Inside Tu Books, A New Publisher Focusing on Multicultural SF and Fantasy Books for Kids

Charlie Jane Anders, io9, November 5, 2010

Inside Tu Books, a new publisher focusing on multicultural SF and fantasy books for kidsScience fiction and fantasy books for younger audiences are booming–but they still mostly feature white heroes and are aimed at white audiences. So Stacy Whitman is launching Tu Books, a new publisher of multicultural children’s and young-adult SF.

Whitman, a former editor with Wizards of the Coast imprint Mirrorstone Books, decided to start Tu Books as an independent small press {snip}

The books that Whitman has acquired include:

* a YA paranormal thriller, tentatively called Wolf Mark, by Joseph Bruchac, author of Codetalker and Skeleton Man. “When Lucas King’s covert-ops father is kidnapped and his best friend, Meena, put in danger, Lucas’s only chance to save them is hidden away in an abandoned, monster-guarded mansion: a skin that will let him walk as a wolf.”

* Galaxy Games by Greg Fishbone, a MG science fiction comedic space adventure trilogy about an incoming asteroid that turns out to be an alien spaceship, visiting Earth to recruit a team of kid athletes to compete in the upcoming Galaxy Games Tournament.

* Tankborn by Karen Sandler, a YA science fiction dystopia about “best friends Kayla and Mishalla, genetically engineered slaves on the planet Loka, whose developing friendships with higher-status boys lead them to question the strict caste system of their world.”

* Vodnik by Bryce Moore, “the story of a Roma boy who returns home to Slovakia after a devastating fire, and discovers his roots extend deeper into the country of his birth than he ever imagined.” (This one is coming in Spring 2012).

We spoke to Whitman about getting into publishing, and why she felt like there was a need for multicultural YA and children’s SF books.

{snip}

When you raised over $10,000 on Kickstarter, what do you think it says about the need for multicultural YA fantasy?

First, on a personal level, I’ve had roughly twenty roommates who were people of color and/or from other countries, so I’ve often thought about issues of diversity. I learned a lot from them that I didn’t know as deeply before, such as the reality of white privilege. In fact, I hesitated to start a publishing company dedicated to diversity because I thought, “Who am I, a white girl who grew up on a farm, to try such a thing?” But with the encouragement of friends and writers and readers, things worked out.

Publicly, awareness was high because of Racefail and whitewashing–of various book covers, and even the movie version of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It wasn’t just me that these issues mattered to. {snip} And diversity is something the SFF community has been talking about for a while. {snip}

I see on the Tu Books site that you say that you’re not aiming to publish “niche” books or aim at just one community–do you think that multicultural fantasy can appeal to a wider audience?

If you ask how many people of color enjoy reading fantasy and science fiction, you’ll find that it’s not a large number, though there are some. I don’t think it’s because fantasy and SF stories don’t appeal to a wide swath of people. I think part of it is that it’s a genre historically dominated by white heroes, meaning that often young readers who don’t see themselves reflected in the genre might turn to other books that mirror them more fully. By reaching out with “mirror” books to readers of color who could enjoy fantasy, we share the joy of a great genre with those who will hopefully grow up to become lifelong readers and writers of SFF.

That’s not to say, though, that our books will be only for people of color. While multicultural books are often considered “niche” books, I think that can pigeonhole them. Fantasy often asks its readers to walk into a world completely unfamiliar to them, so why not a world influenced by a non-Western culture, or featuring main characters of color? It’s not a new idea–some SFF authors have always kept this in mind–but it’s something we need more of.

So in *addition* to marketing to a core “multicultural” audience, we’ll market to a core genre audience–that is, it’s not an either-or. What matters to me is the story–note how in our rights report we didn’t mention that the main character of Joe Bruchac’s book above is Abenaki, or that the star of Galaxy Games is Japanese American, etc. These details are important, but ultimately the stories are about much more than just the race of the characters. The fact that the main character in Galaxy Games is Japanese American *does* inform who he is, but so does the fact that he’s a boy who has an asteroid named after him that’s hurtling toward Earth, destined to doom us all. đŸ™‚

{snip}

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