So there's a big, roaring talk-thing happening right now across the inter-ma-net about book covers. I don't know when it began, but I fell into it yesterday morning when reading Justine Larbalestier's blog post about her latest book, LIAR.
I just borrowed this image from her website. The cover in front, which I think is gorgeous, is her US cover (done by Bloomsbury). The one behind is her Aussie cover (by Allen and Unwin), which has a cool, arsty, graphic rendering of the word LIAR all warpy and moved around. Very cool. She has said several times how much she loves her Aussie cover (I don't actually speak with her - I just lurk daily on her blog) and I was a little surprised that she didn't go gaga over the photo one, because I think it's brilliant.
Then I found out that her protagonist is black. Yep, her main character is a black girl with short, nappy hair, and apparently black doesn't sell books.
I am appalled, in my quiet way. I am ashamed, too, even though I'm not quite sure why. I haven't read LIAR yet, so I couldn't really know Micah was black. Seeing the photo on the cover, I assumed that the girl in the story was the girl on the cover.
And according to much discussion going on in the world of Kid Book Bloggery (see Sara Zarr, E. Lockhart, and Ally Carter for jumping off points) the practice of "whitewashing" covers (and picture books, and film renditions) is common. And, apparently, a self-fulfilling prophecy in publishing: black covers don't sell books, so we don't do black covers.
Clearly there are some exceptions. Christopher Paul Curtis's books are gorgeous and sell very well, even in very white communities (and yes, maybe most strongly during February - Black History Month, but that's someone else's rant). And ask anyone in their middle thirties to tell you their ten favorite children's books from their own kidhood, and I guarantee most of them will name "The Snowy Day" by Ezra Jack Keats.
But the issue is out there. And it's not a mistake, and it's not an accident. It's a choice, being made by publishers. So what do we do? How do we react? Is it proper to get angry? (Is it proper for me, a privileged white lady, to get angry?) Do we stop buying? Do we write letters? Do we (gulp) just continue to write our white characters and mind our own business?