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Author of the DORK DIARIES bestselling Children's Books is a Sister

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9781481460033.jpgRachel Renée Russell’s DORK DIARIES children’s books series has sold over 30 million copies with translation into 36 languages worldwide 222 weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list. 

 

The Dork Diaries is a fantastically successful series. The main characters are not Black. Rachel said in an interview with The New York Times that she wanted her books to appeal to a wide audience.

 

Would it really be impossible for a Black main character to appeal to a wide (i.e. white) audience?

 

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For kids in that age group, I don't think it matters.  The key is marketing.  Kids are attracted, more so than adults, to themed covers, exciting colors and the facial expressions of the characters so I believe the ethnicity of the person on the cover doesn't matter.  THEN, together with their parents, they'll read what it's about and if it's interesting they'll go for it.  This series is/was extremely popular and I do believe that if the characters were Black, it would have been just as successful IF, as Black subjects, the series would have been marketed just the same.  Basically, you can have Black characters just don't have racially charged themes..

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@MAFOOMBAY, can you think of any books to support your theory? 

 

It is funny, but it seems as soon as you have Black main characters that, in and of itself, is enough for the theme to become "racially charged." 

 

If I had the resources I would look at our most important children's books (the list includes YA and is by no means exhaustive) and see if any of them have been nearly as successful as the Dork diaries.  I know many were marketed to a wide audience.

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I think Ezra Jack Keats did a terrific job with his books of African-American leads.  The Snowy Day is an all-time classic across all races and "Peter's" race is never mentioned.  Although it's for younger than YA, he did it and was extremely successful.  I'd consider Dork Diaries pre-YA, ages 9-13, and there are other series like Captain Underpants, Roald Dahl's books and even the Ramona series that could've been just as successful with Black leads. I think the Hardy Boys could've been Black!  I can't think of a series that has tried this but I do believe it's possible for the pre-teen reader.  

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funwithdickandjane.jpgYeah, Erza Jack Keats was one of the first children's book authors profiled on the website.  I remember the first time I saw his book, the The Snowy Day, it was the first book I recall seeing with Black kids in the them ; this, I'm sure, was 50 years ago. 

 

Peter's race did not need to be mentioned; it was obvious.

 

I learned to read with the Dick and Jane books you know, "See Spot Run."  These characters are household names.  These book  would probably never been published with Black characters when they were introduced in the 1940's.  By the time Keats book came out, a generation later, at the dawn of the civil right era, attitudes were beginning to change and white man creating a book with Black characters could get published and realize some commercial success. and recognition.

 

@MAFOOMBAY, you definitely have a lot more optimism on this issue that I do.  The prospect of a children's book featuring Black main characters achieving the commercial success of the Dork Diaries seems remote  Critical acclaim yes, great commercial success I dunno.  I appreciate the success of the Dork Diaries is atypical, and not a reasonable benchmark.  Still are there any children's book written by Black writers and with Black characters that have achieved commercial success?

 

My current bestselling children's books features critically acclaimed books, including Bright Eyes, Brown Skin which was published by Just Us Books and written by Cheryl Willis Hudson, Illustrated by George Ford, which was the first book published, written and illustrated by Black people to win a major award.

 

Still do you really think a book like Bright Eyes, Brown Skin could achieve the same commercial success with a white audience the way Dick and Jane or The Dork Diaries have?

 

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Unfortunately there aren't and maybe my optimism is 'a little' too (optimistic) but from my experience working in B&N, kids aged up to 12 (13 - 17 was YA) reacted to books by themes.  If the cover was funny, they laughed, sports related they'd look for common ground, etc. and that stokes my belief of race not being a factor.  I even look at the cover of the Dork Diary you have above and can see a Black boy and that wouldn't affect a child's decision to be attracted to it.  As long as it's not racially motivated, the 'races' can be interchanged.  And I combine that with the fact that at that age group, most if not all parents are happy and excited that their child is motivated to read recreationally.  It's a win-win.

 

I'd love to see an author do that, cross the borders and see if it's possible.  I thought James Patterson was going to do it when he started his YA series, piggy backing off of his Alex Cross series, but he didn't.

 

I do believe it's possible...

 

 

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...sure it is possible @MAFOOMBAY I've pretty much dedicated my life to that possibility :)

 

Clayton Byrd Goes UndergroundWhen I redesigned this site.  I grouped children's books and YA books together into one category.  That was a mistake that I will eventually need to clean up.  The biggest difference between children's books and YA is that children's books are actually sold to adults (a 4 year-old does not buy books).  So the marketing is different.  I think white parents, are far less likely to buy a book featuring Black characters, regardless of the color of the author.

 

Keats is often cited, because his book, was one for the first published by a mainstream publisher to have a Black kid as the main character.  But I'm not sure how commercially successful it was with white parents.  Libraries, schools, and Black parents snapped up copies for sure, but I simply do not know how many white parents purchased the book. Jim Crow laws were still in effect. throughout the south when the book as first published.

 

There is a children's book that is a finalist for a National Book Award tomorrow (11/15/17), Clayton Byrd Goes Underground It is written by a sister, Rita Williams-Garcia, from New York City.  In fact, I've predicted Rita's book has the best chance for a book written by a Black writer to actually win the award.

 

The fact that the book was nominated should greatly boost sales.  Even if the book wins I don't expect it to greatly boost sales, outside the library and school communities.

 

Given the dearth of platforms celebrating and selling Black books I'd be surprised if a significant number of Black parents with children are even aware of the book. But hey it is possible and we can observe what happens in the future.

 

 

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