Giveaway in Support of Asian YA Book Covers

The amazing Ellen Oh has written a heartfelt and needs-to-be-heard post on why the Pretty White Girl YA Book Cover Trend needs to end. From Ellen's post:
Asians have long been the silent minority in this country. It's gotten so bad that when someone makes a racist remark toward Asians, they just shrug it off and make it seem like you're the one making a big deal about nothing. . . . Like a couple of white guys who think they are being clever by opening up a restaurant called "Roundeye Noodle shop" in Philadelphia. . . .

If anyone thinks "Roundeye" is not racist, you should come explain that to my youngest daughter who had the singular pleasure of being told by two boys in her class that her "small Chinese eyes" were ugly compared to her friend's "blue round-eyes." She was in kindergarten and only 5 years old. She cried for days. Words can scar you for life.
This hurt my heart and made me want to hug all my Asian and half-Asian kids and tell them once again how beautiful they are. Go read Ellen's post now (but come back, because I have books to giveaway).

So one commenter wisely asked what can we do about it? "What short-term and achievable goal will start that process?"

I don't know how to fix the problem, but I know two things that won't hurt any: (1) Talking about it and (2) Supporting covers that don't follow the trend.

To that end, I'm giving away two books that are both awesome and feature an Asian model on the cover: Cindy Pon's Silver Phoenix (the original hardback cover) and Malinda Lo's Huntress.

Here's how you can win one:
  1. Post a link to Ellen's post (NOT my post here, but Ellen's post) on Twitter, Facebook, your blog, or wherever people will see it. Then fill out the form below.
  2. Two winners will be chosen randomly and notified next Friday, March 16th.
  3. Each winner may choose which of the two books they want: either Silver Phoenix or Huntress (if both want the same book, that's cool with me).
  4. Contest is open to any country will ship to (note: I may use Amazon or B& to ship the book, if it turns out to be cheaper).

UPDATE: Form deleted. Contest is closed.

What do you guys think? What can we do about this? Anything? What other awesome YA books with Asians (or any other minority for that matter) should I know about?


Steve MC said...

What a great thing to do. And yeah, the lack of Asian characters and covers is something I first heard of with Cindy Pon's book - loved the dynamic, colorful cover with the strong heroine. Couldn't believe the dull, drab whitewashed version they came up with for the paperback.

Can't think of any Asian YA characters besides in Whale Talk, where he's only part Asian.

Rachel Grinti said...

As readers, we can support books with diverse covers with our dollars. We can contact the publishers to protest when books about non-white characters have white covers. We can support publishers like Tu Books. We can recommend the books to our friends. We can buy them as gifts.

As writers, we know it's not just about the publishers. We want more diversity on YA covers, but the content in the YA books needs to reflect that as well. We are all a part of that.

As a librarian, I know how important it is for all kids to see themselves in the books they read. To see themselves as the heroes. For books (and films and TV shows) to have diverse heroes because that's who the character is and that's how our world is.

@maine character -- Speaking of Whale Talk, yes, the main character says he is half black, half Japanese, yet all the covers I've seen have a white teen.

As far as books go, this book list is from 2010 so it won't have the newest books, but it's a list of multicultural SFF middle grade and YA, compiled by Stacy Whitman:

And here are some contemporary YA books with Asian characters for anyone who is interested:
Bitter Melon by Cara Chow
Wait for Me, The Fold, and A Step From Heaven by An Na
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (who is also doing the new Avatar: the Last Airbender graphic novels, eeeee!)
Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything by E. Lockhart
Girls for Breakfast by David Yoo
Black Mirror by Nancy Werlin

Rachel Grinti said...

Oh dear, sorry for my wall of text, Adam! It looks longer than your original post. #oops And I even forgot to say -- yay for an awesome giveaway and more places to talk about this!

Adam Heine said...

Thank you so much for the link and the books, Rachel! And you're right, it's not just about the book covers. We need Asian protagonists even more than the covers.

