No matter where you are in the world, if you enter a bookstore, or even look in the window of a bookstore, you will find these books prominently displayed: Harry Potter series, John Green's books, Wimpy Kid series, Rick Riordan's books, and the Divergent series by Veronica Roth.
Just take a look at some of these displays I curated over the last few months of travel:
These are all great books by talented authors. You will be hard pressed to find a bigger Potterhead than me. My blood runs blue for Ravenclaw. I finally got over my literary snobbery and read The Fault in Our Stars a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it except for the make out scene at the Anne Frank House which I found highly inappropriate. I plan to read the rest of John Green's books over the next year. I read Divergent before the hype of the movie, and I just finished reading it to my kids as part of our family bedtime reading. They loved it, and I appreciated it much more the second time around when I was not comparing it to The Hunger Games. I am planning on reading the rest of the series with them.
But here is the thorn on my side: I have recently read other books that are as good if not better than these prominently displayed books. Some of my favorites are Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero; Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; and the literary masterpiece that is Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.
The million dollar question is: Why are these great books not prominently displayed all over the world?
I can see the eye-rolling now. Of course, your fave books are not displayed like the others because they did not sell as many copies. They are not as commercial. But I don't think these answers are the key to this question. It's the proverbial chicken and the egg. Did the commercial books sell well because they received a hefty marketing push and exposure, or did they receive a hefty marketing push and exposure because they were popular?
As someone who pays attention to the publishing industry, I also cannot help but notice that the books that receive the most face time are by white authors. The fabulous people at Book Riot recently put together an insightful and informative interview about this very subject.
One of the myths propagated by the opponents of diversity in literature is that readers want to read stories they can relate to. The implication of course, is that white readers will not be able to relate to a story about a Mexican-American girl growing up in southern California (Gabi), or a Mexican-American boy living in El Paso and struggling with his sexual identity (Aristotle and Dante), or a Native teenager from a reservation (Part-Time Indian), or a young Black girl growing up in the South and New York (Brown Girl).
Of course that is completely false. After all, if readers from Argentina, Bolivia, South East Asia, and New Zealand can relate to a cancer survivor growing up in Indiana (Stars), a boy wizard from Great Britain (Harry Potter), a teenage girl living in post-apocalyptic Chicago (Divergent), and an American passive-aggressive school boy (Wimpy Kid), I bet they would find Gabi et al's stories just as engaging. The same applies to white American readers. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks organization has been tirelessly working to advocate for diversity in children's literature. One of the way book sellers and publishers can do their part is by prominently displaying these books so that potential buyers can see them.
The American Library Association recently announced the winners of many prestigious awards in children's literature and I was thrilled to see that Gabi and Brown Girl were among the books recognized. I would be even happier if I started seeing these highly decorated books at the airport bookstores or facing out the window of books stores as I travel the world...or even once I return home to the USA.
In the meantime, as I continue on the second half of our round the world trip, I will continue to take pictures of the books that receive the most face time in bookstores in foreign countries. What is my point in doing so? I am not making a grand statement. I just want to show what books are prominently displayed all over the world, and maybe get you thinking about your reading list and ways to diversify it. Check out these suggestions by Book Riot to get you started.
How will you diversify your reading list?