My neighborhood Borders was running a children's book drive for a local hospital and since Denene loves the children and books, I offered to purchase two books for donation. Grateful I was participating, the cashier offered up a stack of books for me to choose from. And what do you know, not nan one of them save for a lone “Princess and the Frog” book buried all the way in the back/bottom of the pile featured children of color.
Not. One.
Now, you know how I do: I'm a huge proponent of children's books featuring characters that look like my girlpies, and I'm especially gangsta about getting these books into the hands of ALL children, not just black kids (as chronicled in my post EVERYBODY Should Read Black Children's Books). So I insisted that I be able to by-pass Borders’s pre-selected (white-washed) offerings to select and donate a few of my favorite children's books from the children's section.
Problem was, they didn't have any black children's books. There was no “Ruby and the Booker Boys.” No “Tar Beach.” No “Wilhemina Rules.” No “Pruella and the Boo Hag” or “Dancing in the Wings” or “Home Made Love.” Not one book with a child of color ANY color up on those shelves, within arm's reach for kids to grab and read and giggle at and enjoy. And with every second I had to dig, my anger became more palpable much to the chagrin of the Borders employee charged with helping me pick books to donate.

Me: I'm not really clear why there aren't any books for or about children of color here.

Borders Chick: Well, if no one buys them, we don't order them.

Me: Well if they're not here to buy, then it's kinda hard for us to buy them, isn't it?

Borders Chick: It's headquarters that decides what books will be stocked, so my guess is they have more of a selection at Stonecrest Mall. (Note: This would be the black mall. About 40 minutes from where I and many other black moms who buy books for our children actually live.)

Me: *massive side-eye* I don't live near Stonecrest. I live two minutes from this store.

Borders Chick: I found one! *triumphantly waving in my face a copy of Sharon Draper's Sassy, which she dug from the back of a dark shelf near the floor. As if she’d just found the solution to world peace.* 

Me: *another massive side-eye and a lip twist* Y'all need to do better.

I was still ranting by the time I made it to the register with my book donation purchases the lone copy of Sassy, and a copy of my latest book, Miss You, Mina, a tween book in the popular Scholastic Candy Apple series. (Amazingly, they had three copies in the Candy Apple section, but it took longer than it should have to convince another Borders Chick that I was the author and that it would be a good thing if I autographed my book.) While it is honorable that Borders was collecting books for kids, why didn't it occur to them to include a mix of books that feature kids of all races white, black, Latino, Asian, Indian or whatever?  And why should I have to drive 40 minutes to the black store to get black books for my kids? And good God, why was the Borders Chick STILL perpetuating the ridiculous notion that somehow, books featuring black children should only be purchased and read by black children?
I mean, I'm buying ‘Artemis Fowl’ arguably, a white book for my daughter, who clearly is African American,” I said, handing over my debit card to pay for the two black books and the third in the Artemis Fowl series, which Mari is completely flying through as I write this. “Why shouldn't her kid read ˜Miss You, Mina?' I demanded, jabbing my finger at the white woman waiting on line behind me, trying her best to pretend like she wasn't listening to the conversation.
The cashier shrugged and mumbled something about corporate making those decisions and it all being out of her hands. Curiously, corporate didn't seem to have a problem filling up the African American Interests section with a crap load of street fiction titles so risqué I had to steer Mari clear of it, lest her 11-year-old eyes got singed by shelf upon shelf of book covers featuring scantily-clad vixens and chocolate hot boys in compromising porn positions. Apparently, none of us should have to drive 40 minutes out of the way for the mess that makes us look like a bunch of sex-addicted, skank stripper hoes chasing random peen between drug deals and jail breaks. Nope: Those car rides, which use up a good $15 worth of gas, are reserved for $4.99 black children’s books.
I'm. Tired. Of. This.
Exhausted, really.
Aren't you?
And more importantly, what do we do about it? I'm open to suggestions

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37 Comments

  1. I am so freakin' sick of it too!!!! My daughter is nearly 10, and there are very very few books out there for her to read that aren't about the white girls with long straight hair that she has learned to covet. (Ok, that was a bit long winded, but you get the idea…)Hmmmm. Maybe an email campaign, or letters to the editor of every paper we can reach, or articles in our local papers about the lack of mainstream social change to reflect the increasing diversity (thank goodness) of our communities? I'll keep thinking, but keep me posted as I'm feeling pretty militant lately! ;)

  2. I definitely agree that this is pathetic. I can usually find one or two books that feature children of color, but it takes pretty persistent searching. It certainly won't be long before they don't have anything new to us.

    I'm also hugely in agreement that the issue isn't just "black books for black kids". We have an adopted daughter from Ethiopia and I think it's nice when people buy her a book or doll that is African, but what I really want is for them to buy it for THEIR daughter.

