A Discussion About Diversity – What Comes Next After the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign?

H2cWxknS_400x400There’s been a lot of discussion about diversity in children’s literature brought on by the wonderful campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks. In the beginning of May, there was an onslaught on all forms of social media where people came together and proclaimed the need for diverse books.

BRIEF HISTORY:

Just in case you missed what #WeNeedDiverseBooks is all about, this campaign began after a group of writers reacted to the announcement that BEA’s BookCon would consist of exactly zero diversity with 30 white writers as guests. The dam broke and the internet exploded in outrage. The campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks was launched. Of course, this lack of cultural diversity, lack of sexual diversity, lack of diversity of any kind in the publishing industry on the whole has been going on for years, and many have voiced their concern at different times, but nothing has ever sparked quite the inferno of action like this movement. As of this week, the BEA decided to respond to the voice of the people and add a panel on diversity to their line up entitled: “The World Agrees: #WeNeedDiverseBooks”. The panel will include five key people from the WNDB campaign – Ellen Oh, Aisha Saeed, Marieke Nijkamp, Lamar Giles, and Mike Jung – and three best-selling authors well-known for tackling diversity head-in in their own writing – Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Peña, and Grace Lin.

It’s so fantastic that the conversation finally caught on in a big way. The idea now is to keep the momentum going.

How can we do this?

SUPPORT:

We can put our money where our mouth is and BUY these kind of books. Also consider supporting the small publishing houses that already publish diverse books, like Lee & Low , Just Us Books, Arte Público with its Piñata Books for Children, and Cinco Puntos Press, just to name a few.

The world isn’t made up of one kind of people. And I personally don’t like reading only about people that are just like me. I want to learn about new and different cultures, different lands, different planets, and have new experiences by meeting a wide range of characters when I read.  I know I am not alone in this.

RECOMMEND:

We can talk about great books dealing with diverse characters and/or written by diverse writers. Review them, recommend them; get them into the hands of hungry readers. Let others know what’s out there. Here are just a few of the fabulous books I’ve read recently that I think are worth the read:

Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña

mexwb_tp_cvr

Danny’s tall and skinny.

Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. A 95 mph fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it.

But at private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blonde hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged.

Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico. And that’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. Only, to find himself, he might just have to face the demons he refuses to see right in front oh his face. And open up to a friendship he never saw coming. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.

Follow Matt on Twitter here.

Follow Matt on Facebook here.

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

Girl lying on sand, reaching up to the sun

Astrid Jones copes with her small town’s gossip and narrow-mindedness by sending her love to the passengers in the airplanes flying overhead. Maybe they’ll know what to do with it. Maybe it’ll make them happy. Maybe they’ll need it.

Her mother doesn’t want it, her father’s always stoned, her perfect sister’s too busy trying to fit in, and the people in her small town would never allow her to love the person she really wants to–another girl named Dee. There’s no one Astrid feels she can talk to about this deep secret or the profound questions that she’s trying to answer. But little does she know just how much sending her love–and asking the right questions–will affect the passengers’ lives, and her own, for the better.

In this unmistakably original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society’s boxes and definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything–and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking and sharing real love. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about A.S. King here.

Follow A.S. King on Twitter here.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go

As a child, Kathy – now thirty-one years old – lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed – even comforted – by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.

A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance – and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Follow Kazuo on Facebook.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7sCounting By 7s is the story of Willow Chance, a twelve-year old girl who has been identified at an early age as ‘gifted’. Willow lives in Bakersfield, California and comes home from school one day to the news that her parents have been killed in a traffic accident.

What follows is Willow’s search to find a place where she belongs.

In equal parts an exploration of the pain of loss and of the triumph of moving forward, the novel looks at how one person can change the lives of many, often without even trying.

Learn more about Holly Goldberg Sloan here.

Follow Holly on Twitter here.

Follow Holly on Facebook here.

CREATE:

As a writer, how can you help? Think about your own novels. How diverse are they?

Do you feel uneasy writing outside your own comfort zone? Are you worried that writing about a person from a different culture other than your own will be frowned upon?  If so, here’s a fantastic blog post by Lisa Yee you should consider entitled A Rambling Rant on Race and Writing. She starts out discussing how she herself has written outside her race multiple times. She states that she is a writer who is Asian, not an Asian writer. And that there is a difference. I beg you to read this post. It is fantastic.

