There’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.
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?
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.
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
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
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
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 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.
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.