How do we select titles for the book lists at Social Justice Books? How do writers assess the books they are reviewing?
There is no one single article nor checklist that any of us can rely on. The Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children's Books is a good start. However, there are many more articles about bias in children's literature to read and discuss. Most importantly, reviewing children's literature should be done in consultation with or by people with expertise on the respective theme or topic of the book.
That is why the reviews featured on this site come from the See What We See coalition. Not only do we look for stories of collective action in children's books, we believe the process of selecting and reviewing children's books needs to be a collective process. We also believe it is important to look beyond the limited offerings of the corporate publishing industry to review books produced by alternate means. Many marginalized creators choose to self-publish only to find that most bloggers and review outlets refuse to consider self-published books; some, like Kirkus Indie Reviews, charge large fees. At Social Justice Books, our lists and reviews include self-published books, held to the same standards as traditionally published books.
The book lists are generated at Teaching for Change, in consultation with many of the same See What We See collaborators.
Here are examples of guiding questions we share with students who are examining books (text and illustrations) in their home or school libraries. We use these same questions (and many more) when developing the book lists and selecting book reviews for this website.
- How many books by or about people of color and Native Americans do you see?
- Does this reflect the diversity that you see in your school, community, and/or the world?
- Are people of color engaged in a range of activities and in contemporary settings? (Or just in historic injustices?)
- If the books are about a famous person, is it someone you have not heard of or one of the same few people already on your bookshelf?
- Is change made by an individual hero or a group effort?
- Are there examples of "ordinary" people organizing and challenging injustice?
- Are the root causes of inequities included or just the symptoms?
- Are the books affirming, honest, age-appropriate, and read-me-again interesting?
- What is the relationship of the author to the people and theme of the book?
As noted above, we use these and many more questions. In the reviews section, we use the broad categories for rating books of recommended, recommended with caution, and not recommended. Recommended and not recommended are self-explanatory. For recommended with caution, the reviews include an explanation of the reservations or concerns about the book. In some cases, these titles are included because there is a scarcity of books on the respective topic. Often suggestions are made about ways to share the book with young readers while also addressing the concerns. Occasionally, among our collaborators, there are differing opinions about a title. Once we secure the resources to expand the reviews database, we will include links to omultiple reviews and the option to add comments.
Sources for Book Reviews
Many of the reviews on this site come from or are informed by the following blogs and websites on multicultural and social justice children's books.
Africa Access Review. An online database with over 1,000 annotations and reviews of children's books on Africa and the annual Children's Africana Book Award.
American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL). Established in 2006, AICL provides critical perspectives and analysis of indigenous peoples in children's and young adult books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society.
Anti-Bias Education or Young Children and Ourselves. Articles on anti-bias education and early childhood booklists on personal and social identity.
Américas Award. The Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) offers up to two annual book awards, together with a commended list of titles on Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the U.S.
The Brown Bookshelf features the best picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels written and illustrated by African-Americans.
Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC). Established in 1963 at the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the CCBC is committed to identifying and promoting excellent literature for children and adolescents. The CCBC also compiles annual statistics on the number of books published annually by and about people of color and Native Americans.
Crazy Quilt Edi promotes literacy for teens of color. Read librarian Edith Campbell's annual booklist for reviews of books about teens of color.
Cynsations is a source for conversations, publishing information, literacy and free speech advocacy, writer resources, inspiration, bookseller-librarian-teacher appreciation, news in children's and young adult literature, and author outreach.
De Colores reviews and critiques children's and young adult books about Raza peoples throughout the Diaspora.
Disability in Kidlit is dedicated to discussing the portrayal of disability in middle grade and young adult literature.
Latin@s in Kid Lit features articles about Latin@s in children's books, including reviews and booklists.
The Pirate Tree is a collective of children's and young adult writers interested in children's literature and social justice issues.
Reading While White is a blog by white librarians organizing to confront racism in the field of children’s and young adult literature, allies in the ongoing struggle for authenticity and visibility in books.
Rethinking Schools publishes a quarterly magazine with reviews of children's books and publishes books on social justice teaching.
We Need Diverse Books advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.