Jacqueline Woodson – why are her books not available to children in the UK?

Last year I wrote a blogpost for the IBBY UK website https://www.ibby.org.uk/jacqueline-woodson/ expressing astonishment that children’s books by African American author Jacqueline Woodson are not published in the UK. She had just won the Hans Christian Andersen Author Medal and had previously received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award – the two most prestigious international awards for children’s literature. I was especially concerned that a UK edition of her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming had been cancelled and, having looked into this again, according to the Waterstones website, it has been ‘abandoned’. The publisher’s own website still states a publication date of April 2020 – a year ago.

I recently dug out an article I wrote many years ago for the Booktrust website (I’ve worked out that I must have written it some time between 2004 and 2008) entitled ‘Reading Our World: Multicultural books’, in which I said the following:

‘in this modern business world, children’s books go out of print very quickly if they don’t immediately establish a market. It takes time for teachers and parents to get to know about a book. What is new to teachers is often last year’s news for publishers, with the current strong emphasis on promoting the frontlist to the detriment of some very strong backlists. This applies to most titles, but it often seems to me, as a librarian recommending books to and compiling booklists for teachers and parents, that books by black and ethnic minority authors seem to go out of print disproportionately quickly. 

This was brought home to me last year by the following example. (I won’t mention the name of the publisher as I don’t want to single them out for criticism. This is a problem shared by all the large corporate publishers.) A book by an African American author was admired by some of the advisory teachers I work with and they wanted to buy several copies to include in a project. We also wanted to add it to the updated edition of our published CLPE Core Booklist. The book had been available in its UK edition for less than a year. When I placed an order, I was astonished to discover that this book was already out of print, having had nowhere near sufficient opportunity to become known among potential readers. I contacted the publisher to express my dismay. They were apologetic but said that the book had not sold well enough.

Although I did not say this at the time – the author I was referring to was Jacqueline Woodson and the book was her verse novel Locomotion. I remain completely mystified as to why her children’s and YA books are not published in the UK as I’m certain that Brown Girl Dreaming in particular would find an audience with adults as well as children. 

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