A Call For Yummy PoC Kid/YA Book Covers That Worked

While we're waiting on the results of my unscientific poll on Kid/YA book covers, I thought I'd put out a call for GREAT covers on recent books that have sold or circulated well featuring protagonists who are people of color.

Before we start, I'd like to reflect on the term "people of color," because I'll admit that it makes white people sound bland and colorless. A 1988 New York Times essay by William Safire puts the term in a historical and cultural context:
As we speak, however, the English language seems to lump the colors together and treats white — the noncolor — as a race and a word apart ...
It strikes me, then, that people of color is a phrase often used by nonwhites to put nonwhite positively. (Why should anybody want to define himself by what he is not?) Politically, it expresses solidarity with other nonwhites, and subtly reminds whites that they are a minority [on the planet.]
When used by whites,  people of color usually carries a friendly and respectful connotation, but should not be used as a synonym for  black; it refers to all racial groups that are not white.
I hope that helps if you're uncomfortable with the term. I've been wondering if the Jersey Shore craze reflects a desire within white young America to claim some color, but that's for another post.

So, booksellers, educators, librarians, gatekeepers who serve young readers, could you share a few 2008-2010 titles that feature people of color as protagonists and have been relatively popular in your communities?

I'll also look through Goodreads and LibraryThing to find titles that show up in a lot of shelves, and showcase those covers that appear to have worked. Please leave the title, author, publisher, and date, as well as a snapshot of the racial/ethnic demographics you serve in the comments. Thanks!


yabooknerd said…
Great post, one off the top of my head is the Drama High series by L. Divine.

first book:
Hi, Mitali! Great post with a constructive bent. Lisa Yee's books immediately come to mind, as do Christopher Paul Curtis's Mr. Chickee books, and the Katie Woo and the Calvin Coconut series. I'll come back with some more titles, and in the meantime, people might jog their memories by taking a browse through the LibraryThing catalog featuring books about kids of color that aren't primarily race-driven (and you can sort by age, etc.). Many of these are recent books, and there's a whole 2009 category. http://www.librarything.com/catalog/shelftalker
I'd just like to briefly chime in that not all POCs are all that colorful. Mixed bloods, which is a term Native folks often use, are often brown-white, which opens the door for my occasional joke about being a voice of "beige power."
Anonymous said…
Liar by Justine Larbalestier and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie are popular at my library here in Wisconsin.
beth said…
I'm just a parent, so I don't know what sells well. My kid loved Lisa Yee's books. He's starting to get into Nancy Farmer, and he really likes the cover of her House of the Scorpion book. Does she count? My younger son likes most Polocco picture books, which often have PoC in them.

I have a few twinges about PoC because I'm not always sure I'm using it right. This comes up in my family, because my kids are half Greek, which is white, except how do you tell Greeks from Turks, who are PoC? Or are they? So I get tripped up on the edge cases. But most of the time I'm more confident.
I work in a mainly Hispanic school where about half the kids are black. So many of them certainly gravitate to POC book covers. Anything by Walter Dean Myers. Anything by Sharon Draper. A lot of kids have been struck by the cover of Extras by Scott Westerfeld, which shows an Asian girl.

I too have problems with the phrase "person of color" though it's better than non-white. Sometimes I have trouble with "diverse" for the similar reasons. As I posted recently to deafening silence on child_lit, there are so many kinds of diversity--religious, political, sexual etc.--and sometimes it seems to be lumped together into a big blog.
Oops, I mean blob.
Cynthia brings up an excellent point. Kids are not always clear on who is a person of color either in story characters or in life.

Graham Salisbury's books are very popular in Portland, in part because he's done a lot of school visits here. He has a great mix of multi-ethnic characters, yet I'm not sure that is what kids focus on. I think some of them assume his characters are white because he's white.

Also kids have a great tendency to project themselves onto a character they identify with, so that in their minds eye a character looks like them even if the race or gender in the text doesn't match.

