Feeding the Demand for More Diverse Books

An “It’s Complicated!” post by literary agent Stefanie Sanchez Von Borstel



While on faculty at the National Latino Writers Conference last Thursday, a timely

USA TODAY

headline read:

For the first time in US history, more than half of all newborn babies born last year are minorities. The entire US population is 36% minority, and this milestone shows how swiftly our nation’s youth is diversifying. 

Yet a recent study by the SCBWI found that in 2010 more than 90 percent of children’s/young adult books published in the US featured white protagonists. As a literary agent, I’ve found it’s important to show publishers there is a demand, and in turn help them feel confident to publish even more diverse voices. As an author advocate, I believe it’s critical for writers of color to see their fellow writers succeed. As a mother, I know it’s urgent that we make sure young readers see themselves in the books they read.

The debut middle-grade novel by Diana Lopez, Confetti Girl (Little, Brown), is an example of a book filled with diversity that doesn’t focus on diversity but instead wraps diversity around a wonderful story. Apolina “Lina” Flores is a sock enthusiast, volleyball player and science lover looking for answers about her life. Filled with colorful Mexican-American cultural details such as dichos, confetti-filled cascarones and cumbia dances, the story struck a chord with middle-schoolers nationwide. 



I met Diana Lopez at the National Latino Writers Conference and from the first pages I knew it was special. Like many Latinos I grew up with cascarones, but I had never read about them in a novel. Author Diana Lopez writes from her own experiences growing up and teaching in south Texas. Just like the author, Diana’s characters speak some Spanish, eat french fries and papas con huevos, and celebrate the colorful diversity that surrounds them.

Confetti Girl

went on to sell well and was named a New York Public Library “100 Books for Reading & Sharing”. The Scholastic book club edition has sold extremely well and a Spanish-language edition is available.

image

In my experience as a literary agent, diverse voices often require a bit more discussion (more successes stories would help, too!). For example, Malin Alegria sent her editor pictures of flea markets, and mariachi festivals while writing her new teen series Border Town (Scholastic). For Confetti Girl, when editors asked — what are cascarones? We sent photographs. We mailed cascarones, so they could crack them on their heads for good luck!

I’m open to finding diverse voices everywhere. The real spark comes when a writer pulls me into their world. When considering a manuscript, I look for characters with dialogue, diction, and actions that match their culture. An authentic voice shines through the story. On the other hand, a mismatch between voice and culture jars readers out of the story. When writing about any culture, it’s also important to include accurate details. In his beginning pages one writer lost credibility when he referred to one of the largest cities in Mexico as a “village”.

I’m delighted to share success stories like

Confetti Girl

— to point to authors that come from within a culture and open their world to readers. I hope you’ll also share yours!

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