"Hi, I'm a middle school librarian, and I'm especially looking for fiction with multi-ethnic characters to share with my students."
Really, it wasn't a trick question. I wasn't a plant. Actually I was thrilled, beyond measure, to be at ALA Annual for the first time. I was over the moon as I walked around the exhibit floor, brushing past famous authors at every turn (Sarah Dessen! Sherman Alexie! Jacqueline Woodson! Laurie Halse Anderson! For a book lover, it was like being at the Academy Awards). And I wanted to bring something back to the 1000+ students in my diverse urban public school, so when I stopped at publisher booths I asked, "Could you please show me some books with multi-ethnic characters to share with my students?"
My request was greeted with polite puzzlement. Mildly frantic hunting around the booth. Offers of good middle-school titles about white main characters. The answer I remember most clearly came from the Penguin employee who thought hard for a moment, then said brightly, "What about NONfiction!" and presented me with an advance copy of Marching for Freedom.
I was pleased to have an ARC for Marching for Freedom. I purchased Marching for Freedom for my school library. But oh, what a disappointing response to my question.
Colleen Mondor's post Demand Diversity in Publishing is very timely, as ALA Midwinter begins this weekend. I hope ALA members and visitors will read my post, and hers, and start conversations on the exhibit floor. Every publisher will have at least one book to offer. Ask for more.
Look for some of the new books like Eighth-Grade Superzero (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic) and One Crazy Summer (Amistad/HarperCollins). Then demand MORE.
At ALA Annual I went to a YALSA session called Strengthen Your YA Collection with Small Press/Diverse Publishers. I also looked for diverse publishers on the exhibit floor. Since Annual I've gotten some great book recommendations and resources from the e-newsletters, websites, and Twitter posts of these publishers. Take a look.
Pinata Books/Arte Publico Press (@artepublico)
Brown Barn Books
Cinco Puntos Press
Just Us Books
Lee & Low Books (@leeandlow)
Rolling Hills Press
Harlequin is not a small publisher, but I want to mention that they highlighted diverse books for teens at Annual with the Kimani TRU imprint.
Updating to add more publishers:
First Second Books (guess they're not a small publisher, but a photo on Fuse #8 from Midwinter reminded me how great they are and that they publish ethnically diverse graphic novels)
Tu Publishing (new, first books coming in 2010)