105 Ways to Give a Book

Thoughts on Some Week

Well, that was some kind of week. Awards and a controversy. Honestly, it was too much for me to take in, much less write about. Plus I didn’t know what to think, and in a way, I still don’t.

Everyone can agree that what Bloomsbury did with the Magic Under Glass cover was a big bowl of wrong. I mean, didn’t we just have this conversation with the same publisher? It’s maddening, if not insulting, for them to ignore the whole issue again. And it’s appropriate that they’ve at least acknowledged the error by changing the cover of the book.

Except, I don’t feel good. I guess I feel a little pleased that bloggers can affect change in the publishing industry, but mostly I don’t feel good.

In fact, I feel bad for the author who poured her heart into her first book, chose to feature a woman of color as the main character, and then found her book in the middle of a fight. And now her book’s release will be delayed as Bloomsbury tries to do the right thing by the cover. It’s not the author’s fault, but she has to suffer the consequences.

I don’t feel good that book bloggers were tossed in the mix of blame for not noticing or reporting on the cover earlier. That argument assumes that (a) lots of bloggers get early copies, (b) the bloggers actually read that book of all the books they get, (c) in reading that book they notice the cover, and (d) they feel like reviewing the book. Book bloggers — we’re all on the same team here.

I certainly don’t feel good that this is the only approach we can take to make publishers put diverse characters on the book covers. We have to catch them and make them do the right thing? That’s not a well-working strategy for any of us.

I don’t feel good that we spent the week on this issue — even if we had to spend the week on this issue — instead of getting to sit back and enjoy the ALA Youth Media Awards. This was their week. But instead of discussions, we got quick lists of winners and then we were back to the controversy.

And in that same vein, I don’t feel good that instead of talking about books that feature people of color from the Coretta Scott King and Pura Belpré awards, we spent the week talking about how we’re not talking about books that feature people of color.

Where does that leave me? Well, in the places where I disagree on methods or strategy with Susan or Doret or Ari, I am grateful for their intensity and vulnerability, which keeps us all aware and energized. I thank Colleen for following the discussion with genuine passion, but also an intelligent focus on the issues rather than the distractions. I thought Leila did a wonderful job of breaking down the discussion and giving a viable course of action — to write the publishers directly and express our concerns/dismay/outrage. And I appreciate Liz Burns’s thoughts on accountability — that by putting our voices out there as book bloggers, we aren’t just making a list of books we like, but have a greater responsibility to feature diverse books.

In the end, I want to take this week with me — the good and the bad feelings of it — to make me a better reader, blogger, and advocate. I trust that our fantastic community of bloggers can continue the dialogue, but I also hope that we won’t have to have this exact conversation again. I’m looking at you, Bloomsbury.

20 comments:

Solvang Sherrie said...

You put that so eloquently! It's just bizarre that we still need to have these conversations. Why is skin color still an issue?

Jim said...

Well said. It happened in a flurry and I must say, I was proud of book bloggers for making a fuss, but I knew all along that when the publisher's heard of it, they would change the cover. Writing the publishers seem like the obvious first step, but some went off on the boycotting rants and I was like, really? Isn't that what you do when the publisher writes back and tells you off? Seemed like some jumped the gun a bit.

But yeah, why does this even still come up? I mean c'mon publishers. Get a clue. Don't let this keep happening.

Jen Robinson said...

You know, Pam, one reason why I haven't done a Kidlitosphere round-up post this week is that there have been so many posts about this cover issue that I didn't know where to start. Now I do. I'm just going to link to your post. Thanks!!

Kathy B. at forwordsbooks.com said...

I leave Massachusetts for a week in California to celebrate my parents 60th wedding anniversary and all "H" breaks loose! I stopped by to check in on the Comment Challenge and walked right into your, as usual, highly informative blog. I am heartsick and will now spend the next few days "catching up" with the news.

MissAttitude said...

I agree, I don't want this to ever happen again. And Bloomsbury apology was just ok, they didn't acknowledge the deeper issue at work which is hwy does this keep happening? Ugh.

I'm glad that even if you don't support my methods (I wasn't advocating for a boycott though, I wanted people to buy a book about a poc, write/email Bloomsbury and blog about it) you realize why this is so important.

Did this break out at an unfortunate time yes. But I still read lots of posts about awards and commented on them too.

