“White-Washing” Young Adult Book Covers

Liar CoverBloomsbury Children’s Books, USA, recently made the unfortunate decision to put this white girl on the cover of a book that is about a black protagonist “with nappy hair which she wears natural and short.”  Their PR department claims they made this choice because the narrator is a compulsive liar who may have been lying about her race, but that’s silly — they obviously did it to make the cover more appealing (i.e. marketable) to white kids.   Justine Larbalestier, who is the author of Liar, was very unhappy with her publisher’s choice, and she is my new hero for her thoughtful & impassioned response to the controversy.

School Library Journal reports on a similar scandal involving the cover of Urusla Le Guin’s book, Powers, “released with a white model on the cover despite the protagonist’s Himalayan ancestry.”

I’m a public librarian who works with young adults in Iowa, and at least 2/3 of the kids I interact with every single day aren’t white.  Some of our highest circulating books are by Donald Goines, Teri Woods, Nikki Turner, K’wan, Eric Jerome Dickey, T.N. Baker, T. Styles, Quentin Carter, etc., all of which prominently feature non-whites on the cover.  Bloomsbury’s opinion that no one will read books with black kids on the cover is not only extremely offensive — it’s also just completely misguided.  And besides, since when is a slightly fatter profit margin (still) an acceptable excuse for overtly racist practices?

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