A PARTING THOUGHT:

I know a little something about diversity. My son has autism. He’s 19 years-old, but many ways he’s still very much younger. He has make-believe friends that live on Sesame Street and in Disney movies and he has conversations with them all the time. I’m free to join in at my leisure. I see how people react to my son’s “diversity” every time we go out in public. People know he’s different as soon as they interact with him or see him make strange hand gestures. For my son’s part, he doesn’t notice that other people are different. He’s very friendly and likes to say “Hello, sir” or “Hello, ma’am” or “Hello, officer” (be it security guard or police officer) to everyone we see. He will repeat this, sometimes, until he gets an answer. On those occasions, I answer. Sometimes as the people, sometimes as an imaginary friend. My son doesn’t grasp the concept of people being rude.

With my son’s sensory issues and problems communicating, these trips aren’t always easy. Sometimes they are beyond stressful and embarrassing, but we don’t give up or retreat into self-proclaimed exile. We’ve learned that the more we go out, the more our neighbors get to know our son and the more they begin to include him as part of their community. And the better quality of life he leads. In fact, there are some places, where people greet my son by name the minute we walk in the door. If I go in alone, I don’t get the same star treatment. They are still friendly, but not as enthusiastic as when my son lights up the place.

I love that there are books with characters that are essentially doing this same hard work. Showing the humanity of these kids while telling a great story. Taking the stigma out of a confusing disorder and allowing their “neuro-typical” peers a way to experience what life is like for them. This is the road to understanding. Knowledge. Sharing. This is why we need diverse books.

 

February #writemotivation week 3, Post 1 (I think that says it all)

writemotivation_header1If you read my last post you’ll know I’ve been slowly recovering from the flu. I have literally been sick this entire month. I am sick to death of being sick. I’ve coughed so much that I’ve damaged my vocal chords and I have no voice to speak of. I’m sure it’s temporary, but it makes it very inconvenient when I’m trying to rant in traffic at the chaotic drivers only to have my ire come out like a squeaky toy mouse. Kind of takes the punch out of my road rage. Probably for the best.

As you all may know, life doesn’t slow down for illnesses, and some very interesting things have happened to me during my quarantine. I was offered a job out of the blue and I received a full manuscript request from an agent.

The job is mostly part-time for the Autism Center of Tulsa, which is a fantastic organization run by two great women I’ve known for a long time. The work will be helping out with their website and later on maybe branching out with some other social media work. So far, it’s been really fun, but time consuming, especially trying to cram work time in while running a fever and hacking my brains out. Thankfully, they are really flexible and very understanding.

The manuscript request is going to effect my initial goals this month, as this will now be my first priority. Since I am no longer hopped up on cough medicine, I can focus on the agent’s suggested edits. I want to get a thoroughly polished draft out to her as soon as possible.

Here were my #writemotivation goals for February before life intervened:

  1. Plot out new story arc for Amazing New YA project (PV), flesh out characters, and then start writing out first draft. Stretch Goal: Make past the halfway mark or 40,000K words, whichever comes first. This will have to wait until after I make revisions to my YA manuscript for the agent. I may get to this before the end of the month, but it may have to wait for March.
  2. Prepare conference critique submissions and send off. Done! Luckily I did eek this out before the deadline last week. Most of the work was done before I fell ill, which really helped.
  3. Submit completed manuscript(s) to five agents a week. I have not sent anything out this month due to my altered mental state and poor physical health. I hope to work on this goal this week.
  4. Read 4 books. Stretch goal: read 7. Sad, sad progress. One book so far this month. Pitiful! I have picked up a new book since I started feeling better. Maybe I’ll get through two books this week.

Can you believe it’s already time to sign up for March? GAH!!!

I hope you’ve made more progress on your goals this month than I have. And as a public service message, don’t be like me; please get your flu shot. Today. Trust me, you don’t want this year’s bug; it is just awful. Take care, my fellow writers, and keep writing!

June #writemotivation Week 2

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeIt’s been a busy week here at the Lawson hacienda. I had the opportunity to see a Shakespeare play at the Philbrook Museum thanks to a generous gesture on the part of fellow blogger Paula at stuffitellmysister. She gave me the tickets when she couldn’t use them. So thoughtful!

