1) Why do you think there’s such a dearth of diverse children’s books?
In a couple of words: white supremacy. The fact that there are more books published about animals than about black kids says a lot, not only about our society, but about “Western” sensibilities and colonization on the whole. About the perception of “race” and the role of literacy in the development of societal hierarchies. The English staked their claim on land in various places around the world and forced the people in those places to learn the English language, but literature and the arts were reserved for members of the highest social classes. Who were all white.
The fact that we’re almost two decades into the 21st Century and just now beginning to see books written in English that reflect the realities of the English-speaking world says a lot about who, historically, has been expected—or even allowed—to achieve English literacy. When all the business-related rhetoric is stripped away (“Those types of books statistically don’t sell well.” “The numbers don’t suggest that this would be a good investment.”), the implications are that 1) certain groups of people don’t read and 2) the people who do read wouldn’t want to read about x-type of people. The marginalized wind up doubting the validity of their very existence, and the privileged continue to see themselves as the protagonists of the only stories that matter. I’m sure I don’t have to explain why this is detrimental to everyone.
2) In your opinion, has the call for more diverse children’s books been answered?
Kind of. I’d say it’s being answered. Slowly. I do find it disheartening that there are still people who think the diversity thing is a “trend”… again, says a lot about the status quo and privilege and white supremacy, but a glance at the New York Times bestseller list for ANY week over the past year should make it crystal clear that diverse books do sell and people do want to read them.
On the whole, I can definitely say more books are being acquired from marginalized authors writing marginalized characters, and I really hope it continues. As I hinted at above, I think literature plays a major role in shaping social norms and informing the way people treat one another because books are integral to the development of empathy. More “diverse” books—aka books that reflect the reality of our very diverse world—means more people who see and accept that reality. That’s what we’re working towards, and it’s encouraging to see progress.
3) What more needs to be done?
I’d personally love to see more books that address intersectionality. I am a queer, Christian black woman in a relationship with a biracial Jewish man, and one of our best friends is a trans woman. But there’s no way I’d be permitted to touch on all of those areas of marginalization and how they interact in a single novel. It’d be “too much,” and I’d have to focus only on one or two things (Race? Religion? Gender? Sexuality?). What I’m saying here is that we often still treat marginalized aspects of people’s identities as “issues” to be addressed. There’s this push to make race or sexuality or religion—whatever it is that makes a character different from the “norm”—central to the plot. The beauty of books is that in addition to reflecting reality, they also have the power to shape it. So when we reach the point where characters can exist in a story just as themselves without their “otherness” being a big deal, we’ll have arrived, in a sense, both in books and in the world at large. This is why books that feature intersectionality are so important, and why I’ve made it my goal to write these types of books going forward. Spoiler alert (kinda): my next book features kids of color grappling with questions about their sexualities, but at its core, the book is about navigating the intersections of friendship and romance.
Aka, its just kids being kids.
New York Times bestselling author Nic Stone was born and raised in a suburb of Atlanta, GA, and the only thing she loves more than an adventure is a good story about one. After graduating from Spelman College, she worked extensively in teen mentoring and lived in Israel for a few years before returning to the US to write full-time. Growing up with a wide range of cultures, religions, and backgrounds, Stone strives to bring these diverse voices and stories to her work. You can find her goofing off and/or fangirling over her husband and sons on most social media platforms as @getnicced.