Great question! Tomorrow is my volunteer day. I'll ask.
Megan Frazer said…
I can't keep Sunrise Over Fallujah on my shelf. Game, also by Walter Dean Myers, has also been popular. Ball Don't Lie by Matt Pena, too. These are all popular with my boys who wants sports or war.

I thought Hot Girl by Dream Jordan would fly off the shelves. It didn't at first, but now it's picking up.
Mama Librarian said…
All of Christopher Paul Curtis' books have circulated well here, and they all have African-Americans on the cover. Sports fiction, such as Matt Christopher, Jake Maddox (Stone Arch) and Tiki & Ronde Barber's books with POC on the cover circulate well. I bought the Sugar Plum Ballerina, Ruby & the Booker Boys and the Amy Hodgepodge series last year and they all circulate well. Oh, and the Sisters 8 is very popular.

My Brother Martin, Martin's Big Words and any other books about MLK, Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman also circulate well, mostly at times we teach about civil rights issues but not always. Sports biographies with AA figures, such as Lebron James and Kobe Bryant, also circulate well. Our one book about Barack Obama is always out. Other AA biographies do not generally circulate as well.

The Stories Julian Tells series is somewhat popular, as is the Little Bill and Just For Me! series of early readers by Scholastic.

My perception is that picture books with POC on the cover circulate equally well as picture books with white characters on the cover. Popular ones include Amazing Grace (Hoffman) and Yo! Yes? (Raschka).

My elementary school has about 15% African-American students and a similar percentage of students that are other POC.
Keri said…
Jason and Kyra
Sweet, Hereafter (okay, it's only gone out once but we just got it Tuesday)
Absolutely true diary of a part-time indian
Any book in Drama High or Kimani Tru or Bluford High (scholastic covers)
Stephanie Perry Moore's sorority books

I could think of more with a little more time.
Patti said…
Romiette and Julio, Imani all Mine (this one is so sad I hate to include it on something called yummy, nevertheless), anything and everything by Sharon Flake (all good covers), The First Part Last, Adios to all the Drama (and others in series), I know there are more.
anicalewis said…
At my public library, The Fold by An Na seems to circulate pretty well. I think Octavian Nothing is worth a mention here, too.
Ms. Sara said…
The Bluford books. Haters by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles. I agree about the Extras cover (the Scott Westerfeld book). Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdell-Fattah.
Kat Werner said…
Books that circulate well here include (but are not limited to):
The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

The Skin I'm In, Money Hungry, and Who am I Without Him? by Sharon Flake

The Kimani Tru series

The Drama High series

The Bluford series
Mitali Perkins said…
Fantastic! I'll compile a post featuring the covers you've suggested. Keep 'em coming! And come back if you think of more.
Pat Sherman said…
Hi Mitali,

I don't know if you're interested in picture books, but I thought I'd mention that the cover of my recent pb "Ben and the Emancipation Proclamation" (illustrated by Floyd Cooper) features a portrait of the central character, Benjamin Holmes.

Holmes was a slave in Charleston, South Carolina, who taught himself to read as a boy and eventually read the Emancipation Proclamation out loud to a group of his fellow slaves during the Civil War. The cover shows him reading, which I think is especially neat.

I also have a general impression that picture book covers are more likely to feature people of color than middle grade or YA novels. I can't prove this though, so I'm not sure others will agree.

Thanks so much as always for your blog which never fails to be interesting and enlightening to all us readers and writers for kids.

Pat Sherman
"Ben and the Emancipation Proclamation (Eerdmans, 2010)
Emily said…
When I was a bookseller, My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson did very well, partly, I'm sure, because he's a local author. Also, local author Jessica Lee Anderson has had success with Border Crossing. Monster by Walter Dean Meyers sold constantly. My store didn't carry Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles, but it seems to have a pretty decent following nationally (my sister in Maine bought it, and she's in a very white area).
While going through my own library, it's even more apparent to me how rare it is for a face or portrait to be seen on a POC-themed book. It's completely freaking me out.
Sara said…
Both Tyrell and Kendra have circulated pretty well in my library system (Virginia Beach) -- enough so that we had to order more copies of Tyrell, and I personally love both of their covers

I've also seen a copy of Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier at one branch that is starting to fall apart from being read so many times.