It was also Autism Awareness Night at the Tulsa Drillers baseball game. Much to my parents’ dismay, the Drillers beat their fave home team, The Springfield Cardinals. There was such a good turn out for the game – so many autism families participated!

Our family had a great time.

Trevor too involved in watching the game to pose for a picture.
Trevor too involved in watching the game to pose for a picture.
Me and the daughter.
Me and the daughter.
View of downtown Tulsa from stadium.
View of downtown Tulsa from stadium.

6 Tulsa Drillers Game 06 11 13

Husband photo bombs pic with me and Trevor.
Husband photo bombs pic with me and Trevor.
Almost good! Foul ball.
Almost good! Foul ball.

Trevor loves baseball and can actually sit through a couple of hours of watching the game before he gets restless and is ready to go home. We all enjoyed getting out as a family in a fun, accepting environment. The kids got to go down on the field before the game and the announcer talked about signs and symptoms of autism throughout the evening. The more education out there the better. That’s why the Autism Center of Tulsa is such a great organization and why our family supports them every year during their autism walk fundraiser. Movie Night at Circle Cinema is coming later this month and in July there is the fabulous family fun night swim party. For any other families with autism in the area looking for opportunities to socialize, make sure to sign up!

Believe it or not, there was actual goal progress made on top of everything else. Hell , yeah! Overall a pretty great week.

Here are my #writemotivation goals for June:

1. Submit Museum Crashers (MG mystery) to editor who requested the full. Getting closer to the end – trying not to rush it. I’m really excited about submitting this one!

2. Submit Institutionalized (YA contemporary) to five more literary agents. I’ve submitted to three agents and received an immediate rejection from one. I’m researching specifics on three more to submit to this month.

3. Work on first draft of Pretty Vacant (YA contemporary). No progress on this one.

4. Read at least five books – review one on the blog. I’ve just finished my second book, Hereafter by Tara Hudson. It’s hereafter-200the first in her Hereafter trilogy. Fantastic book. She recently spoke at our June SCBWI schmooze and I really enjoyed meeting her. There may be more news to post about this meeting, soon. Stay tuned!

5. Work on outlining new blog project idea. I made some headway with this by starting my new series of posts, “Inspiring Stories”. More still to do, though.

6. Exercise 3 times each week. Still making good progress on this and still feeling crippled with pain every day from overworked, whiny muscles. (Tell me this gets easier!)

7. Finish critique of friend’s manuscript. No progress on this one, either. Will do better this week!

Nothing overwhelming me so far. It feels good to be back out there submitting to agents – even with the rejections. How are all of you doing with your goals?

Quote of the day:

“In waiting for the glorious moment of that first book contract, writers must have giant reservoirs of patience. Yet they must persevere because they don’t know the destiny that is being worked out for them. They creep humbly along the ground, without the spacious aerial vision of their lives that would show them the destiny in store for them.”

- Ron Chernow

Here’s to creeping humbly and having massive reservoirs of patience! Have a great week, and keep writing!

Happy Autism Awareness Month! Or for me, this is my life, every day…

I was down with a pretty nasty migraine, yesterday, so I missed World Autism Awareness Day and Light it Up Blue, but that’s okay.  In my more RSR2013logocolorlucid moments, I was with you all in spirit. I appreciate all of my friends who spoke out for me. And I have the rest of the month to make up for it, since April is Autism Awareness month. Our whole family will be running/walking to support our local autism center, The Autism Center of Tulsa in their big fund-raiser, the 7th annual Ready…Set…Run! 5K and Fun Run on April 27th.

We always turn this into a major event and get very creative with our team names. We love that our team has grown bigger every year, too! Last year, we were The Companions of Trevor (my son’s name) with a Dr. Who theme – complete with customized t-shirts for team members! This year, we’re going with a Walking Dead theme. Trevor has a favorite stuffed elephant named Fred, so we’re calling ourselves Trevor and the Walking Freds. Not too bad, eh? We’re inviting friends and family to come “zombie out” and be Walkers with us to help us raise money for a very worthy cause. If you feel like joining us or donating to our team, click here.

