First Book to Spend Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars to Increase Diversity in Kids Books

[Press Release]

Stories for All: A Market-Driven Answer to the Need for Diverse Books
Nonprofit to Spend Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars to Influence New Content

Last week, hundreds of thousands of parents, educators and readers of all ages issued a call for more diversity in children’s literature, rallying under the banner of #WeNeedDiverseBooks. The campaign spread quickly from Twitter to media outlets around the world as people shared powerful stories about the need for all children to see themselves in books.

Today First Book is answering the call with a market-driven solution addressing the lack of diversity in children’s literature.

“We’re asking our friends in the publishing industry to show us more books from new and underrepresented voices,” said Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO of First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides new books to kids in need. “People have been frustrated by the lack of diversity in children’s books for generations. To help solve this problem, we’re putting our money where our mouth is and pledging to purchase 10,000 copies of each title we select.”

Through these efforts, First Book will expand the reach of these titles, provide additional exposure for new authors and illustrators and support the development of new content.

Once published, the titles will be available to children everywhere.

first book infographic

The lack of diversity in children’s booksFirst Book will also fund, for the first time ever, affordable paperback editions of diverse titles that have previously only been publicly available in expensive hardcover formats. These books will be available at special prices exclusively for the schools and organizations First Book serves.

A diverse group of authors and illustrators support First Book and this project.

Diversity, humanizing African-Americans in positive roles, is one gift we can bring to young people of all races to address this issue,” said Walter Dean Myers, author of young adult fiction and five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Award. “Are we to say no to this gift?”

First Book serves the largest and fastest growing network of programs and schools reaching children in need across the United States and Canada. As part of their ongoing Stories for All Project, First Book will aggregate the purchasing power of these 120,000 programs and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring diverse picture stories to market.

“What First Book is doing with The Stories for All Project is something that the #WeNeedDiverseBooks team could only dream about,” said Ellen Oh, the young adult author who launched the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign on Twitter. “If diverse books don’t sell, they can’t be published. First Book is providing a tangible solution to the problem and highlighting the importance of diversity.”

“We won’t adequately address the problem of diversity in children’s literature until we build a market that supports publishers and authors focused on diverse perspectives,” Zimmer said. “First Book is doing this in a way that makes good business sense for everyone. Publishers won’t print what they don’t think they can sell, so First Book is prepared to write a big check to make this happen.”

First Book issued the offer to U.S. and Canadian publishers today, just as Children’s Book Week gets underway. They will not be accepting submissions from the general public. First Book will announce the selected new titles this fall.

First Book has already proven their commitment to addressing the lack of diversity in children’s literature and willingness to offer innovative solutions. Last March First Book launched the ongoing Stories for All Project, and issued a similar call to the publishing industry, purchasing $1 million worth of new books featuring diverse authors and characters from HarperCollins and Lee & Low Books.

“Partnering with First Book on the Stories for All Project last year was an incredible honor,” said Craig Low, president of Lee & Low Books. “The objectives and goals of this project and our company’s mission are so closely aligned. Since 1991, Lee & Low’s sole mission has been to meet the need for more culturally diverse books. We place a strong emphasis on authenticity, related to race, culture, voice, and historical accuracy. We are thrilled that First Book is addressing this issue head on through bold and innovative initiatives like The Stories for All Project. We look forward to this being one step in a larger initiative to meet greater demand, with greater supply for these resources.”

The lack of diverse books has a real impact on children. In a 2013 survey of more than 2,000 First Book schools and programs, 90 percent of respondents agreed that the children in their programs would be more enthusiastic readers if they had access to books with characters, stories and images that reflect their lives and communities.

About First Book
First Book is a nonprofit social enterprise that has distributed more than 100 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada. By making new, high-quality books available on an ongoing basis, First Book is transforming the lives of children in need and elevating the quality of education. For more information, please visit us online or follow our latest news on Facebook and Twitter.

One thought on “First Book to Spend Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars to Increase Diversity in Kids Books

  1. Michael W. Perry

    Is it just me, or is this \diversity\ likely to come strangely lacking in real diversity? Will their be positive stories of kids who go to Baptist, Methodist and even Catholic churches? Somehow, I think not.

