The CBC Diversity initiative was founded in 2012, as part of the Children’s Book Council’s commitment to promoting diverse voices in literature for young people. We believe that all children deserve to see their world reflected in the books they read. We recognize that diversity takes on many forms, including differences in race, religion, gender, geography, sexual orientation, class, and ability.
In addition to championing diverse authors and illustrators, CBC Diversity strives to open up the publishing industry to a wider range of employees. We’ve taken an active role in recruiting diverse candidates, participating in school career fairs and partnering with We Need Diverse Books on its summer internship program.
Candlewick Press sat down with T.R. Simon to discuss her new
book ‘Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground’
CP: How do
the maturing Carrie and Zora see the world differently as they approach their
book two of the Zora and Me trilogy, Zora and Carrie are now twelve going on
thirteen. Although they are still children, they have encountered the sorrow of
death along with the pride and joy that life in Eatonville affords them. What
begins to alter them now is a slowly growing awareness of the past. While
Eatonville could seem idyllic, tucked away from the daily brutality of the Jim
Crow South, it is not free from the shadow of American history, particularly
from the history of slavery. The history of slavery is a hard thing for young
people because it requires them to confront the brutality of hate and the
despair of powerlessness. Zora and Carrie grapple with the conflicted feelings
that learning about Eatonville’s history brings up while simultaneously
realizing that life is necessarily, for good and for bad, informed by the past.
CP: Why did
you choose to tell this book with dual narratives?
struggled with how to powerfully connect the fact of Jim Crow to the
institution of slavery. Ultimately, I decided that the most effective way to do
that was to show them side by side. Reconstruction was the attempt of newly
freed slaves to enact self-determination, and Jim Crow was a formalization of
the backlash to Reconstruction. If you don’t understand how slavery operated
and the ideas of race that made slavery go, you can’t understand Jim Crow as
the logical social extension of that violently inhumane practice.
Dreamers is your own story of immigrating to the
United States from Mexico in 1994 with your newborn son. What inspired you
write Dreamers almost 24 years later?
I was working
on a graphic novel when Donald Trump was elected president. My heart sunk. I
could not believe that the man who had accused Mexican immigrants as criminals
and rapists had been elected to lead the United States. I felt unable to work,
and that my stories made no sense anymore. I also felt afraid of what would
come next for immigrant families like mine, like those of my friends and like
those that my books had been written for and about.
My editor, Neal
Porter, saw that I was stuck and offered his support and patience. He reassured
me that he was there for me until I was ready to produce a new book, he also
told me that he thought the book I should be working on was my own immigrant
Tell us about your
most recent book and how you came to write/illustrate it.
My debut novel, The
Poet X, came out a month ago! I began writing the book when I was an 8th
grade English Language Arts teacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The
novel was a direct response to working in a school that was 77% Latinx and 20 %
Black, but it seemed for that age range there were not enough texts that
culturally represented my young people. I was inspired to write a coming-of-age
story from a very specific lens: an Afro-Latina growing up in New York City
discovering her voice through poetry. I
wanted a book about a girl learning to take up space.
Do you think of
yourself as a diverse author/illustrator?
Both my parents are from the Dominican Republic and I was
raised to be very proud of my cultural heritage. I cannot extricate my identity
as a woman of Afro-Dominican descent from any of the work I create.
Why is diversity in
science fiction and fantasy so critical?
I grew up on science fiction and fantasy – Madeline
L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time to The Hobbit to Star Wars, Star Trek,and
Carl Sagan’s amazing show, Cosmos. Science
fiction taught me to imagine big, to envision things beyond my reckoning. It
taught me to dream. But of course, science fiction and fantasy back then didn’t
let me see anyone who looked like me in a central role. As a brown skinned,
immigrant daughter, I loved science fiction and fantasy. But science fiction
and fantasy didn’t really love me back.
I think over the years, we’ve seen a vast improvement in
terms of representation in many genres of children’s fiction. My own kids got
to read a much more diverse array of books than I ever did. But not across all
genres, unfortunately. My son, in particular, was a huge fantasy reader – if
there wasn’t a talking bird, or flying horse, or a wizard in the tale, he
wasn’t having it! Yet, the same gaps in representation I found as a young lover
of science fiction and fantasy are still around 30+ years later. That’s a
problem, because if all books are in the business of building our imaginations,
then sci-fi and fantasy are in the business of building radical imagination. And
if there’s ever been a time during which we need a collective radical
imagination, it’s now. That’s part of the reason I wrote The Serpent’s Secret.
you only write stories from your own cultural background?
For a long time before I was published, I
wrote only western stories – stories set in western families about children
with western names and their rituals of growing up. This is because subconsciously
I was writing what I was reading. As a child and as an adult, I read mostly
western narratives and that seeped into my writing. But my heart wasn’t in
those stories. It wasn’t my truth. And when I did write stories from India,
either set there or about India and Indian characters, I started getting lesser
rejections (or at least more personalised ones) because my stories now had the
secret ingredient that makes magic – authenticity. For me more than setting the
stories in India or in its culture, it is about personal connection. Why do I
want to tell this story? Why me? Am I the right person to tell this story? If
so, then I would attempt to bring it to life.
Conversely, do you feel restricted in the subjects and settings you can choose?
I’m a nomad. Although I was brought up in
India, I have lived in Singapore and now in the UK. I travel a lot and I gather
stories where I go. But I always remember that all the stories filter through
my own experiences – of what I know and what I don’t. I have fallen in love
with folktales from Antwerp and Prague but I worry about retelling them because
I’m not sure I would have the depth of the cultural context. Even to retell a
small story, I would need tremendous amount of research and understanding. So I
pick and choose projects I can actually invest time and energy into. On a side
note, India is a big country with language, ethnic and other diversities and I
research a lot even to tell Indian stories.
Tell us about your most recent book and how you came to write/illustrate it.
BEAUTY is about queer Latina girls and enchanted, murderous gardens. The
Nomeolvides women, including the youngest generation of five cousins, tend the
grounds of La Pradera, a famously beautiful garden known both for enthralling
visitors and killing those who break its rules. This story grew from my love of
flowers and from wanting to write girls like me and my cousins into the world
of fairy tales.
Do you think of yourself as a diverse author/illustrator?
queer, Latina, and I’m married to a trans guy, so in a way I didn’t set out to
write diverse fiction any more than I set out to live a diverse life. Writing
inclusive stories was a matter of letting the truth I already know have a place
in my work.
Check out our Q&A with Nikki Grimes, author of THE WATCHER (
Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, October 2017)!
What inspired you to write The Watcher?
few years ago, I was invited to write a Golden Shovel poem for The Golden
Shovel Anthology, a collection honoring the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning
Poet, Gwendolyn Brooks. This new poetry form, created by Terence Hayes
specifically for this anthology, was brand new, and so this was my first
introduction to it. I fell immediately in love with the form and could
not wait to use it again, for a project of my own. One of the first two
ideas that came to me was to apply the form to the exploration of a
Psalm. It seemed perfect. The Psalms are poetry, after all, and the
Golden Shovel is all about borrowing lines from existing poems to create new
ones. The question, of course, was which Psalm. I had a picture
book in mind, and in order for this treatment to work for a picture book, the
Psalm had to be relatively short, and so I searched for just the right
one. Psalm 121 is one of my favorite passages of scripture, and the length
seemed exactly right.