I also love the cover of Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet, and I've noticed that it seems to disappear quickly whenever I put it on display!
KT Horning said…
I spoke to a group of high school students a couple of years ago about GLBTQ books for teens, and I had a whole bunch of books out on display from the past 20 years. The kids talked a lot about the jacket art, and I asked them to tell me which one they thought was the worst and which one the best jacket. The results, by unanimous and resounding proclamation:

1) Worst: "Boy Meets Boy" by David Levithan (hardcover with candy hearts)

2) Best: "From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun" by Jacqueline Woodson (original hardcover jacket art by the Dillons showing a very dark-skinned protagonist)

They thought the Levithan cover looked boring and it didn't tell you anything about the story. The Woodson book was the one they all most wanted to read, precisely because it showed an African-American boy on the cover, and he looked like an interesting character.

They noted how few of the books appeared to be multicultural, and that troubled them greatly. This was a mixed-race, socially conscious group of kids from a high school in Madison, Wisconsin.

In terms of younger kids, I've seen third graders more than once practically knock each other down to be the first to get to "Bud Not Buddy" by Christopher Paul Curtis. The original hardcover showing an African American boy sitting on a suitcase has got to be one of the most kid-friendly book jackets ever.
MissAttitude said…
Since I'm not a librarian or bookseller I won't say anything. (I agree with most of these choices, I love the Drama High series because a POC is featured so prominetly!)

Thank you for doing this and the poll. I can't wait to see your statistics. Then we can email them to all publishing companies :)

And I agree with Pat, I see more books with POC on picture books than anywhere esle which is great for young readers. But we musnt' forget the middle school and teenage readers (granted we teens could move to the adult section but that's not always as fun ;o)

I was on a blog once and someone asked a good question, why is 'colored' offensive but POC is not? I'd be curious to hear people's thoughts on that since I don't really know. I never minded using it, but my mom scolds me when I say 'colored.'
LaurieA-B said…
I work in a public school with significant numbers of Asian, black, Latino, and white students. A number of the books already mentioned (Drama High, Kimani Tru, Sharon Flake, Sharon Draper) are popular in my library, mainly with readers who are POC themselves. Some I see checked by kids of all ethnicities: books by Christopher Paul Curtis, Walter Dean Myers, Lisa Yee, Grace Lin, and Kashmira Sheth (and you, Mitali). American Born Chinese. Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez. Sisters of the Sword books by Maya Snow. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles. Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. They're young for my kids, but I know elementary school readers love the Alvin Ho and Ruby Lu books by Lenore Look. Here's a good post on multicultural chapter books: http://www.booklistonline.com/default.aspx?page=show_product&pid=3961957
LaurieA-B said…
Also, this year I'm going to update the Angela Johnson and Jacqueline Woodson copies in my collection, because they are both such fabulous authors who I love recommending, and the more recent covers on their books are great. Can't wait to get Sweet, Hereafter.
Angie said…
My library serves a small community (11,000) with a huge international population (thanks to the national lab located in our town.) What I've seen circ'ing:

*The Sassy books by Sharon Draper (interestingly, these circulate more than the Keena Ford books, partially because of the age different, KF is for a little younger, but also because I think they like the "real" pictures instead of drawings.)
*The Bindi Babes series by Narinder Dhami (actually heard a kid "Ooooh!" at the cover of Bollywood Babes.
*the Poseur series by Rachel Maude, featuring African-American and Asian-American characters
*the Christian series, All About Us by Shelly Adina is one of our most popular Christian series and has a lead character who is Chinese-American and usually on the cover, often with her friends, many of whom at POC.
*Whoopi Goldberg's Sugar Plum Ballerinas have been doing well for us.
*a great cover and title gave Randa Abdel-Fattah's Ten Things I Hate About Me good circulation, but Does My Head Look Big In This never caught on quite the same way.
*picture book wise: anything by Kadir Nelson will fly off the shelves, A Brave Spaceboy and A Wild Cowboy by Dana Smith My Colors, My World by Maya Christina Gonzalez and anything by Yuyi Morales (Little Night and Harvesting Hope are popular.

