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.
Each week, Bookstr will be offering a look at some of the best novels in a particular genre for your continued reading list. Today, we’ll be recommending five recent romance books for your recommendation pleasure. Romance offers a look into the lives of couples, dealing with love and all the trials it offers. Let’s fall in love with the couples of these books and the worlds they create!
5. The unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
Image via Goodreads
The Unhoneymoonersby Christina Lauren is a romance set in the sweeping tropical vista of Hawaii. It tells the tale of twins, different as night and day. Olive Torres is constantly faced with bad luck and mishaps, while her sister Ami is a perfect, seemingly unflappable champion who is getting married. Olive is forced to attend the wedding with the best man, her nemesis Ethan Thomas. But when the entire wedding gets food poisoning, there’s a honeymoon up for grabs and Olive begrudgingly decides to spend it with Ethan. But as they spend more time together, Olive realizes she might be developing feelings for the man she hated.
4. The View From Alameda Island by Robyn Carr
Image via Amazon
The View From Alameda Islandby Robyn Carr tells of a woman who dares to confront her unhappy marriage and start a new life. Lauren Delaney seemingly has a perfect life, with a successful career and a rock solid marriage but on their twenty fourth anniversary , she defies her abusive husband and divorces him. As she starts a new life, she meets another soul, a man who also is struggling to end an unhappy marriage. As she is pursued by her husband who wants her back, Lauren struggles to start a new existence, one that will make her truly happy.
3. Boyfriend for Hire by Kendall Ryan
Image via Amazon
Boyfriend For Hireby Kendall Ryan tells the story of a hot male escort. One of the sexiest guys women can hire, he has only one rule: this is a job and he earns a pay check. In six years, he hasn’t fallen for a client. Not once. Until a woman called Elle. Elle’s friend has hired him to accompany her to a wedding but Elle doesn’t know her date isn’t real. He falls for her but what happens when Elle finds out he’s been hired to make her happy?
2. The Girl he used to know by Tracey Garvis Graves
Image via Amazon
The Girl He Used to Knowtells of a young woman with social anxiety called Annika Rose, who attends the University of Illinois. She prefers the quiet solitude of chess and books to being around people. But when she plays against a boy her age called Jonathan Hoffman, he is smitten with her, especially after he loses to her at chess . He pursues her and they begin a doomed love affair. Now, a decade later the two reunite and the attraction blooms but to be together, they need to face their own circumstances that drove them apart.
1. Normal People by Sally Rooney
Image via Amazon
Normal Peopletells of two people who attract from opposite circumstances. Marianne is quiet, isolated, and lonely. Connell is popular, well-adjusted, and the star of the football team. They pretend not to know each other but share a secret bond behind closed doors. A year later, the two attend Trinity College together and grow closer as the years at the school go on. As Marianne begins to veer towards self-destruction through her isolation and Connell searches for a more meaningful life, the two will always share a bond that will show how far they’ll go for each other.
Getting a prestigious teaching position at Oxford University is a serious accomplishment, but the selection process for the new professor of poetry has generated some serious controversy.
According to The Guardian, three candidates have been selected for the role of professor of poetry at the internationally-renowned university: Alice Oswald, Andrew McMillan and Todd Swift. While Oswald and McMillan have seen relative success within their campaigns for the position, Swift has come under fire for conduct concerns… and the conduct is concerning.
Specifically, critics have referenced Swift’s behavior while running the independent publishing company Eyewear Publishing. A report from The Bookseller said that Eyewear mistreated its poets by locking them in contracts that didn’t allow them to communicate with trade unions, specifically the Society of Authors. Bookseller journalist Heloise Wood elaborated on the nature of these troubling allegations:
To prohibit authors from contacting the SoA is to prevent them from taking independent advice from their trade union. Not only is this unenforceable, it constitutes an unwarranted interference with their civil rights. The termination clause is also extraordinary – the fact that it explicitly mentions the possibility of the publisher sending ‘rude emails’ that cause ‘hurt feelings’ speaks for itself.
Swift, and other poets who chose to remain nameless, defended the contracts:
Each contract we have signed since 2012 is bespoke, we try and base on industry standard templates,” he said. “They are all discussed with the authors. We are very short on resources and usually if authors object to a clause we delete.
Another complaint surfaced from Vida about Swift’s old tweets where he allegedly attacked emerging poets. Both the tweets and Swift’s entire Twitter page were deleted, and soon after, Eyewear released a tweet condemning Swift:
Swift did not respond to these complaints directly.
As of right now, Oxford does not have any plans to remove Swift from consideration for the position. The incoming professor will be decided on June 21, and we’ll have to wait and see whether or not Oxford University offers him the role.
