Where are all the black boys? Author Varian Johnson Highlights a Persistent Gap in Children’s Literature

Ashley Bryan wrote a classic article called the All White World of Children’s Books, in the 1960s.
How much have things changed since then?
varian_homeAn answer comes from author Varian Johnson, who wrote in his May 15, 2013 blog entry:
Last week, author and librarian Betsy Bird posted this on Twitter: “At the risk of sounding desperate, can anyone name me just ONE middle grade novel published in 2013 starring an African-American boy?”
She later followed up with a post listing all the books published in 2013 featuring African-American boys as main characters. If I’m counting correctly, the number is somewhere around eight. Maybe ten, when you count some of the small publishers.
You have no idea how depressed this makes me feel. … There are a lot of theories why these books aren’t being published. Maybe authors aren’t writing them. Maybe editors and agents aren’t acquiring them. Maybe readers don’t want them.
Here is some suggested reading on this topic:
51RTS2NDYGL._SY320_The All White World of Children’s Books and African American Children’s Literature is a collection of essays represents perhaps the first attempt on the part of scholars of African American children’s literature to give scholarly status to the study, analysis, and critique of such literature, wrote Betty McEady-Gilead of the Journal of Reading.
 Author Osayimwense Osa  wrote:
I was a visiting rofessor in 1989/90 in Germany and the US during my sabbatical year,  very soon after establishing the Journal of African Children’s Literature (JACL) which later became the  Journal of African Children’s & Youth Literature (JACYL). I found quite interesting and fascinating,  Dianne Johnson’s book, The Pedagogy and Promise of Literature for African American Youth, which  was given to me to review. And when  I decided to do a Special Issue Volume 3 on African American Children’s Literature, I contacted her about potential contributors, and sent flyers to various institutions. Her response was very positive. Many wonderful essays were received and the problem of selection for the special issue had to be addressed.
Attending the African Studies Association conference in Boston, MA. in the early 90s, I met Mr. Kassahun Checole, the Mangaging Director of Africa World Press. It was this meeting that resulted in the transformation of the  Volume 3 Special Issue on African American Children’s Literature of JACYL  into The All-White World of Children’s Books and African American Children’s Literature in 1995.I gratefully  acknowledge the support of  Dr. Richard F. Abrahamson, Dr. Nancy J. Schmidt, Dr. Dianne Johnson, Dr. Hugh Keenan, Mrs. Kemie Nix, Dr. Mary Twining, Dr. David Dorsey, Dr. Donnarae MacCann, and all the enthusiastic  contributors to Volume 3 Special Issue on African American Children’s Literature of JACYL.
 Unlike most collections of African American literature, this is not an anthology of African American literature, nor is it merely a bibliographic potpourri of books about and for African American children and youth. Instead, this collection of essays represents perhaps the first attempt on the part of scholars of African American children’s literature to give scholarly status to the study, analysis, and critique of such literature. As scholars in children’s and youth literature addressing ‘those who work with children and books,’ these authors communicate a wealth of information and provide valuable scholarship.
This collection successfully meets the intent expressed in its objectives, but it also provides for educators a much needed repository of literary criticism, history and studies on the development and genres of literature for African American children and youth. Thus, the volume could be a supplemetary text in English methods courses as well as reading methods courses for prospective teachers. – Betty McEady-Gilead, Journal of Reading
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3 Comments Add yours

  1. jennpower says:

    Oh wow. You make a very good point. I can’t think of any books in children’s literature which features non-white people which doesn’t have race as an issue. “Iggie’s House” by Judy Blume, “Underground to Canada” by Barbara Smucker, “Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis are the only books I can think of with black main characters- and the books focus around race. Thanks for bringing this up!

  2. jackiewellington21 says:

    I already ordered my book by Varian. I came across the challenge on Kate Messner’s blog; and I took the challenge to order the book from an independent book store. I look forward to the read. 😀

  3. jackiewellington21 says:

    Reblogged this on Why I Write Picture Books? (#YIWritePB) and commented:
    I took the Kate Messner’s Challenge. I ordered Varian Johnson’s book from an independent publisher. You should take the challenge too.

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