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Editorial: What the Survey Doesn’t Say

Welcome to our annual issue devoted to the ALA book awards. You will find herein acceptance speeches by and profiles of the Coretta Scott King, Caldecott, Newbery, and Wilder award winners as well as some analysis of the winners and honor books; some Newbery history (where does K. T. Horning find those stories?); and “Mind the Gap,” our yearly salute to the books that escaped ALA award notice.

One thing that did not escape ALA notice was last year’s renewed call for cultural diversity in publishing and promoting books for young people. While it would be inaccurate to say that the Newbery and Caldecott committees deliberately set out to reward books by non-majority authors and illustrators, that is exactly what they ended up doing: of the ten books that figured in these awards, seven were by diverse authors and illustrators. (I am having trouble using the word diverse in this sense without quotations, but my coworkers insist and tell me I will get over it.) It’s wonderful news that we are happy to celebrate in this issue.

Back at our annual editorial planning meeting in the summer of 2014, we discussed how to better explore and promote diversity within these pages and across the various digital Horn Book platforms. Should we have a(nother!) newsletter? Should the Magazine start a column? In the end, we decided that the best thing to do was to commit to publishing editorial content about some aspect of diverse books in every issue. Every article in this issue fulfills that goal, but ALA gets most of the credit for that.

What about our book reviews? Are they as diverse as they could and should be? Along with its reviewing sisters Kirkus, LJ, SLJ, and Booklist, The Horn Book Magazine recently took part in a survey that Jason Low, publisher of Lee & Low Books, designed to determine the diversity of children’s book publishers and review journals, said diversity determined in this case by ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status. The Magazine’s results are probably what you’d expect: of the thirty-five reviewers who answered the voluntary (and anonymous) four-question survey, about ninety percent are white and not disabled, eighty-five percent are female, and one-third are other than heterosexual. (That payoff of a lonely childhood I told you about back in March? There ya go.) No real surprises here.

I’m always interested in expanding the diversity of our pool of reviewers, although I am as interested in a diversity of knowledge and experience as I am in demography. (Let’s not forget versatility, either: longtime reviewer Joanna Rudge Long is retiring with this issue, and while I will miss her for lots of reasons, the first one is that I could throw any book in creation at her and know she would write a superb review.) If you feel you can add to the expertise of our review staff, call me. (Not really: see information about applying to become a reviewer at www.hbook.com/about-us/employment/.) The goal of increasing the diversity and expertise among reviewers is intrinsically laudable. But despite awards, despite calls for change over the past half-century, the number of books published by demographically underrepresented voices remains too low. I don’t know that diversifying who reviews books will change that, particularly when schools and libraries (institutions that still rely on review sources, bless them forever) are an increasingly small share of the trade book market. We will certainly do our best — but we can’t review books that aren’t there. Keep ’em coming, publishers.

From the July/August 2015 Special Awards issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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.

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