By Amy Rothschild, early childhood educator
Banned Book week provides us the chance to reflect on what is and what isn’t available for us to read at different moments in history and different places. We think of Orwell, and we think of more recent events, like the banning of the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson, AZ.
Government censorship, of course, is just one element that determines what we can and cannot read. People often overlook another cultural phenomenon that can have a similar effect: publishing industry censorship. Each year there is a scarcity of excellent children’s picture books published. Missing are titles that reflect the realities of students’ lives and communities while encouraging children to think beyond the headlines.
The data bears out our suspicion: Researchers at the University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center find the number of books by and about people of color fluctuating and decreasing slightly, at the same time that children in the United States increasingly come from families of color. This doesn’t mean that those books aren’t being written—rather publishers refuse to seek them out or reject them, fearing they lack universal appeal, or as one frustrated former editor laments, fail to speak to “the lowest common denominator.” Zetta Elliott, author of the award-winning children’s book Bird, writes on her blog that she is fighting to find publishers for her many children’s book manuscripts. Some are “slice of life stories.” Others, like Bird, speak sensitively to childhood trauma.
Publishing industry censorship also occurs when excellent titles go out of print. Too often, we celebrate an excellent new children’s title at Teaching for Change, only to find out a couple of years later that it has gone out of print.
So, this week, while bookstores and libraries present you with lists of banned books, we present a list of recommended children’s books that have gone out of print. Some are decades old—most were published much more recently, and have had lives far too short.
Occasionally, we learn that a favorite out of print title is back in print, like Natasha Tarpley’s Destiny’s Gift, and this is cause for celebration.
Update: Since we published this blog, we learned that Joseph Bruchac’s Hidden Roots is not out of print. When Scholastic notified Bruchac that the book was going out of print, he was able to re-obtain the rights from the publisher in order to publish it himself. Details and purchasing information can be found via American Indians in Children’s Literature.
Additionally, five more titles are now back in print. Candlewick Press has published a new version Heather Has Two Mommies. Bell Hooks’ Skin Again and Jacqueline Woodson’s Visiting Day have both been reissued. There are paperback versions of Be Quiet, Marina and In the Time of Drums.
Find these favorite out of print books in your library or from your favorite used book source.
- Be Boy Buzz, 9781484788400
- Be Quiet, Marina, 9781595726650
- Beautiful Warrior: The Legend of the Nun’s Kung Fu, 9780590374873
- Butterfly Workshop, 9781933372129
- Char Siu Bao Boy, 9781879965195
- Cuban Kids, 9780761450771
- Days of Jubilee, 9780590107648
- A Father Like That, 9780060278649
- From North to South, 9780892392315
- Grandma Maxine Remembers, 9780761317289
- Heather Has Two Mommies, 9781448745746
- Homemade Love, 9780786806430
- I Hate English, 9780590423045
- In the Leaves, 9780805067644
- In the Time of Drums, 9781620143094
- Jazz Baby, 9781584302735
- La Calle Es Libre = The Street is Free, 9780785707301
- Los Cazadores Invisibles: Una Leyenda de Los Indios Miskitos de Nicaragua = The Invisible Hunters, 9780892391097
- Mama Bear, 9780395634127
- My Father’s Shop, 9781929132997
- Namaste, 9781621480051
- Our Gracie Aunt, 9780786814428
- Skin Again, 9781484799239
- Upside Down Boy, 9780892391622
- Visiting Day, 9780147516084
- When Owen’s Mom Breathed Fire, 9789129665482
- When the Shadbush Blooms, 9781582461922
Further Reading: Children’s Book Publishing Industry
- “Something Like an Open Letter to the Children’s Publishing Industry”
- “Zetta Elliott on Race & Reviews”
Bowllan’s Blog – Writers Against Racism: Discontinued, but links to other blogs by Writers Against Racism.
The Cooperative Children’s Books Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
CCBC’s page on Multicultural Literature is designed to help aid librarians, teachers and others in identifying authentic, reliable books by and about people of color.
The CCBC compiles annual statistics on the number of books published annually by and about people of color.