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.
Last month I joined
seven other children’s book editors on a week-long trip across Germany, sponsored
by the German Book Office of New York. The program nurtures Germany’s
relationships with publishers around the globe, as Deutschland
imports roughly 50% of its children’s books from other countries.
learned a ridiculous amount about what we all do similarly and differently, and
I was constantly inspired to think more globally and critically about my own
Maria E. Andreu’s debut novel, The Secret Side of Empty (Running Press Kids, March 2014), offers an honest, authentic portrait of an undocumented high school senior who carefully hides her circumstances even from her closest friends, and cannot apply for college despite her near-perfect grades. Even before publication, the novel received glowing reviews and accolades, including a spot on the Junior Library Guild’s spring 2014 list. In this interview for CBC Diversity, Andreu talks about her own life as an undocumented immigrant and how things have or haven’t changed for these bright, promising young people who live in the shadows.
You have stated publicly that much of M.T.’s story is based on your own experience as an undocumented immigrant from Spain in the 1970s and 1980s. What are some of the specific parallels between your own story and that of your protagonist?
I like to say that the facts are all different but the feelings are the same. I felt the same isolation and hopelessness that M.T. feels. I didn’t know how I would go to college. I felt the economic disadvantage. But I was a teenager during the 1980s so of course I didn’t connect with my high school boyfriend on Facebook and didn’t have a cell phone. I felt it was important to make M.T. a modern teen so that readers today wouldn’t get bogged down in the 80s references. But the experience is genuine, if fictional. And, fun side note, the post-it scene and the “slow speed chase” both really did happen.
O, be some other name! What’s in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet;
I recently heard Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas on On the Media with Bob Garfield talking about why he feels it is important to rethink and revise the nomenclature used to describe immigrants lacking the proper paperwork to live and work in this country. (Vargas “came out” as an undocumented immigrant in the New York Times Magazine in 2011.) Most media outlets, and indeed most people, use the term “illegal immigrants” or “illegal aliens” but Vargas is advocating for the use of “undocumented immigrant” because he finds it to be a more accurate term. In the interview he said, “My beef, such as it is, with the term “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien” is the fact that they’re inaccurate and imprecise. To be in this country without papers is actually a civil offense, not a criminal one.”
Bob Garfield did not seem entirely convinced (you can read the transcript of the full interview or listen to the audio to get your own take on the exchange) and his push back led Vargas to articulate another aspect of his argument, one that resonated with me a great deal. He said, “Actions are illegal, not people. Can you imagine, like, hearing this word “illegal” and knowing that it refers to you, what that does to somebody?”
It was tough choosing which of my Tu Books fall titles to share with you this week, as they’re both awesome, and they’re both diverse titles that I want all the world to know about. I had to draw straws, in the end, and Summer of the Mariposas won. This time.
Guadalupe Garcia McCall is known best for her debut novel in verse, Under the Mesquite, which was a finalist for a Morris Award—given for a debut novel—and which won the Pura Belpre Award. McCall carries that same poetic voice to prose in her second novel, a retelling of The Odyssey starring five sisters. I sometimes like to call it a Mexican American Weekend at Bernie’s meets Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants via The Odyssey. Let me tell you why.
When Odilia and her four sisters discover a dead man floating in their swimming hole on the Texas side of the Rio Grande, their first instinct is to report the dead body to the authorities. But when one of the sisters, Juanita, finds a family photo in the dead man’s wallet, their path is clinched—he was a father with two small children at home. They decide they will return the dead man to his family in Mexico, despite Odilia’s opposition to this plan. Eventually Odilia is overruled and she joins them on the urging of the ghostly legend La Llorona, who tells Odilia that this quest is something the five sisters must undertake. La Llorona will be their guide. They pile into their father’s old car and set off on an adventure to Mexico.
While returning the dead man to his family doesn’t come without its disappointments, the most challenging portion of their trip comes on their attempt to return home to their mother, when they must defeat a witch, a nagual (warlock), a chupacabras, and a coven of lechuzas while navigating the desert of northern Mexico on foot. Can the Cinco Hermanitas truly stay “together forever, no matter what” through these challenges? Can they face the ultimate real-world challenge once they make it home, where La Llorona and other magical means can no longer assist them?
I often recommend The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau as a case study in immigration. I’d like to mention it here, because it’s not an obvious choice, given that it doesn’t have many of the BISAC Codes we look for in diversity-friendly books.
I won’t speak to whether or not you will love the story….In words of the great LeVar Burton, you don’t have to take my word for it.
I will, however, say that the book understands the dynamic of immigration in a way that I rarely see in MG or YA literature, and I was exceedingly grateful to Ms. DuPrau for writing it. The story follows Lina and Doon shortly after they defeat Bill Murray and lead the people of Ember out into the daylight. The Emberites have been inside an elaborate bomb shelter until then, and represent—more or less—a roving population of refugees. The plot centers on their discovery of a settlement called Sparks, and the tensions that arise when the settlers reluctantly take the Emberites into their camp.