an open letter to Jet Blue

14 Jul 2015 news 56 Comments

Photo: John Spaulding

As authors, librarians, publishers, and scholars of children’s literature, we were thrilled to learn that Jet Blue was promoting a new initiative within the Soar with Reading program. Placing free book vending machines in low-income areas of Washington, DC is an innovative idea, and we commend your corporation’s commitment to promoting literacy through the development of home libraries. Upon visiting the Soar with Reading website, however, we were dismayed to see that the books on offer seemed limited to The Magic Treehouse series. These books undoubtedly appeal to young readers and they serve as windows into other worlds, but they fail to serve as “mirrors” for the children of color most likely to access the vending machines (which can have unintended consequences). We subsequently requested and reviewed the list of titles* and found that of the 46 books, only FOUR are written by people of color. The remaining books feature white children and a wide variety of animals—not the sort of diversity we hoped to see.

diversity_tinakuglerFor decades, people of color and their white allies have fought for greater diversity in children’s literature; the latest manifestation of this activism can be found in the We Need Diverse Books movement. Statistics compiled annually by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center show that the publishing industry has stubbornly refused to produce books that reflect the nation’s diversity. Although children of color represent the majority of school-age children in the US, the publishing industry–and corporate publishers in particular—continue to generate books that overwhelmingly feature white children only.

Childrens Books Infographic 18 24 V3As literacy advocates, we sincerely want to see the Soar with Reading program succeed. We do hope, however, that you will make every effort to partner with independent publishers that make diversity and equity a priority; we recommend Lee & Low Books, Just Us Books, Cinco Puntos Press, Pemmican Publications, and Rosetta Press (diverse titles from these and other publishers can be found on the We’re the People summer reading list). We also urge Jet Blue to connect with nonprofits like the Children’s Defense Fund and Reading Is Fundamental; these organizations serve the same population you hope to reach, and could provide advice on developing a more diverse book list. Children of color are eager to see themselves reflected on the pages of the books they read, and stocking your vending machines with such titles might heighten demand and ensure that the children are deeply engaged with the books they take home. We share Jet Blue’s goal of improving literacy through book ownership, and ask that you consider us a resource as you expand and improve your Soar with Reading program.


Anita Merina, NEA’s Read Across America

Kabir Seth, Co-Founder, Storied Myth; founding member, Diversity in Apps

Ed Greene, EM Greene Associates; founding member, Diversity In Apps
Amy Kraft, blogger, Media Macaroni; founding member, Diversity in Apps
Kevin Clark, Professor & Director, Center for Digital Media Innovation and Diversity; founding member, Diversity in Apps
Sandhya Nankani, Founder, Literary Safari; founding member, Diversity In Apps
Marianne Martens, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Kent State University, School of Library and Information Science

Founding Member, Diversity in Apps

Stacy Whitman, Publisher, Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books

Tracey Baptiste, M.Ed., author

Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Cheryl Willis Hudson, author/publisher

Nathalie G. Mvondo, writer/blogger

Gabrielle Halko, Associate Professor of English & Children’s Literature Specialist, West Chester University

Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, children’s author/educator

Carleen Brice, writer

Sarah Park Dahlen, Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science, St. Catherine University

Dr. Nancy D. Tolson, Children’s Literature Scholar

Robin Bernstein, Professor of African and African American Studies, Harvard University

Leslie Gallager, Librarian, Brooklyn Prospect Charter School

Ed Spicer, Educator and Curriculum Consultant, Allegan, MI
Sharon McKellar, librarian

LaTonya M. Baldwin, blogger/activist/parent

Allie Jane Bruce, Children’s Librarian, Bank Street College Library/We Need Diverse Books

Sarah Hannah Gomez, blogger/critic/scholar

Edith Campbell, librarian

Mary E. Cronin

Sofia Quintero, author

Karen Simpson, author

Michele Simms-Burton, writer

Philip Nel, University Distinguished Professor of English, Kansas State University

Shveta Thakrar, M.A., author

Kelly Starling Lyons, Children’s Book Author

Dr. Debbie Reese, American Indians in Children’s Literature

Dr. Zetta Elliott, author/scholar/publisher

If you would like to add your name, please do so in the comments section.

*list of titles provided by Tatiana Kneer


busy doggies

John Schindel & Jonathan Chester


10 Hungry Rabbits

Anita Lobel


Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?

Brianna Caplan Sayres


Panda Kisses

Alyssa Satin Capuccilli


Too Many Cats

Lori Haskins


Bear Hugs

Alyssa Satin Capuccilli


Dinosaurs before Dark

Mary Pope Osborne


Knight at the Dawn

Mary Pope Osborne


Fact Tracker: Dinosaurs

Mary Pope Osborne


The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop

Kate Saunders


Bud, Not Buddy

Christopher Paul Curtis



Tonya Bolden


Sweet Dreams Lullaby

Betsy Snyder


busy kitties

John Schindel & Jonathan Chester


Dancing Feet!

Lindsey Craig


Go Robot Go

Dana M. Raur


Hot Dog

Molly Coxe


Mouse Makes Words

Kathryn Heling/Debora Hembrook


Dolphins at Daybreak

Mary Pope Osborne


Fact Tracker: Knights & Castles

Mary Pope Osborne


Fact Tracker: Dolphins and Sharks

Mary Pope Osborne


One Came Home

Amy Timberlake


100 Cupboards

N.D. Wilson


Discovering Wes Moore

Wes Moore


Dim Sum For Everyone

Grace Lin


What’s Up, Duck?

Tad Hills


How Do Lions Say I Love You?

Diane Muldrow


Too Many Dogs

Lori Haskins


Dancing Dinos

Sally Lucas


I Like Stars

Margaret Wise Brown


Dark Day in the Deep Sea

Mary Pope Osborne


Night of the Ninjas

Mary Pope Osborne


Big Egg

Molly Coxe


Emerald Atlas

John Stephens


Flesh and Blood So Cheap

Albert Marrin


Duck & Goose: Goose Needs a Hug

Tad Hills


Duck & Goose 123

Tad Hills


The Little Airplane

Lois Lenski


My Loose Tooth

Stephen Krensky


Cat on a Mat

Susan Schade


Ducks Go Vroom

Jane Kothuh


High Tide in Hawaii

Mary Pope Osborne


Fact Tracker: Ninjas and Samurai

Mary Pope Osborne


Fact Tracker: Tsunamis and Other Natural Disasters

Mary Pope Osborne




Sky Jumpers

Peggy Edleman