The Promise of Booger Beard: The Rights of Diverse Silliness
Last year this book came out:
It’s pretty much just as gross as you might expect. Boy sneezes. The sneeze congeals into a massive beard o’ boogers. The boy is enraptured with his newfound facial “hair”, though his mom tells him to remove it before he eats. He’s disinclined. It was sort of a graphic novel/picture book hybrid. It also starred a Latino hero and had Spanish words nicely integrated into the text. It was, in short, the future I want to belong to.
I shall endeavor to explain. We’ve been talking a lot about diverse children’s literature in the last few years. A discussion that has been a long time coming. We talk about needing to see more diverse authors, illustrators, agents, editors, publicists, reviewers, and books (whether they’re YA novels or board books). In the last year I’ve seen the old myths about why we don’t see more diverse books dying on the vine. Some still cling there, though. And one of the most dangerous arguments maintains that it is just plain old difficult to sell diverse books. That in certain communities children naturally gravitate away from diverse covers in favor of those that feature kids who look a little more white. Now I’m not saying this isn’t sometimes true. But let’s take a closer look at what precisely we’re trying to sell to them. Or rather, what we’re trying to sell to them actually looks like.
A recent article from Publishers Weekly addressed part of this perception. How Independent Booksellers Hand-Sell and Merchandise Diverse Books is an interesting peek into the bookseller world. A good piece (with a notable shout out to Evanston’s Bookends and Beginnings!) I was particularly taken with the books that got name dropped. The Great Green Heist, One Word From Sophia, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, etc. You know what those books have in common? The same thing you’ll find with Booger Beard. They’re actually fun to read!!
Look. Historical fiction and realistic serious fiction are awesome. They have their place in literature. They allows authors to bring to the fore great writing and to expand young minds on a slate of different topics. But true diversity doesn’t come until you get goofball diversity. Books that kids would actually want to pick up for pleasure reading. Beach reads. Stuff they trade to one another. Stuff they sneak trips to the school bathroom to sneak a look at. I mean, do you know how bloody hard it is to find fantasy novels with African-American kids starring in them? I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m just saying it’s hard and it shouldn’t have to be. Or how about something diverse to hand the kid that likes Diary of a Wimpy Kid? Got a similar kind of notebook novel that’s diverse in some way? Aside from the fact that the Dork Diaries have a diverse author/illustrator and there are gay parents in the Popularity Papers, the pickings are slim.
Year’s ago I put all my hopes on Sassy by Sharon Draper. Remember Sassy? Here’s the cover:
That cover made my life. It was freakin’ rare too. I’ve never seen another book with a photo of a black girl (or boy, or kid that wasn’t generally white) on an early chapter book jacket before. Kids looked at that book and wanted to read it. Now the print edition is unavailable (though apparently you can still get it as an ebook).
So Booger Beard, I salute you. In you, I hope to find a future of silly, gross, funny, magical, weirdo titles. Diversity isn’t just about the serious stuff. Sometimes the funny needs a shot in the arm as well.
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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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