Third Place Books children’s book buyer shares open letter and petition on diversity in publishing

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Rene Holderman at Third Place Books

Rene Holderman, Head Children’s Book Buyer at Third Place Books, has penned an open letter to publishers demanding an improvement in diversity and transparency in Children’s Literature, and has launched an online petition to call for booksellers to consciously stock children’s books by BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) authors.

“I am writing,” Holderman says in her letter, “to express my frustration at how the publishing industry has chosen to handle the lack of diversity in children’s literature.”

In the letter, Holderman, who has worked in children’s books for over 20 years, explains that publishers have responded to a demand for diverse children’s books in part by publishing books featuring diverse characters, but written by white authors.

This practice, she notes, is especially prevalent in the categories of illustrated books, and Graded and Early Chapter Books.

“My frustration stems not only from a severe lack of these particular books,” Holderman writes, “but from the consistent release of Black stories from white authors and white illustrators in the last few years. I would perhaps not be so discouraged if these attempts at diversity did not feel so deceptive...  
"The fact that the book jacket does not make this information blatantly apparent indicates that the publishers are disingenuous in their contributions to true literary diversity.” 

Citing a recent survey published in School Library Journal, which found that the book industry remains 70% white and that no significant improvements in industry diversity have been made since 2015, she writes

“it is crucial to pay BIPOC authors and illustrators for authentic representations of their experiences and communities. We can't keep allowing the publishing industry to profit off of Blackness while saying "Black Lives Matter" if they refuse to make significant strides to actually hire Black creators.”

As Children’s Book Buyer, Holderman is responsible for selecting the titles carried in Third Place Books’ Children’s section. She says that she is committed to prioritizing new titles by BIPOC authors and illustrators in her ordering, and she is urging other booksellers to follow suit.

Holderman’s petition, which was published on on Friday, June 26, demands that publishers match this effort by making concrete efforts to publish and highlight more books by BIPOC creators.

“I want the children's publishing industry to acknowledge their lack of honest Black representation,” Holderman says, “and going forward [I want publishing] to be transparent about who the author is. Most importantly, children's publishing needs to make a conscious effort to hire and promote Own Voices authors and illustrators.”

Read Holderman’s letter in full, and sign the petition HERE

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