While at a librarian conference yesterday, I attended a session entitled Pushing the Envelope With Urban Literature. I’m not sure what I expected, but what I got left me sad. The first assumption was that if it was “urban” YA literature, i.e. African-American, i.e. had black kids on the cover, then it was scary and needed to be kept away from middle school kids. Even though the speaker’s school had a large percentage of minority students, the presenter told how she separated out Teen books (7-8th grade) and YA and books (9-12) for the first time once she decided to “bite the bullet” and introduce Urban Lit to her collection. Before, 8th grade and had access to the YA books and 7th graders had something to look forward to. But that was before she added Urban Lit to the collection, for fear those books would be dangerous for students. BTW, the YA only list included some Sharon Draper titles of all things, along with the Kimani TRU titles.
I realize some books are not suited for younger teens and tweens. But that should not be a general statement for an entire category, decided upon primarily because the protagonists happen to be African-American. She did say she was going to read some of the books, especially ones her 7th and 8th graders have been asking to read (she hadn’t done that yet) and may decide to put a few into that Teen section.
Is it any wonder that publishers do not want to put African American faces on the covers of their books?