By Ellen McGirt
March 20, 2017

And a little child shall lead them.

That’s my takeaway from some consistently good news coming from the world of long-form publishing, much of it driven by young makers and consumers who are hungry to see accurate representations of themselves while preparing to shape a world which does not always see them.

Here’s one story from the U.K. publishing world, which has its own long tradition of being overwhelmingly white and male. Now, young black women are determined to change the ratio of what gets published and why:

“Fed up of not seeing their lives reflected in print, a new generation of female writers are knocking at the door of publishing houses determined to change that. And if that doesn’t work, they’re prepared to go it alone,” says Buzzfeed News.

Then there are the extraordinary developments in the young adult novel category, specifically, some recently published books that are tackling tough issues of race and representation head on. This story from The New York Times highlights the opportunity in play. “The cluster of novels is also arriving at a moment when the children’s book industry is struggling to address the lack of diversity in the stories it publishes, and the scarcity of children’s books by African-American authors,” they write.

These novels, told unflinchingly through the lens of young people of color, are also becoming indispensable tools for educators desperate to both engage and teach. And that means that the messages they contain will gain traction with the people who need them most:

“Teachers and librarians across the country have embraced the new body of children’s literature dealing with racial bias and injustice. Hundreds of schools and libraries have ordered copies of “The Hate U Give.” Other recent young-adult novels about violence against black teenagers, including Kekla Magoon’s “How It Went Down,” have been used in high school classrooms to talk about racial inequality.”

The money is there. The most famous of these books, the aforementioned debut novel The Hate U Give, was an instant commercial and critical success. This from a profile of author Angie Thomas in New York Magazine:

One week after it was published, Angie Thomas’s thrilling debut young-adult novel, The Hate U Give, shot to the top of the New York Times best-seller list for young-adult books. The story follows 16-year-old Starr Carter, a basketball-playing sneakerhead who lives in a poor, predominantly black neighborhood and attends a rich, predominantly white school. After she witnesses her childhood best friend fatally shot by a police officer, Starr confronts the reality of racial injustice in America, grapples with how she can continue to straddle two completely different worlds, and is drawn into activism.

Buying, reading and sitting with the themes of these books is one way to make sure that art continues to play a leading role in shaping our collective understanding of each other. I think of them as empathy condensers for a troubled world. “I look at books as being a form of activism, says Thomas in a YouTube video. “Sometimes they’ll show us a side of the world that we might not have known about.”


You May Like