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Books for black kids

There’s a provocative new comment over on Yolanda Hare’s “Beyond the Friends.” It has me wondering if the CSK awards ever suffer from Newberyitis, where some kids see the sticker and think, “oh, this is one of those books that’s supposed to be good for you.” Because light escapist fare they ain’t. (Nor are they supposed to be.)

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Hmm. But the comment wasn’t about whether the CSK books tend to be more or less literary– the comment addressed issues of representation. (And hopefully there’s a wider, more diverse representation in the audience for these books as well. While I understand the importance of African-American children and YAs in particular seeing the wide range of their experiences depicted in literature, I would hope that this doesn’t mean that books about black kids are exclusively books *for* black kids.) Not being a member of the African-American community myself, I don’t think I could participate in the conversation about representation and class in any way but to listen. But I do think there’s often the same underlying problem at work in many of these discussions, which is just the need for more children’s books by and about people of color in general. For all kids.

  2. Christine TB says:

    I think that has been the issue. A CSK sticker has become books “about” African Americans “for” African Americans. The flaw in the award is that African American authors aren’t eligible if they write characters of other cultures. They aren’t eligible even if they write about Black characters from other countries. And Non-African Americans aren’t eligible if they write about children of color. So it creates a paradox of sorts and may have created more barriers to creating a climate for writing broadly than it solved.

    Years ago, I remember commenting on how much I loved a book by a Bloomsbury author. The editor looked me in the eye and said she agreed, but was saddened that the book didn’t qualify for a CSK because the author was white. I looked her in the eye and said “Why wouldn’t you submit it for a Newbery?” She didn’t have an answer. But it became a glaring example of how the system works and still works when years later the same publisher began putting white faces on books about black characters to make the covers more “palatable” to a mainstream audience.

    I agree that there should be more children’s books by and about people of color in general. The rules of publishing about who should write them be damned. I suspect “lack of sales” has less to do with subject matter than with publishing houses doing the “Invisible” or “niche related” marketing that has failed them in the past.

    There is a saying that goes – Problems arise to send a message. Solving the problem without understanding the message causes the problem to come back and send a louder message.

    C…Resident curmudgeon in training.

  3. Christine TB says:

    Roger – I do agree. The sticker may be a barrier because traditionally the books heavily favored historical nonfiction and other subjects often of concern to the judges but not the target audience. I.e. more educational than entertaining/read for pleasure.

    As a college rep I can’t emphasize enough how much we need to get urban kids reading for pleasure and without adult intervention before they graduate elementary school. If that doesn’t happen, their chances of getting into my college or my husband’s admissions committee drop close to zero.

  4. Leanetta S Garrett says:

    There has been so many newly released books showing diversity in children’s books. Young people of all races need to see themselves as the main characters in books. Reading is fun for kids especially when they see kids or people in the books who look like them, Author Crystal Swain-Bates has tapped into the market with 3 new childrens books for African American kids but certainly should be read by all kids. Her books “Big Hair Don’t Care”, “The Colorful Adventures of Zoe & Star” and “The Colorful Adventures of Cody & Jay” are all books featuring kids having fun and yet the books are educational too. These books can be seen on, as well as – check them out.

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