Diversity in children’s literature is vital. It’s necessary. It’s long overdue. It should be there in adult literature and all media too. (Don’t get me started on casting issues in Hollywood). But it is most important when the consumers are children. And I’m glad we’re doing something about it.
This topic of diversity in kidlit has been growing for many years. Brave people and organizations have been fighting to make their voices heard, so that all children will be represented in the books they read. Maybe it’s because I attend a school that is dedicated to diversity that it feels as if the conversation is gaining traction. But everyday, I am seeing posts on social media and hearing that it’s being discussed at conferences, ones that could affect the future of books. Just yesterday, in my email inbox, there was a newsletter from the SCBWI. The first article, listed under Hot Topic, was written by Lin Oliver, the Executive Director of SCBWI. The title was “Diversity: What Can We Do About It?” It was encouraging to read.
As a student at Hamline’s MFAC (Writing for Children and Young Adults) program, I joined with others to commit to reading and writing diverse literature for children. I desperately want children to be able to see themselves in books. It makes me so happy to hear a child say, “Hey, he looks like me!” or “We do that at home too.” when I read a book aloud. (I teach tiny ones, and medium sized ones). During this last Hamline residency in July, our MFAC Pride group asked us to commit to buying, reading, and reviewing or blogging about diverse books for kids — at least 12 in the next year.
I’m really excited to do this. And by putting it out here, I’m holding myself accountable. I’ve already bought several books by diverse writers, and I can’t wait to start reading. Of course, some of these books I’ll have to read in between completing my MFAC homework (we call them packets). Some books are already on our required reading list, (Monster by Walter Dean Myers is my favorite so far) so I’ll get to ‘kill two birds’ as they say. (The faculty at Hamline is revising the required reading list to include more diverse books too. Yay!). Mostly, I’ll be able to escape into the wonderful worlds created by people I have only recently been introduced to.
Not that I haven’t read books by diverse authors or books with diverse characters up till now. The ones I’ve read recently include:
- Crossover by Kwame Alexander
- The Firekeeper’s Son, and A Single Shard, both by Linda Sue Park
- The Living by Matt De La Pena
- The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M Danforth
- Legend (The Trilogy) by Marie Lu
- Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
- Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
- American Born Chinese, and Boxers and Saints, all by Gene Luen Yang
- This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
- Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
- Talon by Julie Kagawa
See, it’s not that hard to find 12, or 13. I like that, if I deliberately look for diverse books, I can find a good number of great ones, from picture books to young adult books. Imagine a world where diverse books are everywhere, and we wouldn’t have to go looking for them. That makes me smile.
I found several great resources too – We Need Diverse Books, Bookriot, and LibraryThing are perfect starting platforms for finding diverse books to read. And from the new and emerging writers I’ve met along the way in my writing journey, I know a lot more wonderful, relevant books are coming. This is an exciting time.
More and more, we are becoming aware of this need for books that reflect all kinds of children in all kinds of families, doing things all of us can identify with. And books with diverse characters don’t have to have characters doing things that are stereotypical of their culture. Also, there’s an interesting emergence of subcultures brought about by kids who are growing up in a different country from where their parents were raised. And there are the biracial and multiracial kids too. How great would it be to see books about their journeys?
So, as we continue the discussion, here’s my little wishlist for readers and writers of children’s books —
- Diversity is not a trend, like vampires and angels once were. It is the truth about our world. Don’t treat it like a trend.
- Don’t write a diverse book for the sake of it. This shouldn’t be a band-wagon to hop onto. Write one because when you look around your own world (or dig a little deeper to discover the truth), you’ll see that the world is already diverse, and you have no choice but to reflect it.
- Reflect the diversity well, consistent with reality. Do research, if you need to, and it’s always good even if you don’t.
- Show us diverse people doing regular day to day things, but make it interesting because it’s in a book and readers need to turn the page.
- Read diversely. Do the work to find them. They’re easier to find than you think.
- Pass along good books to everyone you know.
Maya Angelou once said, “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”
There truly is. So let’s share it. And one day, diverse books will be mainstream, and the world of children’s books will match the world in real life.