If you have been following the amazing array of posts by my #kidlitwomen colleagues during March, you will be more than aware, if you weren’t before, of the institutional sexism in the children’s book industry. These are pervasive issues across the world in our field and we need to continue to listen to these voices, believe these voices and do what we can in our school libraries to boost these people. One of the best ways we can do this is to support these authors and illustrators.
As school librarians, we need to take a long hard look at how much space we have historically given in our libraries to books written by straight, cis white men. As gatekeepers, book-buyers, author-champions and readers, we hold a surprising amount of power in making change in the industry, even if it doesn’t feel like it. I confess that during the 2.5 years I have been in my present school library post, I have focused a lot of my attention on books written by people of color, or those who aren’t straight or cis-gender or mainstream or able-bodied etc.; I haven’t been paying much attention to if the authors or protagonists are female. I need to do better, and I am writing these suggestions as much for myself as anyone else. This isn’t about excluding men, this is about celebrating women and non-binary.
- I think the first step is to make a conscious point of reading female and non-binary authors yourself, and model this to your students. If you like to have a “What is Ms. Marple reading this week?” notice in your library, this can keep you accountable to any male/cis/white bias that may have crept in.
- Buying books by women is a no-brainer, but I want to strongly emphasize, as others have this month, the importance of intersectionality here too. You can’t wholly divorce racism, homophobia/transphobia, ableism etc from sexism. We must aim for diversity within gender equality and recognizing that there are multiple forms of oppression. Buy books by women, yes! But also buy books by and about: trans people, non-binary people of color, non neuro-typical Jewish women, gender neutral teens with disabilities. This isn’t only to support these people, but all your students need these perspectives. And within your budget, may I urge you to set aside money for books that really focus on empowering young people-SLJ suggested a few new titles a fortnight ago that do just that.
- When you do your monthly displays, in February, instead of doing simply a Black History month display, why not have it only of women of color for example?
- I am fortunate in my library that I enjoy a lot of collaboration with my English (and French) department and they seek out librarian advice. When you need to come up with those summer reading recommendations, put your female/non-binary hat on as you create those lists. Also, don’t be shy in recommending alternatives to the “classic” classrooms texts often written by white cis het males. I have been lobbying for The Hate U Give to be a 10th grade read next year.
- Please don’t fall into the trap of making decisions and book recommendations based on gender; i.e. try and eliminate the vocabulary “boys’ books” and “girls’ books”, this will also build respect for your nonbinary students. Instead, focus on interest—what your students love. “Hannah, didn’t you tell me you enjoy coding, you may enjoy this.” “Tom, you’re into fashion, right? I think you’ll love this!” “Who enjoys adventure books?” My experience says #boysreadgirls and vice versa. As author, Kate Messner says, “If we’re teaching young boys that women’s voices don’t matter, then what do we expect when men get older and have to coexist with women in the workplace?” Megan Frazer Blakemore already wrote an eloquent post about this earlier this month, as did Jilanne Hoffman. (I also believes interest trumps reading level but that’s another soapbox!)
- If you run a school book club. Or even with your regular female/gender questioning borrowers, talk with your students about their reading experiences, what books are mirrors for them, and where they aren’t seeing themselves but would like to be.
- Have lists for your different age groups of recommended books by authors that go beyond the well-known names. Chat up your favorite books featuring complex, diverse, authentic female and non-binary characters.
- When you are planning your author visits, make sure that over the years there’s a healthy female:male:gender fluid balance.
- If you are also a blogger, as I am, write reviews for some of your favorite authors and illustrators. In my case, I have been interviewing illustrators for 7 years on the blog, and around 85% of these interviews are with women (and about 40% with diverse creators—I am working on this.) Go onto your social media sites and recommend those books. Get the word out.
- Recommend and support great bookstores run by female owners. Did you see in early March that Janet Geddis owner of AVID BOOKSHOP (Athens, GA) withdrew their shop from a book fair in an area school after the school’s admin requested Richard peck’s The Best Man, along with other books featuring “objectionable” content, be removed from display? Avid hosted an in-store book fair with 10% proceeds to benefit an Athens LGBTQ Youth Group. There are plenty of well-regarded indie stores out there that would be very receptive to feedback from local patrons, especially librarians/teachers, about their visiting author lineups. Forbes did an article earlier this month on Women Making Indie Bookstores Great Again.
- There are many great “best of” lists published these days. On your high school library board or webpage, why not post, “The Ten Best Debut YA Novels by Non-Binary Authors?” Or in your elementary school library, make your next display, “My Favorite Female Illustrators?” Author/illustrator Joyce Wan has created a terrific @kidlitwomen pinterest board of women illustrators as a resource.
“So here I stand, one girl among many. I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights. Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.” Malala Yousafzai, writer & activist
Let me finish by recommending five new releases for your school library.