Some pics from last year’s walk:

Companions of Trevor 1Companions of Trevor 2Companions of Trevor 3Companions of Trevor 4

I’ve been told recently that I don’t talk much about what life is like with my son. I think sometimes it’s because I find it hard to explain what life with Trevor is like. I usually start by giving some lame generic definition of autism, explaining that it is a neurological disorder that affects 1 in 88 children, with deficits in social and communication skills, like that tells you anything about him. I guess I’m too close to it; autism has become so ingrained in my life that I can’t separate it. The adaptations I’ve made have become automatic. It affects every facet of my life – every decision I make, I have to think about how it will affect my son and his schedule. It’s like separating out your entire nervous system and explaining what it means to your body.

My son is a senior in high school this year. He still watches Sesame Street and The Wonder Pets. He reads at a third grade level. He needs supervision to do his daily chores and to complete activities of daily living. He has difficulty expressing his basic needs, especially when he’s angry, so he may become physically aggressive when frustrated. He can become fixated on one thought and ask you the same question over and over all day long. It can be exhausting just getting through a typical day, let alone a bad day. He is also very loving and caring. He hates to see anyone upset – even strangers, and especially babies. He doesn’t like it when anyone of us in the family are sad and always tries to cheer us up. I must get at least twenty hugs a day – not many mothers of teenagers can say the same.

There will be no going off to college next year for him. Instead, he will be working with some fantastic job coaches at A New Leaf and living at home. We will continue to help him to be as independent as possible. I know my son has a very different path set in front of him than his neurotypical peers and a very different time line for meeting certain goals – some goals may even be out of reach. But we won’t know unless we try. He has surprised us more than once on what he can do.

I love my friends to death, but sometimes all of their good news about their children’s bright futures is hard to stomach, especially when I’m just happy my son’s starting to socialize better and is no longer being combative with the school staff. My husband and I try to keep our perspective on him alone, his own personal timeline, but then there are those pivotal moments that sneak up on you – a child your child’s age does something that you know your child will never do. It can’t help but break your heart. We are human and we are allowed those moments of grief as much as we are allowed to find joy in those other moments when our children do something that for them is extraordinary that other parents would find mundane. There is a balance in there somewhere, we just have to find it.

It is very easy to feel overwhelmed and depressed about our son’s future, but he is happy, so to me, that is just wasted energy. Besides, my son has helped me appreciate life in a very unique way and I’m much more patient now than I ever thought I could be. If that’s not a clear picture of autism, maybe that’s helped you become more aware. For more information on all things autism-related, check out these helpful websites: Autism Speaks and Autism Society of America.

valerierlawson:

I’ve been hiding deep in my writer’s cave over the past few weeks, but this tragedy and the issues that have risen as a result have had a direct impact on all of us. I can assure you that my son is so loving and so empathetic that it is very difficult for him to see anyone in pain. He is bothered when babies cry. To say that he lacks emotional connection to the rest of us because he lacks the communication skills to express himself is just plain ignorance.

As always, Jess expresses this and shares more resources on her blog than I ever could, so I’ve reblogged her post on the subject here.

Originally posted on a diary of a mom:

~

Screen shot 2012-12-14 at 7.42.17 PM

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Right in the middle of the comments on that post tonight was this one.

“It’s not a myth and you know it. It may not be the case with your child but a huge majority lack that feeling for others and themselves while being oddly disconnected and at the same time brilliant. We have a big problem coming up with these kids and it is very very scary.”

And someone ‘liked’ that comment.

And then someone else did too.

My post this morning about how dangerous it is to allow society to dehumanize our children? To allow the misperception that because they don’t necessarily express empathy in the way that we expect to see it then it must not exist to stand unchallenged?

Here it is, my friends.

This is the result.

Our children — our beautiful, delicious, and yes, challenged children — are something to be afraid…

View original 139 more words

Stealing Time and Being Selfish

I am often taken by surprise when others remark on how amazed they are that I find any time to write because I have a son with autism. Maybe because I don’t know any other way. Maybe because I have to write and I must find the time.

True, some days he can be very demanding. Here are some typical interactions we have on those trying days:

“Mom, are you having a good day?” (This is asked at five minute intervals.)

“Mom, are you hungry?” (Which means he’s hungry and I need to find him something to eat before he uproots the pantry and the fridge trying to find something on his own.)

“Mom can we order an Abby doll?” (Which means he wants me to buy him a character doll from the Disney movie Chicken Little that you cannot buy anywhere on the planet, but my son refuses to believe this and continues to ask for several times a day even when told “no” – not a pretty argument.)