But the covers are so important, too. Looking through YA books in a bookstore (online or otherwise), what a kid sees can tell them a lot about whether or not they are accepted in the culture they're living in. Like, I know the reasoning behind the change in Silver Phoenix covers, but man that whole thing made me so sad. The old cover was a lot of why I was interested in the book!

Adam Heine said...

Ha! No problem, and you're welcome!

Matthew MacNish said...

Being the Asian-o-phile you know I am, this is perfect for me. I tweeted Ellen's post, and entered. I do have one big fear though. With all the Asian culture I put in my stories, and all the Asian characters I write, I always worry someone, somewhere, someday, will be offended.

I suppose it's inevitable. I'm not Asian. I'm a white guy writing an Asian character. It's a little like why I never wanted to read The Help. I figured, how could Kathryn Stockett know what it was like to be an African American maid in 1950s Mississippi?

I don't know. I probably think too much.

Rachel Grinti said...

Yes, I was also sad about the Silver Phoenix cover change.

Small consolation, but at least it *sometimes* goes in the other direction. The original cover for Book of a Thousand Days:
And the paperback cover a few years later:

Heather Zundel said...

I'm so glad you posted about this, Adam. The more attention that can be given to this very important issue, the better. And what a great way to highlight POC covers by giving them away! I still remember the pair I won. Bravo.

Rachel said...

I have one daughter (my oldest) who is half Filipino and Hawaiian and another daughter who is Hispanic. I also write YA novels. So, of-course my MC's are a combination of beautifully different races. In the book I'm querying now, the MC is part Asian and the love interest is Hispanic.

My oldest daughter loves YA novels and gets irritated when the book clearly explains a MC with dark skin and eyes, and yet portrays her on the cover or in the movie adaptation as a Caucasian girl. When The Last Airbender came out, my daughter was so excited to see what Asian girl they cast as Katara. Needless to say, she was not happy to see a Caucasian girl on the screen. Same for Katniss in The Hunger Games.

Marcy Bates said...

It is not just books, but everywhere. I was scouting magazines for a collage I project for my preschoolers at church. About half of my kids are Asian, yet I could find very few Asians to cut out for the collage. We were looking for kids playing and for families. I wish the magazines would get the clue too.

Daisy Carter said...

What a great post! I linked to you and Ellen on my blog today! My current WIP has two minority characters (one's the love interest). I'm so happy that my brain is creating in many colors!

And Matthew, I know how you feel. I worried about offending someone, too. But in the end, I figured I was bound to offend someone somehow no matter what race or nationality or religion or sexual orientation my characters are. So why not write the character as you see them in your mind's eye and know that you can't please everyone?

Daisy Carter said...

p.s. Thanks for offering the twitter shout out, Adam! It would be my first ever!

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks for tweeting and blogging about this. I wouldn't have seen Ellen's post otherwise. I think this is something that bothers a lot of people and that it won't change until more of us are vocal.

Both of those covers are stunning.

Angela Brown said...

Adam, you're right. Talking about it and supporting books with diverse book covers is the beginning. As more get involved, the tide can grow and a difference can be made.

Also, more diverse characters would need to be written about to encourage the use diverse "cover girls".

Adam Heine said...

And it's not just America. In Thailand, the biggest stars are half-white, many ads are filled with ambiguously white/Asian people, and people strive to stay out of the skin and buy skin whiteners. Creepy but true!

Adam Heine said...

That's awesome, Daisy. And good words about offending people (and how you can't avoid it)!

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Yes, yes, and yes. And I agree with Angela, we need to write with more diversity if we want the covers to reflect diversity. But then it's a matter of publishers buying said "diverse" books.

jonyangorg said...

Great giveaway and thanks for taking action! YA CoverMales, if anyone else has ones to add, I'm all ears.

Adam Heine said...

Thanks for the link, Jon!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

It boggles my mind why covers don't reflect their characters, but the white-washing happens often enough that it's got to be intentional. Thanks for posting about it (and for highlighting Huntress! I, of course, have seen Cindy Pon's book, but I hadn't seen this one - going on the TBR)!

Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...

Rachel G is right: If I'm going to help move us towards a more multicultural representation, I need to make sure my books are filled with strong characters from all cultures. I wish there were more books about more races--and Asians are probably the least represented in American publishing. Amy Tan's books are brilliant and beautiful, but they are not YA.

I need to figure out ways I can help solve this.

Aurora said...

Thanks for the great link! Here are a few of my recs:

Legend by Marie Lu
Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Peggy Eddleman said...

This is so awesome! And I totally agree. Besides the fact that they SHOULD be there, they are so fascinating!!

TeriBrownwrites said...

Gorgeous covers. We had an incident in the childcare program where I work where one young child, a third grade boy, did the Japanese Chinese, look at these, thing with the eyes... that one that's been around forever. He was so focused on the funny "look at these" line, he didn't even think about how it could be hurting his Asian friends. We have a very high number of Asian and Indian children in our program, so when we explained how it was hurtful, he was devastated. So many people do or say things without thinking.

Do you know any MG books with strong Asian or Indian characters? I'd like to be able to rec some to my 4th and 5th graders.

vic caswell said...

Great and important posts. Facebooked. Sorry, I'm short. On kindle _ son in hospital.

Stacy Whitman said...

Just so you know, the booklist of mine linked above is out of date. It's a big job to keep them up to date on the blog, due to the onerous coding/uploading/etc involved, so I've started keeping these lists on Pinterest. I'm obviously more knowledgable about fantasy and SF, but I'm also keeping realism lists, too, and would love suggestions for what I'm missing on all the lists.

As I noted on Ellen's post, I think solving this problem will take a multi-pronged approach: diversity in publishing itself, diversity in the books, and recruitment of authors of color. I'm open for submissions--you don't have to have an agent--so I want to make sure that I'm always looking for new places to reach out to writers whose books would fit the bill for my imprint. And this is what other editors need to do, as well, I think--new writers of color might have a history of being frustrated with publishers or the writing world due to these issues we're talking about, and those of us looking for diversity might not know where to reach out to them. (I'm always open to suggestions for places I should be reaching out to, by the way. Please let me know if you think I should be sending a call for submissions somewhere.)

Giveaways like this are important--thanks for doing this! But I also think that we in publishing, on the business side, need to be reaching out and letting people know we're looking for diversity, and we also need to be letting high school and college age kids know that publishing is a viable career option, even if you grew up poor and/or without connections. A lot of people see publishing as an old boys' club (old girls' club?) of people who all went to the same college or who had family friends who got them in. While that's true for some of the people I know in publishing, I'm not one of them, nor are many of the editors who are on the CBC Diversity Committee, and we want to work to let kids know that if they're interested in books, they could very well be the generation that helps us innovate as the industry changes.

And I think that stuff like what you're doing also helps your fellow writers--both of color and white--know that diversity is welcome, and that we as readers are looking for it. Sometimes it's an epiphany for the readers I talk to: "OF COURSE I'm interested in stories about people who aren't just like me. Why don't I diversify my bookshelves a little?" Talking about it like this means so much for all those prongs, if that makes sense.

Adam Heine said...

I don't read a lot of MG, Teri, so I don't have a lot of recs. I do know of NOWHERE GIRL by AJ Paquette, which is about a half-Thai, half-American girl born in a Thai prison.

Adam Heine said...

Thank you so much for this insightful comment, Stacy! What you're doing at Tu Books sounds amazing.

Rachel Grinti said...

Hi Teri,

In case you check back, here are a few MG!

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee
Stanford Wong Flunks Big-time by Lisa Yee
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
The Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels
Escaping the Tiger by Laura Manivong
Galaxy Games by Greg Fishbone
Naming Maya by Uma Krishnaswami

Here's a blog post that might help:

It feels forward to mention my own book, but my debut middle grade fantasy Claws will be out in the US this September and fits this list.

And I'll end with another forthcoming title -- this fall be on the lookout for Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities by Mike Jung!