Wednesday, December 16, 2015

All I Want for Christmas....

Has anyone been into a bookstore in past weeks to browse for suitable gifts for the children in your lives, and had a little trouble?

Or how about this one: a parent called me last week wondering how to find, in our catalog (so she could place a hold; it's how she most conveniently uses the library) Christmas books that were "just about Christmas," which for her meant no Santa, no presents.  We had them for her, of course, but the glut of Christmas books available was just impossible for her to negotiate online.

Allie's review of "An Invisible Thread Christmas Story" was a perfect illumination to me of the problem I always face at this time of year in particular.   Publishing seems to be, in this day, more and more profit-driven at its bottom line. Christmas books sell, and bookstores exist on narrow margins. I get it.  The problems Allie pointed to in this kid's version of a New York Times bestseller suggest that the only motivation behind this book was money, and that it was therefore written to attract a very particular buying market.  I'm sure I'll hear the line that it is subsidizing "worthier" books, but that seems like a deal with the devil to me, or at least a pallid excuse for selling the "White Savior" story in this way.   This isn't limited to Simon & Schuster, by the way; we see exactly the same problems on our Thanksgiving shelf, etc.

I understand marketing forces and the need, sometimes, to just make some money... especially for authors and illustrators, for whom it is generally scarce. But it concerns me when the sheer volume of "marketable" holiday books trade on goodwill to entrench stereotype, and drown out other voices and perspectives.  

KT often quotes the poet Alexis DeVeaux: "Buying a book is a political act."  This goes for our library collections as well as personal purchases.  When I manage the forethought to order the book I really want to buy for a present through my bookstore, or manage to find a title on the shelves I actually like and that has a character of color... I delight in not only my little "ka-ching" for that title, but the fact that I didn't buy what the publishers' sales departments shoved in my face.  I know that bookstores notice too the books that are being requested, and purchased, especially in this season they count on to land in the black.

Do you have a favorite book for children you purchase at this time of year, or a new favorite? We Need Diverse Books has a holiday list; are there others you've found helpful?




7 comments:

Megan Schliesman said...

I don't have a favorite but an added bonus for me in reading so many new books each year is knowing when one will be perfect for a particular child in my life. I'm giving Brown Girl Dreaming, Roller Girl ((Jamieson) and Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer (Jones) to my nieces, and Tiger Boy to my nephew. Atinuke's Anna Hibiscus, and The No. 1 Car Spotter, are always on my list for families with early elementary-age children. As an aside I'll add that I often find it overwhelming to walk into a bookstore and I'm familiar with many books, so for someone who isn't as familiar those chain store displays of seasonal (and tv) tie-ins, often glitzy and glossy, can be mesmerizing or distracting. Like WNDB, we all can play a part in helping consumers see beyond the obvious (and, often, awful).

K T Horning said...

Just Us Books has compiled a good holiday list, too:

75+ Multicultural Children's Books to Make Your Season Bright

Maya said...

As someone who can get a little moody and Scrooge-y during the holiday season, I like to include Patrick McDonnell's THE GIFT OF NOTHING in the library holiday display. I guess it makes sense that retailers would not display this one as prominently!

I do love buying books as gifts, though. Our local bookseller collects for area family shelters so it is a great time for me to pick out my favorite YA novels of the year. This year that would include THE ALEX CROW, BONE GAP, and THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL. Also just read THE ONLY CHILD by Guojing, which would make a beautiful present for anyone!

ChelseaSC said...

I want to be a more deliberate gift-giver when it comes to diverse books. Many are no-brainers for me - every child I know receives BIRCHBARK HOUSE for a bday or xmas once they hit the right age. But I recently gave a budding ballerina a copy of SWAN by Laurel Snyder, a beautiful book. And then realized later that FIREBIRD by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers would also have been a great choice and would have provided a white child in rural Wisconsin with a completely different and perhaps eye-opening perspective on being a dancer. Even as a collection development librarian with an interest in promoting diverse books, I don't often think of them right away when I'm considering gifts. Is it the difference in media attention? I don't know, but that ballerina can look forward to getting FIREBIRD for her birthday next year.

Sam Bloom said...

We were buying new baby books for the longest time, and our go-tos were Everywhere Babies (Susan Meyer/Marla Frazee), Please Baby Please (Spike Lee/Tonya Lewis Lee/Kadir Nelson), and Jamberry (Bruce Degen). If I could only give one picture book, it would be Pecan Pie Baby (Jacqueline Woodson/Sophie Blackall). Thankfully there isn't usually a limit! But that's #1 on my list.

Nina Lindsay said...

I realized I haven't shared mine.. Of many, WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON has been a go-to since it came out. It works for a span of ages, and appeals to parents as a read aloud. And it's pretty!

I am disappointed though at how much I have to plan ahead and order. I often cannot find one (or, okay, sometimes one but rarely two) book in stock in a well stocked bookstore that works for the age child I have in mind, has easy appeal, and characters (let alone protagonists) of color. And I live in the Bay Area. It's nuts.

Miriam Medow said...

My favorite new picture book to gift is I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison -- it's a dance party in book format :)