Monday, December 15, 2014

KidLit in DC-Land: Part Two

Another activity I particularly enjoy when I visit different cities is exploring independent bookstores, and if I'm especially lucky, I stumble upon great independent children's bookstores.  Last summer, I found a lovely shop in Boston, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover another in Alexandria, VA, on my way home from DC last week.

Hooray for Books is a fantastic store filled with books and more for children of all ages, from little tinies to teenagers.

So cute!

I had an incredibly easy time finding favorite classics and popular new titles in several different genres.  The staff are kind and knowledgeable, and they wrap holiday gifts for free!

While the store doesn't have a separate multicultural section, I did notice several excellent books by and about people of color:

 Sharon Flake's new novel

 A picture book by Arun Gandhi, political activist and Mahatma Gandhi's grandson

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and One Crazy Summer

Scorpions by the incomparable Walter Dean Myers

One of my favorites!  Read it!

I've never seen so many diverse titles prominently displayed in a bookstore before.  How wonderful that, instead of segregating the multicultural titles into their own section, the staff not only put all of the books together but also took the time to emphasize great works by authors and illustrators from different backgrounds.  This setup shows customers that diverse books are important and deserve to be included alongside popular books by White authors -- and it publicizes titles that customers might not know about otherwise.

The only disappointing feature at Hooray for Books is their bilingual and Latin@ book selection.  After searching the shelves, the only Latin@ books I could find were Pat Mora's Tomás and the Library Lady and Yuyi Morales' Niño Wrestles the World.  Meanwhile, the bilingual and Spanish-language books consisted of some board books for babies and a few translations of popular English-language picture books.

I understand that stocking bilingual and/or Latin@ titles can be somewhat risky for booksellers, especially those who own independent stores -- they need to meet customers' demands and provide books that will sell well in order to make a living.  Unfortunately, I assume there's not much demand for bilingual/Latin@ books from the people who typically shop at indie bookstores (White, middle-class, monolingual English speakers) unless their children are enrolled in a dual language school, so booksellers don't want to waste money stocking books that won't sell.  That's too bad, but it makes sense.

My experience in this shop makes me wonder what indie bookstores can do to draw customers' attention to bilingual and Latin@ books and create more demand for the wonderful, diverse titles out there.  I imagine that displaying these types of books more prominently (like they did with several works by African-American authors) would help.  Or maybe booksellers can set up special displays that endorse winners of different book awards, like the Pura Belpré Award, the Américas Award, or the many other literary prizes that celebrate various cultural groups.  Here's an article describing more successful strategies that independent booksellers can use to promote diversity on their shelves.  It can be done!

So yes, go to Hooray for Books if you visit or live in the DC area -- it's a great place with an obvious commitment to multicultural children's literature.  But when you drop in, let them know that you'd like to see more diverse titles.  Let's create even more demand!

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