Tockla's World of Children's Literature
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
New Writing Workshop scheduled
Saturday 22nd May, 9:30-5:30 pm
Writing for Young People with Laura Atkins
Whiteway Centre, Rottingdean, East Sussex
Price £70, including lunch
This intensive one-day workshop is for anyone who wants to study writing for young readers. We will cover topics such as defining the boundaries of books for children, developing a strong plot, using language effectively, creating memorable characters, and tips on trying to get published. With a combination of group discussion and writing exercises, we will address picture books, early chapter books and writing for teens. Whether you are already an experienced writer for children or have always felt it was something you wanted to try, this could be the perfect way to develop your writing aspirations.
The workshop will take place in the picturesque village of Rottingdean, just three miles east of Brighton. The session will be held in the Whiteway Centre (parking available), and includes a 2-course lunch at French bistro Cafe Gourmand. Advice available if you wish to book accommodation: Laura@lauraatkins.com.
Laura Atkins is a lecturer at the National Centre for Research in Children's Literature (NCRCL) at Roehampton University where I teach creative writing at undergraduate and MA level. She has been a children’s book editor, a judge for the London Writer’s Competition, and director of the Brighton Children's Book Festival. For more about her background, visit her website: http://www.lauraatkins.com/index.html.
Saturday, September 05, 2009
Please go and read Zetta Elliott's blog post: "Something like an open letter to the children's publishing industry." It is an impassioned and powerful plea to those who work in publishing to open the doors to author of color (in England, somewhat equivalent terms are black and minority ethnic - BME - or non-white).
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
More in white privilege in children's publishing and W.A.R
I've been meaning for ages to respond to the many comments left on the last blog entry which links to my essay on white privilege in children's publishing. And thanks to the many people who have addressed each others' comments, I think much has already been said for me. So here are a few more general musings from me on the subject.
Let’s talk books again.This is going to be overly simplistic so bear with me. Imagine a group of editors discussing what to publish next. Everyone in the room is female, white, mid 20-30s. They’re all educated. They’re all readers. All of them have only read other educated, white, female writers. Collectively they’re favorite genres are chick lit and books published in the last 20 years.
They get in a stack of manuscripts. Books by men, books by people of color, themes include sci-fi, horror and true crime.
The editors look at the works. They agree the writing is competent, but none of the editors have a real point of reference to compare the works. These aren’t anything they read, these are books they normally don’t check out in the bookstore. They don’t have any marketing numbers to suggest how well these books would sell.
And whether one says it or not, somebody is thinking, “Where’s the chick lit?”
Now imagine if the group of editors had males, people of color, readers who read sci-fi, horror and true crime. That person can share a different perspective.
We’re not going to debate if that editor could influence the group but being there and saying something brings something that wasn’t there before- a different experience.
Yes it does. And so does openly talking about issues that make people uncomfortable. Which segues nicely to the W.A.R. part of my title to this posting. School Library Journal blogger Amy Bowllan, along with Zetta Elliott, have been running a series of blog postings on the topic of War Against Racism (W.A.R.). I was flattered to be asked to contribute, and everyone is responding to the following three questions:
Briefly describe the impact racism had on you as a young person.
Has your personal experience of racism impacted your professional work as a writer/educator?
In what way can literature be used to combat the effects of racism and promote tolerance?
You can read my answers here. And read the many other contributors by going to Amy's blog and scrolling back. The questions and answers reveal how the personal and the political are intimately linked. Each person has their own experiences, their own stories to tell - and all of us have connected to and through literature as a way of combating racism in the ways that we can.