Do you believe Swift should be out of consideration for the position?
Books are hardly the strangest thing human beings have ever put into a vending machine. Aside from our love of stories in all forms, that’s one thing all people generally have in common: we’re honestly pretty weird. One woman’s pregnancy cravings led to the invention of the cupcake vending machine, providing Mississippi, USA with twenty-four-hour cupcake access and making the rest of us wonder why you’d need to be pregnant to want junk food at four in the morning. China and Japan both offer live crab vending machines, complete with vinegar and ginger tea for an optimal on-the-go-meal. (Being from a country where live crabs aren’t commonly eaten, I DID initially wonder whether or not you could use the live crabs to exact revenge on any rude pedestrians or public transit passengers.) Then there’s the infamous used schoolgirl underwear vending machine—though Japan technically made these illegal in 1993, some continue to exist.
And what are we supposed to gather from this? That the world is a stranger place than even we, as strange people, can imagine? Sure, but also this—books may not be the strangest thing we’ve ever sold via self-service kiosk in a public place, but they’re definitely the coolest. Let’s delve into the many iterations of the book vending machine.
1. Historic Book Vending Machines
Some inventions are pretty bad—consider the pet-petter, an allegedly-convenient invention that condemns you to a reality in which you’ll “never touch your pets again!” Others, though, are pretty badass. Back in 1822, members of the public usually were forbidden from buying seditious books (and probably plenty of other things, like women wearing pants or enjoying being alive). English bookseller Richard Carlile didn’t want to be thrown in jail for distributing banned books, but there was one major problem: he really, really wanted to distribute banned books. His plan? Deposit censored material into self-service machines and give the people what they want. Of course, Carlile got exactly the opposite of what he wanted—a criminal conviction.
Image Via Mental Floss
In 1937, a more effective but less exciting book vending machine became accessible in the UK: the Penguincubator. The brainchild of Allen Lane, founder of Penguin Books, the Penguincubator came into being when Lane couldn’t find a book he wanted to purchase while waiting in a train station. While it’s possible that only one machine ever actually existed, it’s certain that most of us would have been first in line. Alas, book vending machines are still relatively uncommon—but so are people who take their socks off on airplanes, and yet, they’re still f*cking everywhere.
2. SCHOOL VENDING MACHINES
Let’s agree that books are healthier and more enjoyable than king-sized sodas. What pleasure the latter provides tend to be short-lived—which is what anxious parents suspect their kids might be if they have even hypothetical access to a Pepsi. Of course, healthy living is important even when it isn’t fun for the hyperactive, slightly rabid kiddos riding the wave of their first sugar highs. But reading is fun, and what could be healthier than kids finding that out for themselves—before their college lit classes make them read Moby Dick?
Image Via NewsSTANDHUB.COM
One Utah elementary school has recently opened the state’s first book vending machine, among the first handful of these machines. Yes, handful. There are currently fewer than five of these schoolyard machines: Umatilla Elementary School in Umatilla, FL and Arthur O. Eve School 61 in Buffalo, NY were the first two. Granger Elementary in West Valley City, UT has decided to encourage even healthier behavior (no, the vending machine doesn’t also dish out spinach and lectures on the value of hand-washing to these tiny human booger-farms). Instead of money, the machine will accept tokens that teachers can give to students for their work and conduct in the classroom. By collecting enough of these, students can receive the greatest gift of all—the early understanding that a book is a reward, not a punishment.
3. Repurposed Cigarette Machines
The most common vending machines dispense food and drink; cigarette vending machines, while once common, are now illegal in many countries due to changing attitudes around public health. Those that still exist either use age verification technology or are only present in establishments like bars or clubs, which bar underage people from entry. Many of these machines are now defunct, but they’re still there—and that’s led many to look for different uses. North Carolina based artist Clark Whittington began the Art-o-Mat project in 1997, replacing cigarettes with small art pieces.
Image Via Treehugger.com
German publishing company Hamburger Automatenverlag has repurposed some cigarette vending machines to sell books instead of tobacco products. For just €4—less than the cost of a pack of cigarettes—you could make a different decision and change your story. Will it make you feel better? In the long run, probably. But we all know books are more than capable of causing short-term emotional despair.
4. ‘BLIND DATE WITH A BOOK’
Some readers may recognize this concept because of Barnes & Noble (while others may be familiar because of awkward romantic encounters). Certain Barnes & Noble locations wrap novels in paper and identify them only with a brief description—genre, setting, time period, and any other notable traits. Picture these ‘notable traits’ as highly-specific Netflix categories, like ‘steamy independent movies based on books’ or ‘stunts & general mayhem.’ Though these books are generally cheaper, you take a risk when purchasing one of these books. Maybe you’ll hate it. The opposite is equally plausible: maybe you’ve even read it before! But you risk disappointment when purchasing any book, especially if you’re like me (read: insanely picky, willing to shout about poorly-realized character arcs at all times). It’s just that the reward of a life-altering story is worth so much more than the money spent.
