“American children are growing up with a distorted sense of reality: white children see themselves reflected endlessly” in children’s books, says author and activist Zetta Elliott, “whereas children of color rarely see themselves at all.”
The Cooperative Children’s Book Council has been reviewing and documenting the state of children’s publishing for more than 25 years. Their report finds that most children’s books — well over 90% of those reviewed in 2013 — are still about white children.
“Industry gatekeepers seem determined to exclude writers of color,” Elliott says, citing her own experiences in publishing. She self-publishes her children’s books, and then finds that her titles “face further exclusion from large and small booksellers alike.”
Teaching for Change and Limbaugh
One exception has been Teaching for Change, which operates on-line and through the bookstore at Washington, DC’s Busboys and Poets: “Teaching for Change makes my books available to their patrons because they recognize that as an author I share their mission to help children ‘question, challenge, and re-think the world.'”
Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh is a white man of wealth (annual earnings of $66 million, according to Forbes), whose children’s books — Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims (2013), Rush Revere and the First Patriots (2014) — are published by Simon and Schuster and distributed through mainstream booksellers. Both books are on the NY Times Bestsellers’ list for middle-grade fiction.
Limbaugh was offended when Teaching for Change told him his books did not fit their mission, claimed “racist discrimination” and suggested they “drop dead.” At his urging, radio listeners barraged Teaching for Change with calls and emails “with vicious, hateful messages about how hateful we are and why we should ‘drop dead,’” the organization reports.
Jamaica Kincaid once had a fictional character ask, “How do you get to be the sort of victor who can claim to be the vanquished also?” This is what first came to mind when Rush Limbaugh called Teaching for Change’s bookstore “racist” for choosing to promote books by and about people of color….
For someone as privileged as Rush Limbaugh to claim he is the victim of discrimination is beyond ridiculous and clearly indicates he has no understanding whatsoever of the field of children’s literature and the true meaning of justice.
—Zetta Elliott, children’s author and activist
Dropping dead is the last thing we are thinking of doing when it comes to promoting books by and about People of Color. We are getting them into the hands of as many children and young people as possible because they touch the spirit and open the mind to a wider world.
Learn More on the Education Town Hall, June 19
Elliott and Lee, along with Teaching for Change’s Deborah Menkart, join the Education Town Hall June 19 to discuss the state of children’s publishing, the role of organizations like Teaching for Change, and Limbaugh’s claims of “racism.” Track 4 below —
Listen Thursdays at 11 a.m. (Eastern).
Also on June 19: Teacher “tenure,” due process, and Vergara vs. California. Track 3 above (and more later).