In the year since, “The Continent” has changed drastically. Harlequin hired two sensitivity readers, who vetted the narrative for harmful stereotypes and suggested changes. Ms. Drake spent six months rewriting the book, discarding descriptions like her characterization of one tribe as having reddish-brown skin and painted faces. The new version is due out in March.
In today’s hair-trigger, hyperreactive social media landscape, where a tweet can set off a cascade of outrage and prompt calls for a book’s cancellation, children’s book authors and publishers are taking precautions to identify potential pitfalls in a novel’s premise or execution. Many are turning to sensitivity readers, who provide feedback on issues like race, religion, gender, sexuality, chronic illness and physical disabilities. The role that readers play in shaping children’s books has become a flash point in a fractious debate about diversity, cultural appropriation and representation, with some arguing that the reliance on sensitivity readers amounts to censorship.