  3. I know! I love the Rachel Isadora books and they don't have a single one at my Barnes and Noble. Have to order them online. I'm going to talk with the children's section manager next time I go. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Joyce The Writer

    I am in TOTAL agreement…and find that I MUST go to certain stores in certain locations to find books that represent my baby. And even in those stores, the selection is not great.

    I wish I knew the solution. A ground swell of internet media chatter like when Essence recently hired a white fashion editor might get their attention – but honestly, I doubt it.

    I do think there is merit in your approach – touch people where you can with you important opinion and use your MyBrownBaby platform to highlight these messages.

    I'll share…

  5. Great post! Do you know about Ari's letter-writing campaign to get Borders to stock more books by and about PoC?

    http://blackteensread2.blogspot.com/2010/07/im-writing-letter.html

  6. What do we do about it? You, and a lot of folks you are close with, have a huge following and are celebrities in the blogging world. I think this post is the first step, the second step is a social media campaign. Get your readers and Twitter followers to ask Borders & Barnes & Noble these questions on their twitter pages and Facebook pages. Link them to this post and any other posts that have been written by other moms of color who want to buy books for and about their brown babies. Mock up a letter that we can send to corporate ourselves and post it here. I am willing to help in whatever way I can.

  7. Linking to this from BlackandMarriedWithKids. Great post!

  8. Just do not go to Boarders, and go to Barns& Noble, I just got two arm fulls of books for my daughter from there.

  9. GYF Executive Director

    Great post and great start! I agree that the best way to effectuate change is by spreading the word and agitating the system. I will certainly share with all of my friends/colleagues. As always, thank you for your passion and dedication to ensuring that brown children see images of themselves in books.

  10. Angela at Neglected Princess

    Sometimes I feel as though I am the only person moaning and screaming about the lack of African-American children's literature in stores, schools, libraries and homes, but of course I am not. Your post is timely, and we should all forward/ tweet/ mail it to everyone we know. I will link to it on my own blog tomorrow (Friday is the day I discuss literature). I also want to give you a high five for SAYING SOMETHING to the people at Borders!

  11. SISTER SAVE-A-LOT

    I am also tired of it. My daughter will be 4 next month and it I am sad to say that we do most of our shopping for books online. I grew up in the local libray and my daughter goes with me every Wednesday. While my library has the books of color that she wants to read, our "LOCAL" Borders does not.

    I think that while the news focus on the bad things that goes own in our negiborhoods, they may want to look at this issue.

    Thanks for writing about this.

  12. FYI – Traditionally Borders does not carry boos about us, I found coming up my mother, who is an english teacher, often fought like you with the store clerks about the very same thing, and yet to know 15-20 years later we are still having that battle. Borders gives to a lot of non profits that cater to inner city youth and that's what they will tell you about their reason for not having our books on the shelves. As mad a I get, I stopped being reactive and got proactive, I am in the process of opening a publishing company for myself and some girl friends who have experienced the same thing with BORDERS. I often buy from Barnes & Nobles and coming up they were old faithful for our family. I encourage you to fight back. I know that fists nay not win this but words will and we (my team of ladies) are all over it. I invite you to contribute, we are also publishing a magazine for the "cultured" teen and tween.

  13. I concur. I am the author of a children's book. The main charactar is black. When doing research on the industry it was almost impossible for me to find children's book that identified with child's color. I can say that Target(in Michigan) has a great selection of black children's books. Although, I think its great to post this. I need we need to go to the source. Borders is headquarted in Ann Arbor, MI. Who's with me?

  14. Please don't forget that authors and illustrators of African descent are recognized annually by Coretta Scott King Awards of the American Library Association. This is a resource that should not be forgotten. I think that it remains for parents and educators to be proactive in the search for books for young people.
    http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/rts/emiert/cskbookawards/recipients.cfm

  15. 4th comment of the day to you, although one just suggest it was almost 5 and time for a drink. Since when do we have to explain to anyone our choice of books, or call books, black, white, Latino, Asian, Christian, Muslim, Jewish. Books are books and the stores should be carrying a variety for a country that is a huge melting pot. I told you, I don't go to Borders anymore, since they are not integrated (their books).

  16. kittens not kids

    I stopped going to Borders when I discovered that they had "boys' books" and "girls' books" shelves.

    I work at the other big corporate bookstore (very part time and hopefully soon not anymore) and as far as I can tell, except for staff recommendations, most decisions about what to stock and display are corporate level. So targeting head offices is important. Making contact with individual booksellers is as well; most of the ones I work with are willing to listen and help as much as we can (our powers are very sadly limited).

    I am SHOCKED that your bookstore didn't have Tar Beach in its in-store catalog (and wasn't just sold out awaiting new shipment). That book is an absolute classic (I'm always infuriated when the best, classic books aren't regularly shelved in bookstores). I am less shocked, but equally angry, that nonwhite protagonists are thin on the ground, especially in the children's section.

