CHILDREN’S MEDIA: DEBUNKING and FUNKING IT UP
Meet: Carey Albertine & Saira Rao, of In This Together Media
Carey and I met our freshmen year at The University of Virginia and have been thick as thieves ever since. In 2011, we were both at turning points. I had traded in my plum position at a white shoe law firm for a book tour for my first novel and was working on a second. Carey was looking to transition out of a lucrative career as an Executive Recruiter. We both had young children, which meant heaps of kids’ books, television, media lying around: think Elmo/Dora/Olivia in surround sound.
While much of early parenthood proved surprising, the biggest shock of all was this: our kids’ media. The dearth of characters of color, and the abundance of tired gender tropes, left us fearing the impact on our brown daughters AND our white sons. This had to change and if not us, who? That’s when it hit me: Carey and I could create the next Dora the Explorer.
We met for Thai food on a cold New York City evening. What started like so many other nights — conversation, pad thai, wine — became something special. We used to think people decided to become entrepreneurs first and hunted for an idea second. After that night, we realized it’s the idea that shows up and grabs you. It becomes so compelling you can’t help but follow.
We reached out to everyone and anyone we knew to discuss children’s media and diversity. Over and over, we heard how hungry kids, parents, and teachers were for different voices. It’s no surprise. A recent study shows that 57% of children’s books feature male protagonists, versus 31% female. When it comes to color, forget about it: it’s basically white. (And God forbid you’re a girl of color).
This discovery made our mission easy: bring girls and kids of color to the page in authentic ways. Not all girls are princesses. Not all Indian-American kids have parents who own 7–11’s. Not all African-American kids grow up in the projects. Our books would reflect life, in all its glorious nuance, rather than relying on tired clichés, which are a snoozefest anyway.
One year, and thousands of conversations later, we launched In This Together Media, a company that publishes middle grade and young adult books with greater diversity. In two and a half years, we brought ten books to market, one of which was featured on the Today Show; another scored the #1 spot on Amazon’s Christmas list. We were featured in Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, India Abroad and Fast Company. We were invited to the White House. Twice. Kids, parents and teachers sent emails, tweets, and FB messages thanking us for the material. In one poignant case, a teacher called to say a ninth-grade student who’d not spoken or written a word all year raised his hand after reading one of our novels, in which the protagonist’s mother smokes pot, and said, “My mom smokes pot, too.” Now he wants to be a novelist and corresponds regularly with our author. Another mother reached out to us after her three daughters failed to find a SINGLE sports series featuring a girl at their school’s Scholastic Book Fair. Our Soccer Sisters series meant the world to them. Seeing your life in story is validating to an adult. To kids, it is a lifeline. To us, these are our greatest accomplishments.
Our initial success showed us the impact we could have on kids and society at large. To amplify that influence, we need a more robust pipeline, which means more writers, editors, and marketers, all with the end goal of more books in the marketplace. Last fall we pivoted our strategy so we could devote ourselves to creative development. Rather than publishing books, we now package them. What this means: we sell our titles to major publishers through our agents at Foundry Literary + Media, the biggest literary game in town. Since pivoting, we’ve quadrupled our project total.
Which brings us to now, and COMMON. When we first chatted with Mark Eckhardt, we knew we were kindred spirits. The conversation was special, like the one we’d had years ago over steaming bowls of pad thai. Mark immediately recognized the potential In This Together Media has to transform society. Imagine how the world would change if kids were freed from narrow concepts of beauty, gender, and race. Imagine those kids, exposed to diversity and tolerance in their media, growing up and creating a new world of kindness and respect. We might not be able to engineer the system so that every child has friends from different backgrounds, of different ethnicities, with different family dynamics or different orientations. But we can provide stories whose perspectives broaden kids’ views of what is possible. Our mission depends on collaboration. To expand, grow, and fulfill our mission, we need the community of support and resources that COMMON offers. We are so excited to kick it with this pack of purpose-driven hustlers. We have built our business on giving to others and opening ourselves to receive support, and can’t wait to hear what your goals are, and do whatever we can to help.
Visit In This Together Media’s website to learn more about this amazing company.