2014 Kids of Color: Things Are Looking Up
You know why I’m looking forward to 2014? It’s not the fresh start that comes with every turn of the globe. It’s not the incipient birth of my second child (I lie . . . it is that, but for the purposes of this piece we’re going to pretend that it’s not). It’s not the fact that I’ve mistakenly thought it was 2014 already for half the year (this is what early galleys hath wrought).
It’s none of these. It is, in fact, the plethora, the godsend, the sheer number of books with kids of color on the middle grade covers coming out in 2014.
None of you have been blind to the fact that when a middle grade novel stars a kid of color, there is a 75% chance that you’re not going to see their face on the book jacket. Heck, Allie Bruce’s posts on the subject are worth the price of admission alone. Then there’s the fact that sometimes even finding kids of color can be a challenge (see: 2013 Middle Grade Black Boys: Seriously, People?). With that in mind I’ve been watching the galleys for the 2014 season and I am feeling cautiously optimistic. While the books that I’m about to list here are still just a miniscule percentage of the swath of middle grade (by which I mean, novels for kids between the ages of 9-12) titles out there, they mark a 400% improvement over . . . um . . . ever. Here’s what I’m seeing for Spring 2014 alone:
A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo
Nicely done. Big full-face with the dad in the background. Makes it clear it’s historical without feeling off-putting. Of course the cover originated in Britain, but we’ll take what we can get.
Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile by Marcia Wells
The first in what appears to be a series, this is a SUPER rarity. Dark-skinned boy (who is NOT a sidekick or best friend) alone on the cover of a book that actually looks fun and not meaningful or historical. And a mystery at that? Somebody buy me a lottery ticket quick, because I think my luck’s about to change!
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Branda Woods
I don’t care that it’s just half a face. It’s still a nice cover and I’m all for it.
Saving Baby Doe by Danette Vigilante
Contemporary Latino boy?! This is also wildly uncommon. Kind of dig the gorgeous cover design as well.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
What, you thought we got rid of all the silhouette-stand-ins-for-black-kids covers? Think again.
The Lion Who Stole My Arm by Nicola Davies
Another silhouette, but at least the title and cover blurb (which may or may not be on the American edition) are awesome.
Susan Marcus Bends the Rules by Jane Cutler
Look at this cover long enough and you might be convinced that the “Susan Marcus” mentioned in the title was the African-American girl at the center of the other girls’ attention. Nope. That girl isn’t even our heroine. A bit misleading but I sort of like the image so I’m torn.
Winter Sky by Patricia Reilly Giff
A close kin to the silhouette cover is the back-of-the-head cover where, again, you cannot determine the character’s race. That said, I actually like this one. Look at her head and hands and her race is instantly apparent (it’s a little harder to see here but trust me that when you see the actual book it will be clear). And due to the fact that there are 5 billion YA novels with white girls running away from the viewer, nothing wrong with a middle grade novel doing it’s own similar thing.
Painting the Rainbow by Amy Gordon
Like the “Susan Marcus” book, the boy pictured here is not the hero of the tale but someone being investigated (so to speak) by the two girls in the boat. This is, by the way, the only book with an Asian or Asian-American character I’ve seen with the sole exception of . . .
Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier Ying Chang Compestine and Vinson Compestine
It’s historical (a rare fantasy set in Maoist China) and distinctly unique.
Almost Super by Marion Jensen
Maybe she’s not the heroine proper but the character of Juanita Johnson fills me with hope. She and Gum Girl should get together sometime and save the world.
Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin
Winner of the Most Blurbs for a Galley award of 2014.
Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Hurricane Katrina by Rodman Philbrick
There is an understanding these days that you cannot CANNOT write a middle grade novel about Hurricane Katrina without the book being about a dog in some way. This title is no exception. It does, at first, look like a series of silhouettes but if you look at the actual book you’ll see it’s more detailed than that. I’m giving it points too for just looking like a book a kid might actually want to read.
Conclusions? As I mentioned before, Asian characters are more difficult than usual to find this publishing season. I was tempted to include The Dirt Diary by Anna Staiszewski in that rare category but I haven’t read the book so I wasn’t certain that I was correct. I’ve also not seen any books about Native American kids, but unless you’re Joseph Bruchac or Louise Erdrich they won’t be putting your face on the cover anyway (Written in Stone was 2013’s rare exception).
I would also be amiss in not mentioning the fact that these are just books that are featuring kids of color on their book jackets. I’m not mentioning the books that feature multicultural kids within the pages (just not on the covers). These would include titles like Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana and The Sittin’ Up by Sheila P. Moses amongst many others. Books that I am incredibly grateful for, but feel like the publishers missed a golden opportunity somewhere down the road when it came to their covers. Ah well. There’s always next year.
By the way, I just know that since I’m listing this books from the galleys I’ve received that there are bound to be some covers I’ve missed. So lay ’em on me! What’s also out there that I’m failing to note?
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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