I know I touched on this when I announced the theme for my 100 Day Project last summer, but I wanted to come back to it again.
While self-published and small press books can have their pitfalls (paperbacks have such a hard time standing out on library shelves!), I cannot stress enough the essential hole they fill. The traditional publishing industry has the poor judgement to not want to publish books about diverse people (claiming they won’t sell or the books don’t read authentically enough for white audiences) and the gatekeepers in the industry tend not to allow authors of color (or anything other than white, able bodied, cisgendered, usually female) into their industry.
I for one am tired of stories about the same quirky, upper middle class white girl. I am tired of the stories about white boys surviving. I’m tired of families that look approximately like mine. I want variety in my reading. And, more and most importantly, I know there are kids out there desperate to see themselves in books. I was lucky enough that that quirky girl resembled me in a lot of ways. I never had trouble finding characters and people that looked like me. But I’ve heard countless stories of adults and children who, while they enjoyed some of the same characters I did, wished they shared more in common with them. They wished those characters looked like them.
If the traditional publishing industry isn’t going to give us those books and authors and illustrators, we need to set aside our preconceived notions about self published and small press books. We need to recognize that if our students and children can love Dragons Love Tacos 2 (a god awful sequel that looks hastily slapped together and weakly plotted, but published by a major publishing house) then they can love these books as much and probably more than those traditional books.
So, if you have any kind of buying power, either personal or institutional, look for small press and self published books. Seek them out. And buy them. Put them on your library or home bookshelves. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t buy books from big-name publishers. You will and you should (especially when they occasionally publish #ownvoices authors and illustrators). Just don’t let these be the only books you give to your students. Vote with your dollars and support small publishers and authors/illustrators working outside the traditional system.