There's been quite a kerfluffle -- no, make that outrage -- over the fact that conservative talk host Rush Limbaugh won the Children's Choice Book Award for Author of the Year for his book, Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims. How was the choice made? Well, it's an online voting process created by the Children's Book Council. The council, which is a national, non-profit trade association of children's book publishers, is the same organization that sponsors Children's Book Week. As part of the celebration, the council created the Children's Choice Book Awards; the finalists generally are the authors and illustrators who have sold the most books. So, in this year's author category, in addition to Limbaugh, other finalists included Diary of a Wimpy Kid author/illustrator Jeff Kinney, Heroes of Olympus author Rick Riordan, Allegiant author Veronica Roth, and Dork Diaries author Rachel Renee Russell.
The choice of Limbaugh as Author of the Year kicked up a lot of dust in the children's book world. 100 Scope Notes Blogger Travis Jonker did a good round-up of links about the discussion going on. I'd add this School Library Journal article to the mix. And here's one more from Roger Sutton, editor of The Horn Book, who notes that lest we all think that the Children's Book Council "is just a big bunch of dittoheads," here's a look at one of the council's efforts to promote more diversity in children's and teen books.
The bottom line for my library is that we're not purchasing Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims, given the poor reviews in professional journals, which point to numerous inaccuracies. And the bottom line for me, as a reviewer and librarian, is that there's a good reason that the criteria for the Caldecott and Newbery Medals specifically note that the awards are not for popularity. Basing an award on how many books have been sold -- as the Children's Choice Book Awards do -- leads to exactly what happened last week when Limbaugh was chosen as the Author of the Year, and Grace Lee won Illustrator of the Year for illustrations that she did for a Disney program spin-off book, "Sophia the First: The Floating Palace."
Whew! On a more positive note, the Twitter campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks already has produced some results. First Book, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit focused on children's literacy, has created the "The Stories for All Project" and pledged to do bulk purchasing of children's books that reflect the nation's diversity.
In the initial phase of the First Book initiative, the organization has chosen two publishers -- HarperCollins and Lee & Low Books --and will purchase $500,000 worth of books highlighting diversity from each of them. The books then will be given or sold at a low cost to educators working with children in need; all the educators have to do is first sign up at www.firstbooks.org. In a nutshell, First Book is stepping up to provide the market that publishers contend they need to publish more diverse books for kids.
In an interview with NPR, First Book CEO Kyle Zimmer explained why it was important for young readers to have books that reflect diverse cultures and communities. Zimmer notes that educators have long understood that "when kids see themselves in books, they are far more likely to become enthusiastic readers. "But we also know that this isn't just about kids seeing themselves in books, this is also about kids seeing other kids in books, and other cultures in books," Zimmer said.
Some of the first books purchased by First Book to distribute to kids in need include: Shooter by Walter Dean Myers (HarperCollins); The Storyteller's Candle: La Velita de los Cuentos by Lucia Gonzalez (Lee & Low); and Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki (Lee & Low).
One more quick note of news about kids' books -- no, make that teen books! Scholastic is sponsoring a Twitter campaign called #IReadYA this week. It's a great way to focus on the importance -- and fun -- of reading for teens. Check out the details here. And check out School Library Journal's great summer reading list of cool -- and recent -- books for teens.