“…I was afraid of being stereotypical without realizing it. Afraid someone would take issue with something I wrote and call me racist. Still, I didn’t back down, and did the best I could, because ultimately, I believe diversity in fiction is something we all need to work on. And I truly believe trying is better than not trying. If I got something wrong, and I most likely did, I will learn from my mistakes and work hard to do better in the future.”
— Lisa Schroeder, Thoughts from a scared, white author on diversity in Kid Lit
Author, Lisa Schroeder opens up about feeling uncomfortable writing outside of her perspective but embracing it because she wants all of her readers to know that they are important and should be able to see themselves in the stories they read.
The “Freedom Summer” of 1964 was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark year in American history. Here is a list of 14 children’s books that deal specifically with the remarkable events of 1964 – and 3 additional books specifically for teachers and librarians. Thank you to the following for their invaluable input:
Picture Books for Young Readers
Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Summer
By Deborah Wiles
Illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue
Aladdin / Simon & Schuster
Ages 4 - 8
Friendship defies racism for two boys in this stirring story of the “Freedom Summer” that followed the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Now in a 50th Anniversary Edition with a refreshed cover and a new introduction.
Freedom School, Yes!
By Amy Littlesugar
Illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Philomel / Penguin
Ages 4 - 8
In this triumphant story based on the 1964 Mississippi Freedom School Summer Project, that celebrates the strength of a people as well as the bravery of one young girl who didn’t let being scared get in her way.
The Other Side
By Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Putnam Juvenile / Penguin
Though not specifically about the 1964 Freedom Summer, this award-winning book also deals with the themes of segregation, friendship, and fairness.
The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) released its newest white paper entitled The Importance of Diversity in Library Programs and Material Collections for Children. The paper delves into the “critical role libraries play in helping children make cross-cultural connections and develop skills necessary to function in a culturally pluralistic society.”
Read more about the white paper and download it here: http://www.ala.org/alsc/importance-diversity
Snow outside – AGAIN. Thank goodness for the leftover cozy feelings from the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference this past weekend. On a scale of 1 – 10 in warmth and camaraderie, it ranks about a 50.
One reason was the faculty, a solid collection of Latinas in publishing. It included the fabulous former editor and literary agent Adriana Dominguez; color goddess illustrator Laura Lacámara; multiple-award winning poet and prose author Margarita Engle; Lila Quintero Weaver (who we’ve talked about here); bilingual library pro and storyteller Irania Patterson (how can anyone imitate every accent in the Spanish-speaking world?); longtime publishing icon Teresa Mlawer (“sounds like flour, with an m”); and me.
For three days we worked side by side with teachers and librarians from all over the country who wanted to know how to use multicultural books to serve all kids. Inevitably, we all drew close as we asked ourselves hard questions and generated new ideas. “I’m so glad you guys aren’t divas,” one of them told me as we all sat together.
Read more of this wonderful takeaways post by Meg Medina on her blog here.
Contributed to CBC Diversity by Erin E. Moulton
My third book, Chasing the Milky Way, is due out in June. It’s about Lucy Peevey, a young girl who wants to win a robot competition for a cash prize and a college scholarship. She lives with her Mama, little sister, and best friend, Cam, at the Sunnyside Trailer Park. As they get ready to depart for the big weekend, Mama’s in the throes of an episode (Mama has a mixed diagnosis of Bipolar and Schizoaffective disorder), and things get complicated.
When my editor at Philomel, Jill Santopolo, and I started talking about Chasing the Milky Way, I realized that I was aching to discuss the stigma of mental illness. You see, my mom has worked in the mental health field her entire adult life. Growing up, she would take us to work with her at a rehabilitation house, and we had the opportunity to get to know the residents there. One said he was a space cowboy and told me his mind was a thousand years old. One could describe in detail how she knew she was Joan of Arc, reincarnated. One had a few baby dolls that she mothered, bringing them on walks and tending to their daily needs. Another took great pride in the yard work he could do around town, but to live on his own would have been too difficult. He struggled with basic functioning. One only appeared every few months or so when her manic depression (bipolar disorder) got really bad. I’d find her marooned on the sun porch holding a cushion like it was a life raft. Sometimes, she wouldn’t move for hours.
The facility, and the people in it, were quite normal to me. They had good days and bad days, interests, skills and worries. They had family and friends. But it didn’t take me long to realize that some of my classmates at school knew the facility, and were wary of it. They often had stories about what went on there (mostly fashioned by those on the outside, not bothering to look in). It became apparent that some people didn’t think the house should be in the community at all. This was my first brush with stigma. That was growing up in the 80’s and 90’s. The stigma remains in both public and self perceptions.
A new website focused on diversity in literature, story and chai is a “creative space for readers and writers of culturally diverse literature, with a primary focus on Muslim writers and narratives.”
Story and chai interviewed CBC Diversity’s Zareen Jaffery recently and we’re so proud to share it with you. Check out her wonderful introduction below and read the whole first part of the interview on the website.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my thoughts on diversity in children’s literature—a subject I care about deeply. My answers below reflect my personal opinion based on my role as an editor in children’s publishing. I acknowledge the industry has a long way to go to correct the current imbalance, and that my views on this are shaped by what I contend with as an editor who has only worked inside large commercial publishing houses. There are many things I may be wrong or misguided about, particularly when it comes to specific difficulties writers from diverse backgrounds may have in breaking into traditional publishing, and I hope that blog readers will enlighten me as to their own experiences via the comments on this blog. I am here to listen and I would love to learn more so I can be more helpful!
—Zareen Jaffery, Q&A: Zareen Jaffery, Simon & Schuster, Part I
“POINTE is the third book I’ve written about a teenage black girl, but it’s the first in which her race was not the focal point or even a subplot of the story. As someone who grew up black in a predominantly white town in southwest Missouri, I wanted to write a character who dealt with some of the day-to-day issues and obstacles I’d experienced without that being the point of the book. I was very involved in academics and extracurricular activities as a child and teen, and although it was a little tough almost always being the only black person in the room, or being the first black person to, for instance, join my high school’s dance team, I think those years were instrumental in shaping the person I am today. Overall, I had a great time in high school and tried to make the best of it. If people were going to notice me for being different anyway, I wanted them to especially notice me for my accomplishments. I believe Theo has a similar attitude.”
author Brandy Colbert (@brandycolbert) talks about her debut novel Pointe, writing a girl of color, her writing advice and much more in our Twitter-style interview.
We’re also giving away a couple of finished copies of Pointe. This is a knock-out contemporary YA novel.