    Thanks for this post – it's a good reminder to me to do everything I can at the bookstore to help promote as diverse an array of protagonists as possible.

  17. Great post — was going to ask if you knew about Ari's campaign, but I see you've gotten the link already!

  18. I know there will be a few girls that will be very happy for your Sassy, donation.

    Which Borders was it? Its always important for customers to tell bookstores what they want.

    And I'll be putting Miss You, Mina, on my next on sale now, new release feature. Can't believe I missed the release.

  19. This is a great post and I wholeheartedly agree with what you have been saying and what everyone is saying in the comments. I'm encouraging people to write letters/emails to Borders. But I decided that I am going to have to mail a letter to corporate headquarters in Ann Arbor.

    The picture book selection is getting better but early readers, middle grade and YA books are so far behind in diversity on bookshelves. I'm pratically hoarse from talking about this all the time, and I know everyone else here is tired of having this conversation as well. We need to really make Borders and other bookstores pay attention. I'm not sure how to do that besides writing letters, writing blog posts and buying books by/about people of color.

    I'm glad you spoke up to the Borders chick!

  20. tanya@motherwearblog

    I'm Japanese American and Jewish, and in my area there is a philanthropist who started a program called the PJ Library: http://pjlibrary.org/home

    He sends every Jewish kid in our area a Jewish-themed book every month from birth to five years old, along with suggestions for parent/child discussion. We now have a big stack of Jewish themed books. I'm still working on the Japanese collection!

    The program has spread to communities in nearly every state, and over 2 million books have been purchased. The best part about this, in my opinion, is that has created a new market for books that most publishers probably consider too small to matter. Publishers are actually starting to revive books that have been out of print, and some of the smaller publishers have a new market. It's great for the authors, too.

    Obviously, it needs to start with an investment of money from someone (a book loving talk show host comes to mind!), but I really like it as a model.

  21. I usually shop at black owned book stores for our babies. no problems there.

    I know that for some of us, those black owned book stores are in "certain" areas but I have no issues traveling there.

    be for who, who be for you…

  22. MBB Founder and Editor Denene Millner

    @Brother OMi: I'm not sure, but it seems you're suggesting that I don't support black bookstores? Let me clear it up for you: I'm an author. An author of black books. Nineteen, to be exact. I've been touring black bookstores across the country since 1997 and our support for one another is not mutually exclusive. If not for black bookstores, many of the people who buy my books wouldn't know about my work, and so I support them in ANY way I can.

    However, it simply isn't a smart business model to have black books limited to black bookstores. There aren't enough to sustain a profit for our books AND the fact of the matter is, not all of us live near them to frequent them in any regular way, and most are not online, which means we can't buy from them without physically going to the store. There are two beautiful black bookstores here in GA—one run by the Shrine of the Black Madonna and one called Medu. Both are at least an hour away from my house. I am not afraid of my people or unwilling to shop black. What bothers me is the idea that a store that is in my backyard, that I frequent because I am a BOOK LOVER as is my husband and daughters, thinks it doesn't need to serve its customers. Well, as an author, a mother, an avid reader, and a self-professed agitator, I say they have a responsibility to serve my neighborhood, which boasts a healthy number of people of color who I'm sure would prefer not to have to drive an hour away to buy a book with characters that look like them.

  23. MBB Founder and Editor Denene Millner

    @Elita: You know I LOVE your gangsta. I'm on it.
    @MissAttitude: You are my HERO. I admire all that you do, and hope that we can work together to make these stores accountable.
    @Tanya: WOW! That sounds like an AMAZING program. I'm definitely going to check it out; thanks for the head's up.

    For the rest of my MyBrownBaby readers: THANK YOU for the support and for lifting your voices about this issue. This post isn't the end of this; clearly, we want BORDERS and other stores like it to DO BETTER BY US. And it's OUR responsibility to hold them accountable. So let's.

  24. We have to be dilligent about our images as well as our products. We use to have an insititution in the DC area called, Karibu Bookstore. It was much more than a bookstore; it was a cultural center. Most of these black boostores are closed so we are forced to take what the major chains offer us or go to the internet. As an author and a teacher of teens, I think it is important to stand up to the establishment that are there to service the entire community. I wrote a similar piece on my book blog about being a Christian fiction author but only being classified in one place-African American Interest. We have ranted about it at a recent Faith and Fiction retreat. As if we are children of a lesser God, you won't find us in Christian Fiction section.

    So what do we do? Author Carleen Brice whose book Orange Mint and Honey was made into lifetime Movie Network movie, Sins of the Mother has a blog called White Readers Meet Black Authors where she tries to bridge the gap between what is perceived to be the majority culture and talented writers in our AA community. We need more AA bookstores. I for one have made a concious effort to buy AA books for all "the brown babies" I know this Christmas with a link or list of where to get more titles by AA authors.

