In your wanderings around the internet, you may have seen references to “diverse books”, maybe even noticed the hashtag #weneeddiversebooks. What, exactly, is this all about, and how did it become a “thing”? In a Twitter exchange in 2014, YA authors Ellen Oh and Malinda Lo discussed their frustration with the lack of diversity in children’s and YA literature. Several other authors, bloggers, and others in the book industry joined the conversation, and a movement was born.
This is not a new subject. In Nobel Prize- and Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist Toni Morrisson’s debut novel, The Bluest Eye (published in 1970), the character of Pecola Breedlove prays every day that she will wake up with white skin, blue eyes, and blonde hair, despite the fact that she is an African-American girl. She reads “Dick and Jane” books, plays with white-skinned dolls, etc., and gets the subliminal message that white is normal, better, best. Percola didn’t see herself reflected in the books she read, which lead to her assumption that she was less-than.
Why has diversity in literature (in particular, children’s lit) become such a cause? It has long been established that the world of fiction is a lot whiter than the real world. Today, so many kids and teens learn about the world through the media they consume: books, movies, magazines, etc. As our country gets more and more diverse, shouldn’t our reading material follow suit? And it’s not only children of color, physical challenges, or atypical family situations that benefit from diverse books. It’s a well know fact that fiction reading increases empathy in the reader, and reading about primarily white characters and culture can contribute to “otherness” and preconceived notions that turn into prejudice. How much better to foster empathy and understanding early in all children with diverse books.
Where to begin? Here are some books recommended by WNDB to get you started. Let’s make 2017 a diverse reading year!
Young Adult Books:
X : a Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon
The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore
Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
Middle Grade Books:
Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly
Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj
The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
Beautiful Moon by Tonya Bolden
The Twins’ Blanket by Hyewon Yum
Tutus Aren’t My Style by by Linda Skeers
Red: a Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall