Editorial: Book Lives (May/June 2023)

The May/June issue of the Horn Book is customarily our themed “special issue,” in which we explore one topic in depth and from many angles. There are special issues and special special issues, and this one falls into the latter category. “Diverse Books: Past, Present, and Future” is the conversation in children’s books and librarianship, and who better to have it than these outstanding contributors?

“It all started on Twitter” almost ten years ago, but the mission and message behind We Need Diverse Books have been loud and clear for decades. The work of mentors, groundbreakers, and thought leaders including Rudine Sims Bishop, author of the touchstone essay “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” (#CiteHerWork), Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers, Virginia Hamilton, Pura Belpré, and Debbie Reese is frequently noted by this issue’s contributors. On page 10, the WNDB team — a group of highly dedicated and enviably organized individuals — provides a many-voiced look at this transformative organization. Its multifaceted, coordinated, nimble, and concrete approach has significantly moved the proverbial needle on important issues. The “Seeing Ourselves” short pieces throughout the issue are by recent recipients of WNDB’s Walter Awards (named for Walter Dean Myers), and their perspectives are both vital to and evidence of WNDB’s continuing and necessary work.

Another foundational institution, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, started compiling its diversity statistics in 1985 because that year there were only eighteen(!) books eligible for the Coretta Scott King Book Award. We are glad to continue our series of articles by CCBC librarians as they explain and explore their methodologies, challenges, and conclusions on page 21. See also Jason Low’s informative article on page 70, including details about Lee & Low’s seminal 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey, and exposing historic, systemic issues around the publishing industry and diversity. And revisit The Brown Bookshelf’s 2020 “Call to Action” on their website.

Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, who are themselves groundbreakers with Just Us Books and their own authored works, provide ample detail and context about Black history and publishing on page 30. On page 82, Dianne ­­Johnson-Feelings implores all book lovers to “celebrate and honor all of those creators, of every tradition and background, who…laid the foundation.” And Alec B. Chunn and Anastasia Collins (page 75), while acknowledging “LGBTQIA+ publishing’s embarrassing childhood photos,” also recognize their inherent value.

Knowing your past and having a clear-eyed view of your present are common themes throughout the issue. On pages 56 and 92, respectively, we provide “updates” to recent (but pre-COVID) articles about Muslim and Jewish books and about publishers’ efforts and imprints that are specifically focused on diversity. The news seems good — but as Shoshana Flax wonders, what does it feel like from inside? Will all the efforts and commitments that we have been seeing and cheering be meaningful and lasting? What about diversities that are absent, invisible, or used primarily as plot devices, such as chronic pain in Katie Bircher’s article on page 63? What might we be taking for granted, as Julie Hakim Azzam wonders starting on page 49; what “literary bubble” might someone be inside?

Especially given the climate of book bans and pushback against equity, it doesn’t seem like WNDB, the CCBC, and all those who advocate for change and accountability will be working themselves out of a job anytime soon. Several of the contributors in this issue are optimistic about a time when “diverse books” are synonymous with “books”; here’s hoping that any future special issues on this topic will be an exploration from that perspective.


Our coverage continues online; please see articles from our archive and new articles about “Diverse Books: Past, Present, and Future” on hbook.com.

From the May/June 2023 special issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Diverse Books: Past, Present, and Future.


Single copies of this special issue are available for $15.00 including postage and may be ordered from:

Horn Book Magazine Customer Service

Full subscription information is here

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.