So thanks again for all who have commented on the essay. And please continue to add your voices. The more of us who speak, who confront the uncomfortable, who push the status quo - the higher the chance that the situation will shift and change. Working together, from all backgrounds, races, classes, and any other "others", we have a powerful voice.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Paper from IRSCL conference on white privilege in children's publishing
I've been trying to find a way to post my paper from the conference in some form where people can add comments within the text, giving their perspectives and additions. I also tried posting the paper as a blog entry, but it's too long and looks clunky. So, instead I've got it as a Google website here: http://sites.google.com/site/tockla/
I would be thrilled if people read the paper, and then gave their experiences and comments on this blog posting. And if anyone has suggestions for the kind of technology I'm looking for, I'd be much obliged!
Thursday, August 06, 2009
Following from my previous post about the cover of the book Liar, Publishers Weekly has just covered this - Bloomsbury has decided to change the cover. This is a 100,000 copy hardcover printing, and they are creating a new jacket for all of them (at an estimated cost of around $7,000).
Now this is a case of power to the people, one of the quickest and most effective I've seen in the children's publishing industry. Here was the official response from Bloomsbury explaining the change:
“In response to this concern, and in support of the author’s vision for the novel, Bloomsbury has decided to re-jacket the hardcover edition with a new look in time for its publication in October. It is our hope that the important discussions about race and its representation in teen literature continue. As the publisher of Liar, we also hope that nothing further distracts from the quality of the author’s nuanced and accomplished story, and that a new cover will allow this novel’s many advocates to celebrate its U.S. publication without reservation.”No, this does not mean that everything has been fixed, and that the institutional racism present throughout the children's publishing industry is gone. But it does show that when a lot of people speak out, it makes a difference. And I do want to give Bloomsbury some credit for going back on their initial position. I had emailed after the first PW article, saying the following:
Dear Deb Shapiro (and Melanie Cecka),
I want to write to express my dismay at reading about the cover of the book Liar by Justine Larbalestier, as well as the explanation given in the Publishers Weekly article for why this cover was used.
I was an editor for three years at Lee & Low Books, and now teach children's literature in the UK. This is such an important issue, and as such, an opportunity for Bloomsbury to make a bold and important move at this point. I find it difficult to believe that you really decided to put a white girl on the cover in order to question the race of the protagonist, even when the author herself has said she meant her to be black. As an editor, this explanation makes no sense. Our job, first and foremost, is to follow the lead of authors and help them express their story as clearly and as well as possible. Changing the author's intent through this cover just doesn't hold up. It makes more sense that it was out of a fear that having a black girl's face on the cover would not sell.
Now is a moment when you can come forward, talk about these problems in the industry, begin a discussion about how things can change. The United States is only becoming more diverse, so there is a marketing as well as a publishing imperative to shift here and reflect the faces of the nation. Why not take the lead, admit you made a mistake, and help initiate a discussion in this area?
I will be talking about this cover at the congress for the International Research Society for Children's Literature (IRSCL) congress, taking place next week in Germany. Over 400 people are attending and speaking, and the topic is children's literature and diversity (http://www.irscl2009.de/jom/). This is an area of great importance. I do hope Bloomsbury will rise to the challenge rather than offering unconvincing excuses.
All the best,
And now, I sent the following:
Dear Deb Shapiro,But dang, this means I have to revise my paper!
I wanted to write following my previous email, and having just received the PW Children's Bookshelf. It is a bold move on Bloomsbury's part to make this change, and I commend you for the decision. I still think there is an opportunity to speak more openly about issues of race (and institutional racism) in the children's publishing industry. But you have taken a first and important step by responding to the public outcry over this cover. Thank you for listening. This was an important decision.
All the best,
And icing on the cake, Justine Larbalestier has pointed people towards Zetta's book and the inspiring blog at Reading in Color to win a free copy. It's a great way for more people to find out about this important book.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
White privilege and children's publishing
So I’ve been thinking about white privilege, thanks mostly to a friend of mine who is mixed-race, a children’s book author, an academic, and someone who is never afraid to speak her mind.
