Voices from the USA: Publishing for Young People in the United States

Voices from the United States … we must all feel that we know the United States as yet another New York Times best seller is flagged across the cover of the latest young-adult novel, or we look at ‘classic’ texts that have become so much part of our own lives here. But do we really know what is happening in the world of children’s publishing in the USA? Perhaps we are not seeing a complete picture. The contributors to this issue of IBBYLink certainly present a much richer, wider and edgier reality where questions and issues are being urgently debated and a status quo is challenged. Of course, the US publishing scene is vast and complex. Evelyn Freeman provides a concise overview of some of the topics and movements that make up the scene from Own Voices and the call for greater diversity to picture-book biographies and the rise of graphic novels.

Diversity – representation – these are very much to the fore as the white hegemony is challenged. Pam Dix introduces us to a range of exciting Black American illustrators, many active since the 1990s, whose work some may recognise now but others are all too often not known here. Kadir Nelson’s illustration which we feature on the cover is both a celebration but also draws attention to those undiscovered. In the same way, Debbie Reese’s article highlighting the awarding of the Caldecott Medal to Michaela Goade, the first Native American to win this award, makes for a salutary read. There is so much for us to discover and to learn.

What quickly becomes apparent is, in fact, how little comes over to us – or how many authors are no longer in print here – Julius Lester, Virginia Hamilton, even Jacqueline Woodson. However, as the Black Lives Matter movement has raised the profile of this issue we can hope to see more authors crossing the ocean to inspire authors here. Jewell Parker Rhodes draws attention to how the movement has added urgency to the writing of stories that truly reflect American society and Black lives. We are fortunate that her novel, Ghost Boys, heart-breaking, hard hitting, has been published in the UK, and she talks about why she wanted to tell this story – and indeed, why she writes. We must hope that her next book – as radical in its choice of topic – Paradise on Fire will be available for all our children to read.

It is not just authors however, who drop from view but illustrators too. Jon Agee is one. Luckily his work, full of his quirky humour, is once more delighting young readers in this country. A number of his books have now been published by Scallywag Press, including The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau, which first appeared in 1988. Looking back he reflects on his friendship with a well-known illustrator who for many will have created images that will be inextricably linked to their childhood memories – and whose work is familiar still, Maurice Sendak.

Thank you to all our contributors for opening windows and bringing us some very different views of the publishing for young people in the USA. 

Ferelith Hordon

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