    Is there a list of AA children, teens and young adult authors? I would like to work on a list of AA bookstores as well. My sister and I wanted to work on one for Black-owned hair care distributors and retailers. What better way to empower and show cooperative Economics than US coming together and sharing our resources.

    book blog: http://www.thefateofthefire.blogspot.com
    Alter ego blog, Capitol M (Mom),Capitol T(teacher) http://www.capitolmcapitolt@blogspot.com

  25. MBB Founder and Editor Denene Millner

    @Shejack: It was a SAD day when Karibu closed. You are absolutely right: It was a cultural institution in MD, as was SisterSpace. I heard yesterday, though, that SisterSpace is actually open again; I have to look into this. If it is, I encourage all of my DC folks to RUN over there and support those sisters. They dedicated A LOT of their time and resources to support black authors and readers, and they deserve our respect and support.

    I LOVE Carleen's site; she's so on point (and one of my favorite authors, to boot!) I encourage everyone to go over there and check it out.

    For a list of AA children's and YA authors, I encourage you and anyone else reading this to visit The Brown Bookshelf—a brilliant site dedicated to telling the world about books for, by and about children of color. I've written about it here before; if you do a search in my blog, you can see those posts. Or google The Brown Bookshelf and REVEL in all the beautiful books written by people of color.

    In the meantime, I think a list of great books and resources IS A MUST. I'm working on it…

  26. Until you said that I never really thought of that way. Being African American and raising of child that is both Native American and African American, I should be more cognizant of illustrating to her that people of color matter.

    An aside, do you have a section of book titles that I could have or posted on the website?

  27. Hi Denene,
    This is Julia, from Love Isn't Enough. I'll definitely put a link to this post there on next Tuesday's links, but I wondered if you would also be interested in cross-posting this to LIE?

    Let me know! I'm at team@loveisntenough.com

    Thanks for writing this. It's important.

  28. musingsonmotherhood

    Wow- that really is sad. I guess I'll have to go online and get my books from amazon. I'm normally a B&N shopper and I am just starting to buy books for my baby girl. I can't wait to see what offerings they have.

  29. Chocolate Mom aka Blupoetres

    All I can say is AMEN, everyone else pretty much said what needed to be said but I had to join the allegiance. It's so sad, but then it's not surprising when you're a teacher and have to beg for books to teach! Now that's a whole 'nother problem!!

  30. Wow! This was very inspiring to me because I never really purchase books for my children at book stores. Out here in Louisiana, we have a plethora of thrift stores that usually have books that are $.01 and I'm always finding books that feature children of color and other ethnicities.

    Nevertheless, I totally agree with your reasoning. Furthermore, your notion has persuaded me to purchase more books that feature African American boys and girls besides Tiana from "Princess and the Frog." (although that's my child's favorite Disney Princess.)

  31. *Maybe* Baby ♥ Mama

    Our journey has begun!… secretly though

    If Ive left you this message, youre a follower of my original blog ~OR~ just someone Ive happened upon while sending out these invites and that I would LOVE for to come along for the ride! Though I wont be revealing who I am just yet – until were TO and THROUGH the first trimester! Just getting the word out about our new site – further explanation of all the secrecy and what were about on my first post. Id love for you to stop by.

    Exciting things going on around here!

    http://www.DefinitelyMaybeBaby.com

    ~ the {secret} *Maybe* Baby Mama

  32. AA girl here. I've never heard of these books, but thanks for the head's up. Anyway, have you tried going to your local newspaper, radio station, television station and seeing if one of the reporters there would want to cover the story about racist Borders book stores? Perhaps that'll be a catalyst for change.

  33. I have just the book mother's should read to their brown sugar babies. It is called, HONEY BABY SUGAR CHILD by Alice Faye Duncan. The book is a mother's love song to her baby. Please check it out on amazon.com

    As the author of that book, I would love to do an interview for your blog. Please contact me at Honeybabysugarchild@gmail.com

    Blessings,
    Alice

  34. What do we do about it? You give a student like me a job when I graduate this May from Arizona State with a degree in English. My passion is children's books, specifically because the first black fairy tale I ever read was one my mother wrote for me when I was a youngster. She wrote that for all of the reasons you mentioned above, and then some. Najatomer89@Yahoo.com

  35. Unfortunately, this has been an issue. Luckily, I found an African-American Book Publisher online that has a better selection than any other store I've been too. I'd highly recommend Lee and Low books.

  36. Unfortunately where I live (Geneva) pretty none exisitant on anything black America. but I think its like black Hollywood and rich black America stop being afraid and step up. start participating more in things to better the lives if our children.

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