On May 14, CBC Diversity hosted a speed-dating-style event with six authors and illustrators known for creating inclusive literature. Co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons and the Horn Book and presented in partnership with Children’s Books Boston, tables of eight to nine people spent ten minutes discussing diversity in children’s books with each of the featured children’s book creators (l to r): Anne Sibley O'Brien, Nicole Tadgell, Lesléa Newman, Rich Michelson, Susan Kuklin, and Francisco X. Stork .
Librarian and diversity advocate Sam Kane developed the following questions that formed the basis of each discussion:
- Why is it important that children have access to inclusive literature (books featuring a range of abilities, ages, ethnicities, genders, races, religions, sexual orientations, and socio-economic classes)?
- What are the barriers that may prevent diversity books from getting into readers’ hands?
- What are some solutions, strategies, or conversations to help shift the barriers to getting these books into the hands of children? (Think about your industry or field.)
- Who has access to power in your industry or field? Which voices are denied access? Why?
- How can we educate the gatekeepers in your industry or field? What do they need to know or believe to create bookshelves that reflect our population?
- How can your industry or field promote or reward excellence as it pertains to inclusive literature?
What I found most inspiring about the evening was how it brought together participants from a wide variety of fields: we had teachers, principals, librarians, authors, illustrators, publishers, agents, academics, reviewers, bloggers—all united in our desire to promote and develop books that more adequately reflect the demographics and realities of the world in which we live. By providing a space for people to connect across disciplines, the event allowed new kinds of synergies to arise.
I also heard a call to action—people are tired of rhetoric and want to do something. So for the concluding activity, we asked everyone to think of three concrete action steps they could take in the next three months to support inclusive literature. Many participants elected to make their action steps public, and the results are listed below.
We also made a list of recommended books and will be starting a Facebook group and exchanging emails in order to keep the conversation going. The diversity debate has been going on for years, but it seems clear that more and more people are listening and starting to participate. More chairs, more tables. Can change be far behind?
Action Steps to Promote and Sustain Change
- Read the books I don’t know from tonight’s bibliography and suggest to teachers how they might use them in their classrooms.
- Read more diverse books to my kids.
- Bring diverse books to read in their classrooms.
- Suggest that book clubs read a book by a minority author or about a minority character.
- Keep seeking books from non-mainstream publishers.
- Read only adult books by women this summer.
- Go beyond racial diversity in my buying & book talking selections.
- Continue to request & purchase inclusive books.
- Buy a book outside of my own “comfort zone” i.e. non-African American.
- Adding multi-perspective books or at least personal reading time to my curriculum.
- Ensure that the summer reading list is inclusive.
- Purchase 5 books with inclusive characters or author/illustrators of color.
- Broaden my own reading.
- Share & read books from different viewpoints with my own children.
- Order or donate books to library.
- Continue my advocacy work for diverse bookshelves.
- Keep putting inclusive books in my nieces’ hands!
- Give diverse books as presents for birthdays, etc.
- In planning the next annual conference at the JFK library and museum I’ll be sharing information about each of the six children’s book creators featured at our gathering tonight.
- Promote more of my favorite diverse books on my author blog.
- Diversify the books that I give away on outreach visits.
- Start a diversity book exchange with my circle of parents.
- Keep ordering more books reflecting diversity.
- Seek awards to submit books with multicultural or diverse themes.
- Intentionally choose books by non-dominant culture authors or about non-dominant cultural characters when presenting talks and workshops to authors and illustrators.
- Buy and blog about diverse books.
- On my blog champion good books that include diverse characters or themes.
- Review books.
- Share diverse titles in workshops, presentations, & teaching.
- Complete multicultural lit web page.
- Take ownership; book-talk diverse books.
- Recommend literature that features different types of people to my students.
- Get familiar with and hand-sell the folktale books on the summer reading lists so they don’t get cancelled/returned.
- Hand-sell the Great Greene Heist.
- Provide an array of diverse books to my niece and nephews & other children in my life.
- Start a review circle.
- Continue sharing diverse titles with my library. Encourage them to buy them.
- Make a point to give more diverse books as gifts.
- Post on FB about an inclusive book I’ve read each month (3 posts total).
- Write a blog post about diverse baby books.
- Give diverse books big hurrahs on an e-newsletter. Find ways to promote when they win starred reviews.
- Post a list of job openings in Publisher’s Weekly.
- Order books for Latino girls book club for school.
- Work to include cultural competency into State Common Core Standards. New York has done it.
- Push to diversify Social Studies curriculum and Readers workshop units.
- Send review copies of multicultural books to ELA teachers and professors of education.
- Get Andrea Davis Pinkney’s Arbuthnot lecture out to the world.
- Bookseller action steps—tell reps I’d like more diversity in author events.
- My writing group is looking for new members. I’d love to find someone from a different cultural perspective if possible. If we can figure out how to do that.
- Write a book.
- Write blurbs for books with inclusive characters.
- Write books that last.
- As a writer of color continue to encourage fellow writers to include diverse characters in their writing.
- Be more inclusive in my own writing.
- In my own writing, include cultures other than my own in fun stories.
- Write more manuscripts with cross-race relationships.
- Read/write outside of comfort level (poetry instead of sci-fi/fantasy).
- Revise Biniam and Will. Make it good enough to sell.
- Make sure casual diversity occurs as often as possible in any book I edit.
- Read a manuscript from a person of color trying to get published.
- Give extra attention to how I position the books I am presenting at the next launch meeting (where editors present books to the sales reps).
- Encourage my publishing house to acquire a book about an LGBT character or family.
- Seek out manuscripts of diverse books.
- Brainstorm ways to facilitate cross-cultural competency conversations for those in the publishing industry.
- Present to team about today’s discussion.
- Share resources from session with team.
- Have an inclusive collection.
- Include not just cultural diversity but sexual orientation diversity in collection.
- Cultural competence educator; cultural competency is in the teacher evaluation rubric—hold department meeting & develop common definition of what this means and what it looks like in action.
- Be informed—check out blogs.
- Discuss on website the issue of lack of diversity in publishing world and how to help/ how to encourage new voices.
- Be aware of books I use for “read alouds.” Are they inclusive?
- Seek out and support publishers who publish “diverse” books.
- Avoid the label “multicultural.”
- Educate myself on diversity in literature of all kinds, not just multicultural, and be a bridge to bring that knowledge to my personal social group. It doesn’t help to educate just myself if I stay quiet about it.
- Redefine diversity – not just about appearance.
- Be aware of what’s influencing curriculum and what’s represented in it.
- School uses Caulkins writing program; meet with literature specialist; what books are they using as models? Suggest books with character of color to use as models for writing.
- Poll staff for interest in taking a multicultural course for credit. Will teach it for free!
- Meet with at least one librarian at the American Library Association conference in June to discuss how publishers/editors can support diverse library collections.
- Analyze library collection even more to see how well it reflects diversity.
- When awards committees are announced provide Anne Sibley O’Brien’s Mirrors & Lenses training ASAP.
- I will find a wider variety of inclusive and diverse books and get to know them well. I will share, especially the best of them, with my colleagues and my students.
- Work with college students interested in children’s literature to help them see career paths in editing & publishing.
- Continue to mentor writers of color.
- Ask each school librarian to run an analysis of their collection for multicultural literature & how they “stack up.”
- Talk to immigrant population parents at my school and ask them about books they would like to see.
- Be brave; don’t be afraid to rock the boat.
- Be positive and don’t blame. Everyone in the chain has power, and good intentions.
- Talk about diversity with staff and customers.
- Communicate the importance of inclusive collection to teachers, parents & children!