Image Via NPR
The Monkey’s Paw bookstore in Toronto is the proud home of the first randomized book vending machine. Stephen Fowler, the store’s owner, originally thought that a store employee might stand inside the machine and physically drop the book down to the customer. The bookstore employee, presumably, thought about quitting on the spot. With a little common sense, Fowler saw the line between ‘stroke of genius’ and ‘stroking out.’ Now, the machine is made out of a metal locker to suit the store’s vintage aesthetic. Notice how lockers aren’t transparent? For $2, customers get the pleasure of a complete surprise.
The front of the machine reads: “collect all 112 million titles.” It could be a joke—but it could be a challenge.
What’s the worst thing that a potential beau could do on a first date? Well, provided your date doesn’t snatch your wallet or set fire to the restaurant, the answer is nearly unanimous: treat the waitstaff poorly. Everyone knows the most fundamental tenet of common decency that of treating others with respect. No one is entitled to unkindness; certainly, no one has the right to mistreat someone whose job requires them to serve or assist you—that means no shouting at customer service reps, no predatory flirting with disinterested bartenders, no taking it out on a retail employee when you didn’t bring your receipt. Except, of course, for the people who don’t.
Meet Natasha Tynes, social media strategist and snitch.
Picture this: Natasha was riding the red line of the Washington, D.C. Metro when something unthinkable happened. No, nobody was injured. No, nobody was robbed. It was an unthinkable act because most of us never would have considered it out of the ordinary—an MTA employee eating her lunch on the train.
Scandalous? Probably not, even if the posted rules on the train express that eating and drinking are forbidden. But Tynes did seem to feel that it was far less scandalous to snap a picture of the woman’s face and rat her out on Twitter.
Image Via The Daily Beast
(The original photo DID show the woman’s face, but Tynes has deleted her complaint.)
This self-proclaimed “social media expert” apparently wasn’t knowledgeable enough to predict the ensuing social media wrath. Twitter was quick to point out that Tynes was poised to launch her career by writing novels about her experience as a woman of color… experiences which can, apparently, include being ratted out for scarfing down breakfast between assignments. The hypocrisy was unsettling to many, who took the opportunity to articulate that someone’s racial or ethnic minority status cannot except them from anti-blackness.
“People of color” like Natasha Tynes is the reason why I make it a point to directly name Black people within the spectrum, because there is anti-Blackness within people of color in totality.
POC solidarity is often upheld by Black people, but not maintained by others within.
Twitter found it particularly upsetting that Tynes marketed herself as a minority writer and yet would threaten the livelihood of another woman of color.
The Natasha Tynes situation is a reminder that there are plenty of scumbags in minority communities that could give a shit about anyone but themselves. “Own voices” and “diversity” good enough to sell them books, but a hard-working black woman eating on a train is unforgivable?
Racism and the Metro have a long history. In 2000, Ansche Hedgepth was arrested on the D.C. Metro for eating a potato chip despite her spotless record—handcuffed and held in a windowless cell. She was twelve years old.
Some rushed to Tynes’ defense. Many of them then rushed just as quickly to delete their Tweets.
It’s only reasonable that passengers don’t know as much about the rules & regulations regarding D.C.’s transit as its employees. In fact, the employee in question had received an email days before stating that all employees must “cease and desist from issuing criminal citations” for eating and drinking on the trains—”effective immediately.” The Metro Workers’ Union also elaborated on the poor conditions employees face when trying to eat lunch: not all stations have break rooms. Anyone who’s absently watched a rat skitter away as a train barrels down the track knows that, without break rooms, the workers have no guarantee of sanitary conditions in which to eat.
We don’t have to guess at the employee’s circumstances; though she is not allowed to comment herself, the union has publicized the fact that the bus operator ate on the train because of train delays that were preventing her from getting to her next assignment on time. Rather than keep her passengers waiting, which would have caused further delays, she chose to eat on the train. Given the aforementioned official email, the employee will not face repercussions of any sort—but Tynes will.
Rare Bird, Tynes’ publishing house, publicly condemned Tynes’ actions and cancelled the publication of her upcoming novel.
They Called Me Wyatt, Tynes’ novel, may no longer be published—but on Goodreads, its 1.42 star legacy lingers.
“You apologized for the tweet,” wrote one reviewer, “but do you understand that you wanted her disciplined for not catering to your demands? A stranger. You tried to shame her for refusing your entitlement. Some WOC solidarity you got there.”