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A first step in diversifying the children’s book publishing industry

By Cheryl Klein
CBC Diversity

One of the goals of the CBC Diversity Committee is to recruit a wider, more diverse range of people to work in the children’s publishing industry. In service of this goal, committee members visit schools in the New York area to talk about how we got into the industry and how students of today might find their way into it in the future.

This past Tuesday, in honor of Children’s Book Week, my fellow committee member Antonio Gonzalez, author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, and I visited Bushwick Leaders High School for Academic Excellence in Brooklyn. Gbemi is the author of the wonderful Eighth Grade Superzero, which I edited, while Antonio handles school and library visits for Scholastic as part of our marketing department. Thus together we covered almost the entire publishing process, from the author’s initial inspiration to putting books into kids’ hands.

We spoke to two classrooms of seniors on the verge of graduation. Gbemi kicked the presentation off by talking about her path to becoming an author — her years as a new kid in many different schools around the world, and the various kinds of writing she did for magazines and nonprofits, all growing out of her own passion for the subjects she wrote about. I talked about the three roles involved in being an editor — that I’m simultaneously a talent scout, a responsive reader, and a producer — and showed some sketches of various draft covers for Gbemi’s book, including this lovely final image to the right.

Then Antonio talked about marketing, and passion came into play here as well, as he spoke about matching up the right authors with the right schools and making sure kids can get the books they need. (The students were thrilled to learn that social media has now become such a huge component of marketing that some employees are now paid to spend their time on Facebook.) We emphasized the importance of getting an education and doing internships, and that whatever your particular passion is — creating art, running numbers, being excited about books — there’s probably a way to fit it into the publishing industry.

The kids asked some great questions afterward, including “How much does a publisher make per book?” “Do you offer internships?” and “Which one’s harder? Being an editor or being a writer?” (Gbemi and I exchanged a glance, and agreed that both had their pluses and minuses.) One young man asked what he needed to do to become a children’s book illustrator; he had a gorgeous koi tattoo on his arm that he’d designed (and more impressively still, executed!), and we told him about the programs at the School of Visual Arts and Pratt. In the end, it was a great opportunity to connect with some of the real-life readers of our books, and hopefully speak to some editors or writers or marketers or artists of tomorrow.

One last note: Our talk took place in the school’s library, which was a fascinating and sad location. Thanks to a donation from Chase Bank, the space was beautifully appointed, with nice chairs . . .

well-built computer workstations (Frank J. Bisignano, for whom the library is named, is the present CEO of Chase) . . .

. . . and thankfully, hundreds of books! (Apologies for the wonkiness of my photographs.)

But when I looked closely, I saw that the books were arranged randomly on the shelves, not sorted by subject matter, not alphabetized by author or any system. That’s because, thanks to citywide budget cuts, Bushwick Leaders doesn’t have a school librarian, so no one has yet organized the library properly. Worse still, the teachers told us that without a staff member to supervise the space, students are never allowed to use it; it’s mostly for meetings. The visit was a sobering reminder that while we’re working to diversify the publishing industry, many kids have no access to books to start with — so it’s a battle to be fought on multiple fronts.

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