On the last day of Black History Month the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) and publisher Scholastic Inc. announced that they would be extending their collaboration on diversity-specific flyers for the Scholastic Reading Club to create up to eight new flyers for the 2016-2017 school year. These flyers will be available throughout the United States.
Scholastic Reading Club and We Need Diverse Books first joined together on a flyer that was released to much excitement and emotion by followers and readers last fall. Members of Scholastic Reading Club, including president Judy Newman, noted that reactions from teachers, parents, and students to the inaugural flyer was extremely positive. “We mailed 110,000 Scholastic Reading Club/WNDB sets of flyers to reach 2.6 million students and, by also making the offering available online, we were able to present it to our total 500,000 teacher and parent customers for grades 4 to 8. The success of the first flyer led to the expansion of our collaboration.” The new flyers will continue to give a spotlight to underrepresented communities including ethnic diversity, disability, and sexual representation for young readers. This time around the flyers will also include titles for readers as young as toddlers in addition to teens.
A week or two before this announcement an online petition sprung up with the hashtag #StepUpScholastic organized by American Indians in Children’s Literature, Teaching for Change, and Ferguson Response Network asking that Scholastic make a concerted effort to increase diverse representation for people of color and Native Americans in all their flyers. When asked if the announcement coincided with the #StepUpScholastic petition, Newman mentioned that wasn’t the case listing the successful numbers in the paragraph above. “Because we serve such a diverse population of students, we have recognized for a very long time that there is a pressing need to get more high quality, affordable books with diverse characters by diverse authors to all children, and we are fully aware of the power of Scholastic Reading Club to help achieve those goals.”
The need for more diverse representations in books (and in the publishing industry) has been a long-time discussion, but this necessity has been steadily part of the online conversation since legendary children’s book writer Walter Dean Myers wrote an op-ed for the New York Times asking “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” in May 2014. Since then numerous thinkpieces and much calling out of authors/illustrators/publishers on major missteps online has become the norm. Around the same time Myers’ piece published the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag became a viral sensation elevating the voices of many who felt they were ignored. This frustration bubbled over when BookCon announced an author line up of all White, straight men (and a cat).
To date We Need Diverse Books gained nonprofit status and has several initiatives underway to continue to promote and celebrate marginalized voices, including the upcoming Walter Awards named after Walter Dean Myers to honor the best in marginalized children’s literature. Scholastic Reading Club was created in 1948. To this day many students in the United States can refer to the flyers/catalogs being a staple in their classroom. The Scholastic Reading Club flyers are available monthly and mailed to teachers based on grade levels. Newman says that these flyers are “used by students and parents in more than 80% of preschool to grade 8 classrooms nationwide.”
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