street

One of four kids books self-published, 2014