For the second time in a year, the American wing of Bloomsbury has withdrawn a book because its dust jacket showed a young white woman but its protagonist is actually a young woman of color. The first book was Justine Larbalestier’s Liar, the second Jaclyn Dolamore’s Magic Under Glass. (Both books also show young women who are gorgeous, which the Liar heroine says she’s not, but that’s another question.)
Book bloggers were at the forefront of spotting this problem and pressing Bloomsbury to fix it. There are now many fine essays online about the value of books about children of color and the need to respect authors’ visions. But can pressure on publishers fix the problem?
Last June Elizabeth Bluemle wrote a Shelftalker column from her bookstore in Burlington, Vermont:
I’ve noticed a strange trend among grandparents these days, and sometimes among parents: the tendency to reject a book for not being specifically, literally representative of their child’s world. . . .To which Elizabeth Bird at Fuse #8 and the New York Public Library system added:
Or, most disheartening of all, a whispered, “I don’t think he’ll really be interested in that,” when the child’s skin color on the cover does not match the child’s skin color in real life. (I’ll add here that only white customers make this kind of comment; customers of color — even if they were so narrow-minded — wouldn’t have the luxury of limiting their children only to books about kids like themselves; there just aren’t enough. But that’s a separate post.)
We get that here in New York too. Only they’ll never actually tell you why they’re rejecting the book. They’ll just pluck out all the titles with kids of other colors and leave them surreptitiously on the table for you to find later.The fact that those adults aren’t expressing their prejudices out loud shows how such discrimination has become taboo, which is a Good Thing. But the testimony of these book professionals suggests that quietly entrenched racism is still silently affecting some people’s book choices. And in a capitalist economy, that might affect book covers.
TOMORROW: How can we tell?