I'm sure I can think of more if I take a look around our shelves! :) I'd also like to note what someone else mentioned, Liar flies off our shelves, the cover (hiding behind her jacket, not her hair) is SUCH an improvement.

And what about manga? :) I can't keep that on the shelves!

Thanks for hosting this post!! :)
Mitali Perkins said…
Thank you so much for the on-the-front-lines comments and suggestions. Keep them coming, please. I'll compile on Thursday with book covers.
Alicia said…
I'm a middle school librarian. Anything Sharon Flake (esp. The Skin I'm In) or Joseph Bruchac (esp. Codetalker) is rarely on the shelves.
susan said…
Thanks for Safire response. I only recently learned that many whites hear POC and they equate it with black which was odd to me. When I mean black I say so.
Jan Dohner said…
Many of the books mentioned above plus
Beacon Street Girls series by Annie Bryant and Main Street series by Ann M. Martin.
susan said…
Wanting Mor by Ruhksana Khan
Faith by Maya Ajmera
A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott (two covers can find both at Amazon)
Bird by Zetta Elliott, illustrator Shadra Strickland (amazing)
The House You Pass On the Way by Jacqueline Woodson
Everytime A Rainbow Dies by Rita Garcia Williams
Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins
Anonymous said…
I personally don't like the term "people of color."
(I'm Asian Am.) A commenter on one of your earlier blogs suggested using "pinks" for "whites" since they are more pinkish than white. My friends and I totally agree and have been using the term "pinks" instead of "whites." Also, hapas (another term for Caucasian-minority group mixtures) are often light-skinned and while not "pinks," they are not "people of color."
tanita davis said…
Not a bookseller or gatekeeper -- but the cover of The Kayla Chronicles -- gorgeous, striking, wonderful. And since I just finished 8th Grade SuperZero, I'll applaud that one as well. The silhouette doesn't give us the idea of ethnicity, but I'm not all that fond of faces on books anyway - I just like how it turned out, with the shoes tossed on the top.
Camille said…
Shiva's Fire by Suzanne Fisher Staples
elisabethreads said…
Yes, Wanting Mor by by Ruhksana Khan has been getting a fair amount of attention, especially from kids that like Deborah Ellis's Breadwinner trilogy, which still circs steadily.

Lisa Yee's Millicent Min books go as well as Bobby versus Girls and I've had good responses booktalking Lenore Look's Ruby Lu and Alvin Ho books to Junie B. Jones fans.

We have a display shelf of the twenty books on the shortlist for our provincial reader's choice award every year--neither War Brothers by Sharon McKay or Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis moved much in their respective years, but I suspect that's because they were both relatively thick in comparion to other books on the shelf.

This year, Libertad by Alma Fullerton is out more often though, and One Hen, a book about microloans in Africa, is big and bright and picture-book sized and goes out a lot. Same with The Drum Calls Softly by Dave Bouchard.

The Bone Collector's Son by Paul Yee was also an easy sell to any kids who like ghost stories. White Lily by Ting-xing Ye won the award in 2002!
Kashmira said…
I agree with many titles mentioned here. I also like the cover of Rickshaw Girl with the beautiful "alpana" design.
Kashmira Sheth
Kashmira said…
I agree with many titles mentioned here. I aslo like the cover of Rickshaw Girl with beautiful "alpana" design.
Kashmira Sheth