“Mom, where is Dad?” (This is also asked at five minute intervals even after he’s given the answer.)

“Mom, can Joey and Ashley come over to our house?” (Or whatever relatives couldn’t possibly travel large distances to reach our house today – another fun way to disappoint him.)

“Mom, you look great.” (Said repeatedly, but not often enough.)

“Look, Mom! Bananas!” (I must then pretend to be hit with a face full of bananas and cry, then Trevor will console me and apologize for ‘hitting’ me with said pretend bananas. yeah, thanks for THAT game, DAD. Also repeated ad nauseum.)

Not to mention the odd number of head noogies and bone-crushing hugs that come out of nowhere.

On these days, I do struggle to find time for anything else, let alone time to form a cohesive thought or capture that thought onto the computer in a string of words that make any sense at all. (I should always stop writing once he asks any of these questions the first time. Always.)

And he is only one person in my family that requires some of my attention. My time is in high demand.

So how do I find time to write?

I steal it.

Writing is more than just a hobby to me. It is something that I have to do. If I’m not allowed to express myself through the written word, I will… well maybe not climb a clock tower and do something blood thirsty and violent, but I will be extremely cranky. You don’t want to see me when I’m cranky. Just ask my family.

So. Instead of making their lives unbearable, I get up early in the morning while they’re all still asleep – and more importantly, silent – and I write.

Without interruption.

For as long as I can.

Some days I steal the time while they are all away at school or work. On those days, there are many other things I could do with this time; laundry, walk the dogs, yard work, etc., but none of those things will fulfill me as much as my writing. Maybe it’s selfish to use this time just for me, but when I do get to exorcise my writing demons and exhaust that creative spirit, I don’t resent my family’s demands on my time. I’m a much more patient parent, a more tolerant spouse.

I am happy.

And we all know that when Mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.

I think we all have to steal a little time for ourselves, to be selfish a bit with our time. If we don’t take any time to pursue our own interests, we cannot be there for our loved ones without feeling resentment or frustration.

Make sure you take a little time this week to be selfish. Your family will appreciate it.

What Autism Looks Like – The Autism World Responds to 50 Cent

So not being connected to the internet for a few days due to my modem dying put me behind the times as far as current events are concerned. Reading through the lovely blogs I follow, I was so saddened and angered to discover the big blow up that occurred earlier this week over the careless words 50 cent rattled off in response to an impatient fan who threatened to shoot him if he didn’t release his new album. He told this fine young gentleman, “yeah just saw your picture fool you look autistic”. He didn’t stop there, though. He went on to tell any special ed kids to stop following him. Words cannot express my initial response to that. Well, they can, but you’d probably rather not hear it. Too many expletives. I actually sounded like a low rent rapper myself for a bit. I mean seriously, why not just block the ignorant fan? Why offend an entire community of kids and their families that you obviously don’t know anything about? BIG MISTAKE.

I learned of this disasterous misstep when reading one of the best blogs out there on autism, a diary of a mom. She posted such a touching response to this incident that my heart ached after reading it, and not just because I have so been in that same place she was in many, many times. She also made me aware of Holly Robinson Peete’s open letter to 50 cent in which she talks frankly to him about how harmful his comments were and how many of his 8 million followers may actually have loved ones affected by autism – 1 in 88 – and asked him to at least delete his comments. She went on to say:

“If you’ve read your mentions today I am sure you have felt the wrath of autism parents. We are no joke. Neither is autism. We are not about to let you attempt to make “autistic” the new “R-word” under our watch.”

She then sent him a picture of her own son who has autism.  After Holly’s post, his twitter account has continued to be deluged with similar pictures so he will know #thisiswhatautismlookslike. I tweeted my own photo today, which I’ve included in this post. 50 cent did delete the offending comments.  It also looks like he deleted all of the comments from the families as well and most of the pictures – I only saw one still on his page, today. For some in the autism community, they are waiting for an apology. That has not happened, yet. To me, that silence speaks volumes.

 

Update posted 7/12/2012: Earlier this week, 50 Cent did finally make a public apology to the autism community. He stated, “I realize my autism comments were insensitive, however it was not my intention to offend anyone and for this I apologize.” (For full story see link here.)

This IS what autism looks like.