If you’re paying attention to the kidlit world at all, you know about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. To paraphrase Shonda Rimes (who was talking about television), it’s not about diversifying, it’s about normalizing: the world is vastly more diverse than TV, or popular children’s literature, shows us. White suburban American mom-and-dad families are only one sliver of normal, and yet they’re a huge proportion of what’s published and promoted for kids.
Our summer reading list booklets just arrived from the printer. (Joy! Rapture! Best time of the year!) After they went to press, I realized, to my shame, that while my 6th-8th grade list is quite diverse in terms of characters, it is seriously lacking in diversity of authors. I know I need to work on this for next year.
This coincided with reading the results of a couple of “I read books only by x” challenges. Dallas Taylor read only books by women last year; Sunili Govinnage read books only by minority authors. Both focused on adult novels, but I’m excited to tweak the idea for middle grade! I hereby pledge that between now and April 2016, I will read only books by “diverse” authors (to borrow the Diverse Books language). For the purposes of my project I’m currently defining “diverse” as identifying as at least one of the following:
- from a country other than the U.S.
- disabled or neuro-atypical
- from, and writing about, a region of the U.S. that’s very far removed from my and my students’ northeastern experience
If you think I’m missing something important, please let me know. I’m focusing on authors rather than characters because a) my reading list is already quite diverse in terms of characters, and b) a diversity of characters only solves part of the problem. Children see themselves and each other in those books, which is wonderful and important. But if those diverse characters were all filtered through the minds of white American authors, we’re losing out on a real diversity of experiences.
I hope this goes without saying, but just in case: I am in no way deriding all the wonderful books written by white straight cisgender neurotypical American northeasterners such as myself. I’m not suggesting my students avoid those books, nor do I plan to ignore them past this year; that would be a tragic waste of great stories! My goal is to expose myself, and therefore my students, to a wider range of stories.
Now on to the fun part: recommendations! Please point me to fantastic authors and books and lists! I am focusing on books for my students, grades 6-8, so that means middle grade and younger YA. Assume I’m aware of Jacqueline Woodson and Walter Dean Myers and anyone else who’s won a major award; I didn’t just fall off the librarian truck. Give me the great unsung stuff! Bonus points for historical fiction and science fiction/fantasy, both because diversity is even rarer there and because they’re my favorites.
I’ll be building my reading list on Goodreads; please friend me there if you’d like to follow it. I’m not so foolhardy as to promise to give everything a full review — though I hear liars are trending in kidlit! — but I do always rate and tag every book I read on Goodreads. I’m excited!