This vibrant collection of wall art is a tribute to the incredible work of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sourcebooks is donating fifty percent of the proceeds to the causes that Ginsburg believed in and supported throughout her life. Brittany Vibbert, Sourcebooks' Senior Art Director on this project, took a moment to share with us the process of how this calendar got off the ground and running, while incorporating many female and diverse artists from around the world.
Brought to you by the independent book publisher, Sourcebooks, The Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Wall Calendar is a collection of masterful art, by women around the world, honoring the renowned Supreme Court justice. With style, humor and a feminist flair, this 2021 wall art calendar is not just for those who wish to continue Ginsberg’s fight for women’s rights, but for pioneers of equality everywhere.
If picture books are meant to give voice to the experiences of young children, then why aren’t girls and racial minorities speaking? Using data from the top 100 bestselling children’s picture books, researchers have noted a growing gender and racial disparity in terms of which characters speak in children’s books.
Over half of children’s books feature a predominantly male cast; comparably, less than a fifth such books feature a predominantly female cast. It’s evident that male characters are literally dominating the conversation: not only does the gender gap exist in picture books, but it’s also growing. The Guardianreports that “speaking roles for male characters rose by 19%,” and at the same time, “one in five bestsellers did not feature any females at all.”
Only five of the top 100 books feature a BAME (Black, Asian, & Minority Ethnic) character in a prominent role. Of those five, three titles’ spots rely on the same character: Lanky Len, a mixed-race “nasty burglar” who hardly represents the sort of relatable character that nonwhite children can connect to. Statistics regarding BAME characters in less central roles are just as grim: 70% of such characters never speak at all. Across all 100 titles, only eleven BAME characters have speaking roles. And among these eleven, only seven have names. Of course, we’re discussing the umbrella of ethnic minority identities—on this list, there’s only one black male protagonist. Off the list, the disparity isn’t any better. Of all the 9,000+ children’s books published in 2017, only 1% featured a BAME protagonist… while 96% featured no BAME characters, speaking or silent.
When it comes to picture books featuring LGBT+ families and disabled characters, it’s the same story. None of the 100 bestsellers featured same-sex parents. Only one title included a disabled character—but that character doesn’t speak or play any major role in the plot. We may be talking about fiction, but these statistics are unrealistic. Predominantly white, male stories for children deny the experiences of many readers, but they also don’t reflect the mathematic facts concerning the gender and racial breakdown of English children. Around 33% of English schoolchildren are from minority backgrounds; 48% are female. Our stories should reflect the varied experiences of the children they aim to depict.
What causes this disparity? Among the 100 books studied, not one author or illustrator is BAME. This lack of diversity extends beyond the list: only 2% of all children’s book illustrators in the UK, not just the bestsellers, are people of color. The lack of diversity in publishing is a capitalistic Ouroboros: because few children’s picture books feature diverse characters, publishers come to believe these books won’t earn large sums of money. At the same time, these books rarely earn money for their publishers because they are rarely published. But while the exact cause of this phenomenon may be unclear, the results aren’t—girls, minorities, and disabled children don’t see themselves in stories that are supposed to be for them. It’s also possible that these sorts of disparities in children’s media could reinforce disparity and bias as the children grow into adulthood.
Devers came to the idea of “The Second Shelf” in 2014, and since then she aimed to become an official “bookwoman” to balance the bookselling markets. In her interview at Guardian, Devers mentioned how the word “bookman” not only generalizes the concept of what we think of the people collecting books, but also dominates the whole book retailing process. This occurs in many things like naming bookshops, in deciding book covers, and even in making prices:
At one of first I went to, in New York City, I noticed a discrepancy that I had never seen before when lingering in the stacks of secondhand bookshops. I pulled two first editions off of the shelf: one by a living female writer who is tremendously respected, and one by a similarly lauded male writer – and gaped at the difference in price. The book by the famous woman was $25. The book by the man was hundreds…There could be many reasons for this difference in price other than the authors’ genders. Yet looking around that room, I was quite certain it had everything to do with gender.
Since that moment, Devers decided to create a space for collecting, selling, and promoting books about women and by female writers, especially women of color. In her mind, a book collector has power to determine which writers are remembered, canonized, and forgotten. From the first book choosing phrase to readers’ bookshelves, universities, archives, and libraries, she wanted to take the charge as a woman, for the women.
This project was soon embodied as exhibits at book fairs then connections with book dealers and collectors. Next it was an online store and now a real bookshop. Planning to open the store this October, Devers paints a picture for us about how her bookshop will be:
It’s a small store, less than 300 sq ft, it’s cosy but with enough space to have events for 25 people or so with a small courtyard outside…It will be a feminist bookshop, but the focus will be rare books and modern first editions － lot of literature and non-fiction and significant work by women across all subjects.
Devers also mentioned that in addition to rare books and modern first editions, she hopes The Second Shelf may help unfold a new category in the book world titled “future classics”. With this she wants to build collections of modern contemporary female writers and fuel the archive of feminism.
It may seem like a small action but we need to say that women’s first editions are important and should get a place on my bookshelf. It’s an important step to help protect these writers legacies, we should collect them. I’m trying to define the market and say this is an important thing, and to lead the charge. I’m not saying men should not collect books by women, I hope that they will. It seems like even if a woman writer’s contribution is acknowledged then it seems hard for her to get her space in the literary canon.
As a feminist, I love to hear Devers’ story in making the world better by empowering the word “bookwoman”. I can’t wait to visit The Second Shelf in Soho which will open in October with a space for 3,000 books and regular literary events, from Tuesday to Sunday between 10am to 5pm. According to the Bookseller’s article, Devers will also be part of the staff in store. We should definitely check her out!