Kirkus Reviews has a long history of being the very first journal to review new books, tons of them, all those reviews whizzing into the hands of buyers and librarians, right out of the gate. Debut writers often wait in breathless terror for those first reviews. If Kirkus pans your book (and they do, sometimes) all you can do is rail at them in impotent fury. Is there an author alive who has not survived at least one snippy Kirkus review, and been suffused with gratitude at the good ones?
Now, though, we have a gesture form Kirkus related to the recent debates about diversity, a gesture that seems at once transparent and, yes, brave:
as the conversation surrounding diversity in children’s literature has heated up, I’ve felt more and more that naming race and identity is one of the duties of a reviewer.
About six or seven months ago, Kirkus started identifying characters in children’s and teen books by identity and/or race—all the time. Why does that matter? Because otherwise race is mentioned only when it constitutes the story. This way, incidental diversity gets acknowledged, even at the (supposed) risk that some people might choose not to buy a book if the character is of a particular race or culture. If race and identity are explicitly acknowledged, perhaps the whitewashing of book jackets and illustrations will fade into history as well.
Thank you, Vicki Smith and Kirkus Reviews. This makes good sense, and it’s about time.