Monday, January 21, 2013

Day by Day Diversity

Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

As of last year, babies from so-called “minority” communities became the majority born in the United States, and it's by no means the only nation with a diverse population.

At the same time, representation of books by and about people of color, citizens of Native nations and those from the LGBT community are slim to statistically insignificant in the body of youth literature.

That’s a problem because it suggests to kids from those communities that people like them don’t belong in the world of books, because it suggests to everyone else that they don’t matter, and because we’re losing out on some amazing stories. It's also discouraging to writers and artists who hail from those same backgrounds. It says to them that their artistic talents are not needed, possibly even that they're not welcome.

All of us in the conversation of children's-YA books are responsible for that reality. 

We have to own it. 

And here’s the harder part: we have to do something about it?

Me.

You.

Everybody.

It’s personal to each of us and all of us. These are all our kids, these are the stories we’re producing and supporting and passing on. How are we doing? How can we do a better job?

Let’s take stock.

Move to your closest bookshelf. Start pulling relatively recent books by and/or about people from the underrepresented communities. How does that stack look? Should it be taller?

Here are the five books at the top of my stack:

Bronxwood by Coe Booth (YA)

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami (MG)

Chained by Lynne Kelly (MG)

The Agency: The Traitor in the Tunnel (A Mary Quinn Mystery) by Y.S. Lee (YA)

 Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (YA)


What are the five books at the top of yours?

Could you share the titles in the comments to help raise awareness?

Is your stack looking a bit short? You don't have (at least) five?

Hit your local bookstore or buy online. On a budget? Try the public library. If the books aren’t on the shelf, by all means, request them. Requests prove interest and audience.

Are you a children’s/YA book blogger or author blogger? Scroll through your posts—a few months of them. Do the books you feature include those with African-American protagonists? Those illustrated by Asian-American artists? Or is it a sea of white?

Meet Yoshi Kitahara in Feral Nights
If the latter, are you sincerely interested in changing that? What practical day-by-day steps will you take?

Then start thinking bigger picture – in terms of diversity of region, socio-economics, factor in protagonists with physical or mental challenges, or from other countries other than your own.

You know what best connects “multicultural” books to young readers?

Word of mouth.  

We think of effecting change through big words, and those do have a tremendous impact. But everyday, consistent speech can make a huge difference, too.

Am I making enough noise?

Are you?

10 comments:

Lisa Jenn Bigelow said...

- The You Know Who Girls: Freshman Year, by Annameekee Hesik
- Trash, by Andy Mulligan
- Shooting Kabul, by N.H. Senzai
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo (not children's or YA, but it's sitting behind me with the others)

Those are better-than-usual odds given the number of books in the stack, but they could still be better.

Gerri Lanier said...

* Yes, you are making enough noise. Thank you!
Some of my noise -

ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia
THE RED UMBRELLA by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
THE WHOLE STORY OF HALF A GIRL by Veera Hiranandani
EXCLUSIVELY CHLOE by J.A. Yang
BAMBOO PEOPLE by Mitali Perkins

Vijaya said...

The demographics are astounding, but not surprising given the high rate of contraception.

Here are some on my shelf that haven't been mentioned:
Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Home is with our Family by Joyce Hansen
Sold by Patricia McCormick.

We have loads of NF too :)

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

5 from my shelves:

DOES MY HEAD LOOK BIG IN THIS?, Randa Abdel-Fattah
DAVID INSIDE OUT, Lee Bantle
THE WAY WE FALL, Megan Crewe
ASK THE PASSENGERS, A. S. King
LIAR, Justine Larbalestier

JoyCorcoran said...

Great post. I get most of my books from the wonderfully diverse collection at the Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon, but was pleased to find five on the shelves of my tiny apartment. They're not all young adult, but good for any age reader:
*Little White Duck, by Na Liu (which I just reviewed)
*Leaving Gees Bend by Irene Latham
*Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexi
*Storyteller's Beads by Jane Kurtz
*Moon Otter and Frog by Laura Sims
Thanks for your great blog!

jama said...

TEACAKES FOR TOSH by Kelly Starling Lyons and E.B. Lewis

TAMALITOS by Jorge Argueta and Domi

GRANDMA'S CHOCOLATE by Mara Price and Lisa Fields

A KID'S GUIDE TO ARAB AMERICAN HISTORY by Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha Addasi

FLYING THE DRAGON by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

Thanks so much for this post. I like your noise. :) I will do better.

Charlotte said...

I haven't added much to the diversity of my reading in the past few months, because of reading primarily middle grade sci fi/fantasy for the Cybils. Out of 151 books, 17 had non-white kids front and center. (Here's my post about it-- http://charlotteslibrary.blogspot.com/2012/12/looking-for-kids-of-color-in-middle.html

Catherine said...

From my YA shelf:

GREEN, by Jay Lake

X IN FLIGHT, by Karen Rivers

YEAR OF THE GOLDEN DRAGON, by B.L. Sauder

SILVER PHEONIX, by Cindy Pon

And (I hope this isn't obnoxious, can't resist, it's my own first book!) THE LAST DAYS OF TIAN DI: SHADE & SORCERESS by Catherine Egan

Crystal Brunelle said...

1. Proxy by Alex London
2. The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman
3. Hand in Hand by Andrea Davis Pinkney
4. The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith
5. The Language Inside by Holly Thompson

Carrie Gelson said...

I will stick to MG/YA novels read recently

Shooting Kabul N.H. Senzai
Crow Barbara Wright
Copper Sun Sharon Draper
One Crazy Summer Rita Williams-Garcia
Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Important post- thank you!

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