“Our world is full of uncertainties,” an elementary-school friend of my sister’s was fond of saying in a faux-sinister voice. And how right you were, Jane.
As I write this, students across the country are deep in the weeds of standardized test-taking, hoping their erasers will survive their attempts to prove that they can spot the correct–or, sometimes, in analogy-interpretation sections, the “best”–answers. (Not enough of a rant for you? Try “13 ways high-stakes standardized tests hurt students,” Washington Post blog.) In the spirit of reductive knowledge measurement, here are some tricky questions that often confront children’s publishers. Please fill in each bubble completely.
1. You’re concepting a series about fashion. To whom do you market this series?
(Cough. “Fighting Gender Stereotypes in Kids’ Publishing,” Publishers Weekly. Cough.)
2. You’re aiming to portray diversity in your latest illustrated children’s book. You request that the artist feature a child…
A. in a wheelchair
B. wearing hijab
(More on that here.)
3. Your new series will have a ___________ focus.
A. high interest
C. character education
And now for some good news: that’s not how we think. Binaries (or trinaries) are neither necessary nor useful in the world of children’s literature. A book–like a kid–doesn’t have to be just one thing. It can be fast-paced and shocking but also jam-packed with geography and biology, while showcasing some truly heroic choices that ordinary people can make in extraordinary situations.
As Jane said, our world is full of uncertainties. Encouraging kids to explore and embrace those uncertainties–to open their minds to new possibilities and appreciate the rich variety of life–is one of those lofty goals of children’s publishing that I like to trot out and wave unabashedly. (And I’m lucky that my Lerner colleagues feel the same way.) In publishing as in so much else, there isn’t one right answer, one winning formula, or one way of being. We offer the best mix we can come up with, in the hope that readers will discover more questions than answers.