This is partially in light of the recent arrest of Louis Gates, the distinguished academic from Harvard who was arrested after being suspected of breaking into his own home. The media in the US came alive, mainly with white reporters and radio djs defending the actions of the police. Once again, as with OJ Simpson, even Michael Jackson, there seems to be a divide between the white and black response to events. And is that a surprise?
I’ve been turned-on to two white critics who discuss white privilege, Tim Wise and Peggy McIntosh. Both examine how white people are able to live their lives with unfair advantages, and with very little understanding of this fact. Wise created a three-act play on his blog showing how his interactions with police over his lifetime were based in a completely different dynamic than most black people, particularly males, would most likely experience. For instance, when attempting to break into his car where he’d locked the keys inside, a policeman offered to help him out. McIntosh has created a list of 46 circumstances in which white skin offers an unearned advantage, such as being able to choose the company of her own race most of the time, shopping without being followed by store detectives, and criticizing the government without being seen as a cultural outsider.
This makes me think about my role as a previous white editor working with non-white authors, it makes me consider my role as a white academic focusing on issues of diversity and representation. The friend mentioned at the beginning – Zetta Elliott – do look out for her picture book and self-published timeslip novel and visit her provocative blog – said she was tired of having to explain racism to white people. And I admire these above critics for taking that responsibility, for examining the place and role of white people in the dynamic of racism rather than always focusing on the people of color.
What can we do if we want to contribute in a positive way to such an unfair situation where we carry this advantage? I chose to work as an editor primarily of multicultural books because I wanted to be part of improving the lack of diversity in books published for children. I have tried to be aware, to learn from those I worked with, in order to recognize and challenge my own cultural and subjective position. But is that enough? And in some ways am I being self-serving by trying to speak for, or on behalf of, people of color?
I look at the publishing industries in the US and the UK, both extremely white and middle class. I read about the recent controversy about the cover of Justine Larbalestier’s book Liar, where US publisher Bloomsbury put a white girl’s face on the cover even though the protagonist is black. And even though the author has stated that she meant the girl to be black (in her articulate blog post about the cover), Bloomsbury defends this decision by saying that the cover implies the girl, a pathological liar, might be lying about her race. My mind boggles, really. The Publishers Weekly article which offers Bloomsbury’s defense also shocks me, with the lack of outrage, and the perspectives of people who can understand why this cover, which they say looks nice and is eye-catching, was chosen for the book. At least there has been an outpouring of response on the blogosphere, neatly summarized by Chasing Ray. But what of the mainstream, the media, the publishers themselves? Where is the outright apology from Bloomsbury, the mea culpa?
OK, now I’m ranting, and moving away from the conference paper which I’m trying to work around through this blog entry. There are too many things wrong here, and it seems like too few people see it. The children’s publishing industry is blind, blinkered, insular, and self-enclosed in too many ways. Yes, many good and well-intentioned people work in the industry, and most desire to make things better, to provide all children with wonderful books to read. But this is such a fundamental problem based on who primarily works in the industry, and even more so who holds the positions of power and dictates marketing and publication decisions.
Perhaps self-publishing will be the way forward, the internet, the ability of people to bypass an archaic publishing industry that seems slow to respond to change. At the Diversity Matters conference in 2006, Francesca Dow of Puffin said that by 2010, 1 in 5 schoolchildren in the UK will be from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME)) communities (you can see my full notes from the conference here). The United States grows more and more diverse as well, with a mixture of stories, backgrounds, ways of telling. It’s such an enormous shame that these voices and stories are mostly unheard and unpublished, and that those which do come through struggle to carry their original nuance and address.
Hopefully I can channel some of this into the conference paper I'm writing for the upcoming IRSCL congress (International Research Society of Children's Literature), taking place in a couple of weeks in Frankfurt, Germany. The theme is children's literature and cultural diversity, and there are an amazing number of people presenting papers. Which offers some hope that this is an area that is getting lots of attention, at least in some ways. Take a look at the congress website to see more. I'm struggling to get the paper done, but will try to post more about it here as I (hopefully) progress.