My very first day of first grade was also the day my school district desegregated. It was 1969, and my grandmother had told me I’d be going to school with “colored children”. A new box of Crayola crayons sat in my school kit, and my little six-year-old self fully expected to see the same glorious rainbow of colors among the new faces. How deflating when I spotted not a single magenta or periwinkle kid anywhere.
Flash forward 45 years. Crayola makes flesh tones in sepia, burnt sienna, and mahogany, among others. And while I secretly like to think we’re all a lovely shade of violet underneath, the reality is that all these years later, very few of those tones make it to the covers and pages of the books kids and teens read.
This book award was begun to fill a gaping need in the world of children’s books. We have only two criteria here: literary merit and popular appeal. If it’s literary but unreadable, it’s re-shelved. Popular but dumb? It’s toast. But where does diversity fit into all this? We’ve been asking ourselves this even before our friends at We Need Diverse Books and KidLitCon turned up the volume this year on a much-needed conversation.
Out of our 80 finalists this year, 30 of them feature characters or authors who fall under the multicultural umbrella. In the graphic novel category alone, diversity accounts for nearly half of this year’s finalists in both age groups. Three of five Young Adult Fiction finalists this year are by diverse authors or feature diverse protagonists, as does four of seven books in YA Speculative Fiction. And YA Nonfiction? Five of seven.
Perhaps our panelists have been influenced by all of the recent discussion to keep a keener eye out for these titles, making our numbers better this year. This blogger even tackled the idea of diversity in animal books, finding they skew toward males. Our commitment to diversity also stretches back further than just this season.
This year, however, many Cybils judges put multiculturalism on their list of criteria for either merit or appeal and actively sought it out, discussed it, and made sure there was representation on their short lists. Others had a different approach. As Liz Jones, our Graphic Novel organizer put it, “You know, with Graphics, I’m not sure we even discussed [diversity]– just– those were the best books. Which says something in itself.”
So if you see books on the lists below that you love, send the link to someone else who loves books, adult or teen or kid. We want everyone to share our sense of discovery, and we’re still thinking there’s a whole box of crayon shades not represented yet. We want everyone to find their favorite color.
Then tweet us at #Cybils and let us know where or to whom you spread the love. We can’t wait to see where we go with you.
Happy New Year, and happy reading!
On behalf of Cybils,
Anne Boles Levy
Co-Founder & Director