Good post. I think we all learned something, I certainely did. That I'm more naive than I thought, thinking the publishing industry would not do this again (after Liar) and that they actually care. But I also learned that when bloggers unite and work together we can make a change =)

GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

I echo your thoughts Pam-thank you for writing this. I haven't really known what to say, but you said exactly what I wanted.

I feel terrible for the author and how her debut is now surrounded by all this.

And you're right-why aren't we talking about books about people of color and promoting them on our blog? I put the CSK and Belpre awards on hold at my library and I'm looking forward to highlighting them on my blog.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for the great wrap-up. I still can't believe this happened again with the same publisher.

Caroline said...

Thank you for writing this so eloquently. For me, it's been about a lot more than the cover.

beth said...

I think the Benedict Society books are still a problem. The people are smaller, but Sticky's pigment has fallen off. It's just crazy.

Rasco from RIF said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! There was a tornado inside me all week that churned faster with each day. I have felt cheated because I wanted us all to be celebrating award winners, I have felt angry, I have felt confused by "adult" behaviors and I have felt much more...you articulated the tornado. Again, thank you!

Paige Y. said...

The key to stopping it is pointing it out every time we recognize a cover that's inappropriate. All children should be able to find books with characters that look like they do - and the publishers that decide to put photographs of the main character the cover should represent that person appropriately.

Saints and Spinners said...

Thank you for providing a round-up of posts and your thoughts, MR. I'm onboard with an organized effort, and plan to write to Bloomsbury. In reading the reviews for Magic Under Glass, I thought, "Wow, that is the sort of book I would have loved to write."
However, I am disappointed in the cover choice and angry with white-washing in general.

Lisa Nowak said...

Concerning the effect this has on the author, maybe some good will come out of it if all this press brings more attention to her book. It's possible that people who otherwise wouldn't have heard about it will read it.

Not that the whole thing isn't shocking.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Thank you for this post Pam. I haven't been blogging much this week I am afraid, with grad school starting up and family life needing a lot of attention. I am grateful to you and others for highlighting this mess. Your insightful comments are right on and I appreciate your summing up with links. Keep the faith.

Liz B said...

I really value how many discussions we had; rather than arguments. And (as you can imagine!) there are many times I see both sides, or all three sides, etc.
I agree that there are many reasons bloggers may not say something. Didn't get book, didn't read book, not online that day or week, etc. but I also think its a valid question to step back from the issue of one book and one cover and ask, given the number of book bloggers, how many blog about books about POC? And FWIW, its equally important to look at other areas that may be underrepresented in the book blogosphere, like GLBT books.

susan said...

Pam,

I agree everybody couldn't haven't possibly known but this wasn't about a single book. Enough of us do know about whitewashing, we do know about lack of representation and the absence of color. We had this discussion the beginning of the year.

Like everyone else I want to focus on issues and not take disagreements personally because it's not about me. It's about us as a community. The issues are about our place in the larger society.

I don't know any family that doesn't disagree and even fight. That doesn't mean members don't love and care for each other and the friendships among bloggers are no different.

It was a rough week but there was plenty of constructive and positive dialogue in the spaces I chose to spend my time.

I wish some conversations hadn't spun out of control but I am convinced there was more good than bad.

I completely understand not wanting no harm to authors. I want the harm against readers to stop. I never argued a boycott was the only or right option for all. It was an option I was willing to make and I have no regrets about it.

I hope we continue to debate the issues, seek out solutions and commit to bringing about change.

I respect what you do here.

Paige, we have created Readers Against WhiteWashing to do exactly what you propose. We will cite and publicly criticize events as they happen in one centralize space where readers can voice their opinions and become informed.

Kelly Fineman said...

I'm not clear that they've delayed her release - I bought the book with its original cover a few weeks ago, and it had been out for a couple of weeks before that. Still, it sounds very much like they're pulling it, in which case Jackie's book will get a second release - or so I shall hope, as a way of making all this up to her.

Ms. Yingling said...

My thought of the week-- books for boys. Why is it so hard to find them? And do bloggers read and blog about as many books for boys as we do about boys. We all need philosophy from time to time!

Michelle said...

Thanks for the recap Pam. I sat back and stayed out of the fray. Issues like this are truly important but equally heated. I was glad to see that Bloomsbury has made the decision they have about the cover change. I imagine they are looking at all their covers at the moment so as to assure they don't have this issue on future publications.

Michelle The Artist said...

If it happened once, now twice in their case, then you have to look at the root cause and decide who is making these choices and why. Maybe someone in their office needs to take a diversity class. :)