Book publishing is a business like any other business. A business solves problems in exchange for a profit. If there is no business to solve your problem, then businesses must believe that there is no profit in solving your problem. For the problem of little to no diversity in children’s books to have existed for so long, it’s apparent that book publishers don’t think there is a profit in solving that particular problem. As African-American parents who spend a considerable amount of money on books each year, we found this disturbing. However, book publishers must be doing fine profit-wise, even though they are leaving millions of dollars and millions of customers on the table by not investing in creating content to cater to young ethnic readers and turn them into customers for life. Clearly, their resources are focused on other segments of the market that seem to be sustaining them. We cannot count the times we’ve stood in the aisles of book stores and said, “somebody should do something about this” regarding the lack of diverse children’s books. We could find no one to complain to, just other parents to commiserate with about the lack of diversity in children’s literature. As it turns out, this has been an on-going issue since Jack Ezra Keats penned The Snowy Day in 1962. Fast forward to 2015 and the issue, though well examined and discussed, is still prevalent. There are a few books here and there and we all know what happens every February for Black History Month or in September for Hispanic Heritage Month or in May for Asain-Pacific American Heritage Month. Those token gestures aren’t enough and they are not representative of the large population of diverse young readers and their parents who support these book publishers year-round. This leaves us with two options, we can complain more and hope someone hears us or we can do something about it ourselves.
Seeing as how no one has done much about diversity in children’s publishing since 1962, we realized no one was coming to the rescue. So we sat down and wrote a story about our daughter getting her first pair of big girl shoes once she began walking. Then we contacted a family friend who is an amazing illustrator and the real work began. About a year after we sat down and wrote that story we now have a finished product we can proudly show the world. The story is relevant and universal and the protagonist just happens to be an AfricanAmerican girl. It wasn’t easy. But standing by doing nothing would have been harder. Walking the aisles in book stores where the shelves overflowed with every sort of character-except one that looked like our daughter-and doing nothing would have been harder. If parents of diverse children want things to be different, then parents of diverse children have to BE different. That means raising our expectations and taking action. We’re not sure if those actions should come in the form of more diverse authors to tell their own children’s stories or an outright boycott of the companies that refuse acknowledge that these stories even exist. What we do know is that the marginalization of our children in literature has no place in our modern society.
Comora’s New Shoes is a success. Next month, under the Comora’s Stories brand, we will release a new book. Soon after that we hope to release another and another and encourage others to do the same until there are no such things as “diverse books.” Parents will simply have many more books to choose from and be empowered by choices instead of frustrated by the lack of them. In the meantime, large book publishers should consider themselves on notice. The parents of diverse children are a formidable market. The companies that ignore that market may soon find themselves too far behind the curve to recover from their hubris.