A Call for #ownvoices Modern Fiction Picture Books

On my office wall, I’ve taped up this reminder from Roxane Gay:

“You are the stewards of sacred spaces. Rise to the occasion.”

Emma Kwee/Flickr

She was speaking at Winter Institute to a crowd of booksellers, those keepers of stores overflowing with stories, where both children and adults can step away from reality–or glimpse another reality. She challenged them to make bookstores ever more inclusive sanctuaries.  

As an editor of picture books, I hear her challenge directed just as loudly at us in publishing, as we aim to foster sacred spaces wherever there’s a space between a young reader and an open book.

In its annual report of statistics on children’s books written by or about people of color and First/Native Nations, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison confirms that children’s publishing is still lagging in inclusivity. Of the 3,400 books the CBC received in 2016, just 13% of those were written or illustrated by people of color or First/Native Nations; 22% featured a nonwhite main character or subject.

I’m delighted to see more and more agents reaching out to represent diverse authors and author-illustrators, as with this open call for writers of Muslim heritage. And I’m particularly eager to see that translate to more agented Carolrhoda Picture Book submissions featuring modern, engaging stories told from a nonwhite perspective. Many of the submissions we get that do have a nonwhite author, or that focus on a POC character, are stories of a notable person or event in history. These types of stories are certainly important. They also, however, already make up a large share of the diverse picture books available to a modern multicultural generation of kids. (See what I’ve written before about Last Stop on Market Street as a kid’s-eye view of everyday life.)

So let’s jump ahead a step.

The Carolrhoda Picture Books list aims to publish fiction with broad appeal, a highly original storyline, and a strong narrative voice. We want our books to tell fresh, unique, funny stories that are widely relatable. And we’re compelled to create windows and mirrors for readers, like in Niko Draws a Feeling (out April 1), the sweet, imaginative story of a misunderstood budding abstract artist (who happens to be from a mixed-race family). And like Luis Paints the World, about a boy coping while his brother is deployed in Afghanistan and the powerful support of family and community in their Dominican neighborhood of Massachusetts.

To build on that list with authentic, diverse stories, we’re putting out a call.

Are you an #ownvoices author, or author/illustrator, with:

  • a hilarious story featuring a modern sense of humor?
  • an unusual perspective with a universally relatable theme of childhood at its core?
  • a unique story of sibling rivalry, or fighting dragons, or construction vehicles, or resisting bedtime, or secretly building lasers in your room after ballet class, etc. . . . that directly or indirectly draws on your diverse heritage?

Great. Send it to us. From February 22 through March 22, 2017, we’re accepting unagented (or agented) #ownvoices fiction picture-book submissions. Send manuscripts or PDF dummies to CPBsubmissions (at) lernerbooks.com.

We’ll be most compelled by manuscripts that are less than 800 words in length and that feature an engaging plot not focused primarily on race. Unfortunately, due to the anticipated volume of submissions, we’re unable to respond to those not selected for development.

Please share! We look forward to reading your stories.

10 thoughts on “A Call for #ownvoices Modern Fiction Picture Books

  1. ann magee

    I have a question about Bob Raczka's book, NIKO DRAWS A FEELING. Is this considered a #ownvoice book because Raczka is from a mixed-race family?

  2. Anna Cavallo

    Good question! No, I was considering that an example of a diverse picture book, because the main character Niko is from a mixed family (visually brought to life by Simone Shin). But I wouldn't consider it an #ownvoices book.

  3. ann magee

    Thank you for your response. Just to clarify, if I wrote a picture book about a boy missing his grandfather who had been in the military, it would not be considered an #ownvoices story because I did not have any relative in the military. Is that correct?

  4. Anna Cavallo

    That's correct. With this call, we're looking for stories that are authentic to the author's experience, especially those reflecting marginalized points of view. Thanks for checking!

  5. Anna Cavallo

    Hi Meyrnah – it would be helpful to send along some basic info about the author & brief introduction to the story, so it's clear how the book reflects the author's own experience (e.g. noting author's Latinx heritage if book features a Latinx main character). Any other info you might include about credentials/published works is helpful as well–but no previous publishing history is required. It's just helpful for us to get a brief sense of the writer's background.

  6. Viviane Elbee

    Hello Ms. Cavallo. Do you prefer to have a word document attached to the email for submissions or do you prefer to have the manuscript pasted in the email?

  7. Meera Sriram

    Hi Ms. Cavallo, I am an #ownvoices picture book writer and was thrilled to find this post! However, I realize I'm past the deadline. Will you still be open to accepting submissions? Thanks! And so happy about this very meaningful effort – thank you!

Comments are closed