    Indeed, the racial bigotry of my youth has mutated into a religious bigotry that bans positive portrayals of certain out-groups, particularly religious people and those who like to hunt. Obama said just that in 2008 when he sneered at those who, when the grow bitter, \cling to guns or religion.\

    Yes, in a foul historical deja vu, the same political party that was responsible for the first is now responsible for the second. When I was a child in 1950s Alabama, the official logo of the state Democratic party was a rooster crowing \White Supremacy for the Right\ Now it could easily be stated as \Secular Supremacy for the Right.\ Religious people are sent to the back of the bus by the same party that once sent black people to the back of the bus.

    And will these stories be authentic in the sense that they display just how horrible it is to live in a impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhood in a corruptly run big city such as Detroit or Chicago? Will the positive portrayals of African-American children who grown up such communities include realistic portrayals of those who make their lives an unending misery, meaning African-Americans, from drug-dealers and pimps to city officials on the take from slum lords. That’s Detroit. That’s Chicago. That’s a host of other major cities. That is reality.

    And most revealing of all, will these African-Americans be portrayed positively taking brave stands to rid their neighborhoods of petty criminals and tossing crooked politicians, whatever their race, out of political office. No, there’s not a bat’s chance in hell these books are going to have portrayals that positive, that honest and most of all that true to life. This isn’t about diversity much less truth. This is about politically correct lies and destructive victimization.

    Now it happens that I’ve published just such a book, co-authoring it with Albion Tourgée, one of the nineteenth-century’s leading champions of civil rights. Its heroes are a black pastor who stands up to the Klan in 1870s North Carolina, along a poor white who joins to the newly freed slaves to get good schools. Most impressive of all, it includes a brave teenaged girl who rides through a Klan-infested night to warn her father that he’s about to be murdered by the Klan.

    But I doubt First Book will include my book in its list even though it’s a modern adaptation of one of the first books to display the horrors of white supremacy and racism after the Civil War. Why?

    Because this book is brutally honest and written by someone who lived through all the horrors. When that poor white is killed for uniting with blacks to get good schools, he was attending, as an observer, a county Democratic convention and the Democratic politicians who killed him didn’t even have the fig leaf of operating through the Klan. They killed him themselves. That story, Albion Tourgée told his readers, was a true story told him by those who knew the facts first hand. If you want to understand virtually every evil that has haunted our country from the brutal mistreatment of Indians on, you must realize that the chief perpetuator was the Democratic party. That’s Indian removal, that’s slavery, that segregation, that’s lynching, and that’s the internment of Japanese-Americans. Today, that’s legalized abortion.

    And in the modern context that diverse point of view isn’t one that trendy little groups are likely to support. It’s too true to history and it is too true to current events to win their approval. I just checked their website. I’m not surprised my book isn’t listed there. It’s just out. But Tourgée’s A Fool’s Errand isn’t there either.

    One final note. To a great extent the basic principle of First Books seems wrong headed. When he wrote about how to prevent war (see my Chesterton on War and Peace), he said that he disagreed with those who wanted to ban books about patriotism and fighting. No, he said, if I were in charge, I’d have children read about other races and other nationalities and the love they have for their country. I’d have French school children read about brave British and German soldiers.

    Much the same it true of today’s racial issues. White children should read about brave and good blacks. Black children should read about brave whites, including the Lily in my story, whose only chance of reaching her father in time is to ride his thoroughbred stallion, a horse so powerful and so dangerous, he has forbidden anyone else from riding it. This is the story’s grand climax:

    The brawny groom with difficulty held the restless horse by the bit. But the slight girl, who stood upon the block with pale face and set teeth, gathered the reins in her hand, leaped fearlessly into the saddle, found the stirrup, and said “Let him go!” without a quaver in her voice. The man loosed his hold. The horse stood upright, and pawed the air for a moment with his feet, gave a few mighty leaps to make sure of his liberty, and then, stretching out his neck, bounded forward in a race which would require all the mettle of his endless line of noble sires…. As she was borne like an arrow down the avenue and turned into the Glenville road, Lily heard the whistle of the train as it left the depot at Verdenton and knew that upon her coolness and resolution alone depended the life of her father.

    That’s a tale to inspire teens to not just to stand against the now impotent Klan, but against the drug dealers and corrupt politicians of their community. And the fact that it’s black boys reading about a brave white girl is even better. That’s real diversity.

    If First Books want to list my book or to work about a special arrangement to make it more widely available, they should contact me.

    –Michael W. Perry, co-author of Lily’s Ride: Rescuing her Father from the Ku Klux Klan



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