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#WeNeedDiverseBooks a round-up and a reflection
The movement seems to be headquartered on author Kate Messner’s blog.
I believe it was sparked by the powerful New York Times opinion pieces–Walter Dean Myers’ Where are the People of Color in Children’s Books and Christopher Myers’ The Apartheid of Children’s Literature.
Both of the authors reference a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin that shares of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people.
CCBC director Kathleen Horning shares historical background in her SLJ piece, Children’s Books. Still an All White World?
The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) recently released a resource-rich white paper, The Importance of Diversity in Library Programs and Material Collections for Children by Jamie Campbell Naidoo. The paper explores the critical role libraries play in helping children make cross-cultural connections and develop skills necessary to function in a culturally pluralistic society.
#WeNeedDiverseBooks, launched by author Ellen Oh (@ellenoh) is currently trending on Twitter and other social networks. The campaign is featured on the the WeNeedDiverseBooks Tumblr.
Those pieces, and the feed, resonate profoundly.
How many times have you stood in the stacks selling books to kids who are eager to read, perceiving their disappointment?
They are polite. They know you are trying. They will read and probably enjoy those good books you recommend.
But you can tell by forced smiles and awkward body language that something else is going on deep down.
Those covers feature characters who do not look like me.
The suburban kids I served–of all sizes, shapes, colors and faiths–were underrepresented in our collection.
And these kiddos, many of whom were in my book club, did not want the street lit I bought.
They read eagerly, but they craved realistic characters who reflected their nonstreet experience.
This important conversation brought me way far back in memory to how wonderful it was to read yourself and how I took that experience for granted.
I read everything as a kid. But when I discovered Sydney Taylor’s All of a Kind Family, likely fifty years ago, I met kids whose family spoke the way my family spoke, who lived near where my family lived, who celebrated the holidays we celebrated. Later, I shared coming of age and first love with Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar. And later Erica Jong’s Isadora Wing helped me grapple with Jewish, middle class, New York City womanhood and feminism. (While I didn’t share all of the slightly older Isadora’s experiences, back in 1973, we were also both traveling through Europe by train.)
While I read about many people in many situations and grew through those readings, how I loved to find friends who looked like me.
In Children’s Books. Still an All White World?, Kathleen Horning concludes:
Again it comes back to buying the books. I often quote the poet Alexis DeVeaux who once said “Buying a book is a political act.” That has never been truer than it is today. If we want to see change, if we want to see more diversity in literature, we have to buy the books. Buy them for our schools, for our libraries, for our families, for our friends. We must be the agents of change. Otherwise, we are all participants in the “cultural lobotomy.” And it won’t be technology that threatens the very existence of books. It’ll be their complete and utter irrelevance in the real world that never was and never will be all white.
Check out SLJ’s new issue on Diversity. It includes the following stories:
- Children’s Books. Still an All-White World?
- The Publishing Perspective
- Everyday Diversity: A Teacher Librarian Offers Practical Tips to Make a Difference
- Culturally Diverse Books Selected by SLJ’s Review Editors
- The Multiracial Population Is Growing, But Kid Lit Isn’t Keeping Up
- SisOps: Girl-friendly technology initiatives challenge a boys-only culture
- LGBTQ & You: How to Support Your Students
- Representing the Muslim American Experience
- Do Libraries Serve Kids with Disabilities?
Filed under: #weneeddiversebooks, books, YA, young adult literature
About Joyce Valenza
Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza
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