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.
In middle school I was mesmerized by the world of Elizabeth and
Jessica Wakefield in SWEET VALLEY TWINS. I studied every cover and daydreamed
about what it would be like to live as popular blonde girls with bright smiles
in a suburban utopia.
Like the Wakefield twins I was a California girl, but the world
created in the beloved series seemed so different from mine growing up Filipina
American and straddling two cultures. The twins never had to be embarrassed
about inviting their non-Filipino friends over for fear of their grandmother
offering dried fish and rice as an afterschool snack.
Whenever I fumbled through an awkward tween moment I would wish
for a Sweet Valley existence. I wrote in my diary that if I only had blonde
hair like Elizabeth (my favorite of the two—she wanted to be a writer after
all!), my seventh grade life would be perfect.
books are transformative. They inform our identities and can end up shaping us
as adults. In my twenties I started to explore the Filipino American diaspora
and for the first time I realized how much I longed to read about characters
like me—that if I’d had such books as a kid it would have been life-changing.
middle grade novels with a Filipina American protagonist didn’t exist in my era
as a kid-reader and even well past that. In college my favorite genre was
(admittedly!) chick lit, though there were no breezy
beach reads with a Filipina American protagonist. When I became a parent,
I thought that maybe children’s literature had changed so I set out on a
mission: to fill my shelves with books that my future readers could see
themselves in. I scoured every bookstore but still… nothing.
I had the fortune and misfortune of being born into a family
that overflows with mental illness.
I say fortune
because my family has provided me with some of the most colorful characters
I’ve ever met. They’ve raised me, shaped me, influenced and inspired me.
I say misfortune
because I don’t know anyone who would choose mental illness. I don’t know
anyone who would say, “Hey, I’d sure like to be depressed and anxious, throw in
some paranoia and addiction, and I’m good to go.”
I was an anxious child. But I didn’t know that word. Depression and anxiety weren’t common terms in the 1960s. And they certainly
weren’t words that were taught to children. Armed now with hindsight and life
experience, I can see how anxiety was always there. My mom said I was “tightly
wound,” and I remember that whenever I stayed up too late or did too many
things, I would break down by vomiting. While I didn’t have panic attacks,
there were a few episodes when everyone’s voices would suddenly speed up and
the world seemed to be going too fast. My heart would race. I’d find a quiet
corner and sit until it passed.
The idea for AMAL UNBOUND came to me several years ago. At the
time I’d known I wanted to write about a girl like Amal who was brave and full
of hope and who lived in Pakistan—an often misunderstood country— but I wasn’t
sure what her specific story would be. While reading the day’s headlines one
day in 2012 I came across the inspiring story of Malala. Her story stopped me
in my tracks because it reminded me of the strength and resilience many young
people I worked with as a teacher showed every day—their situations were of
course starkly different than Malala’s but many of my students were also
resilient and brave in the face of unspeakable difficulties. With this in mind,
thinking about all the brave children around the world who never get a headline
but who work in the way of justice nonetheless, I began writing AMAL UNBOUND.
Lately, many people have told me that AMAL UNBOUND feels like a timely story. I
can understand that. A story about resistance and justice against all odds and
the power of each of us to affect change does seems like an incredibly timely
story. Of course in 2012 when I began writing this story I could have had no
idea how deeply relevant the story would have been today but it is and I’m
grateful if it is giving people hope. The name Amal means hope in Arabic and it
is my hope AMAL UNBOUND that not only does this book show us a glimpse
into a country that is often misunderstood but that it also reminds readers of
their own inner strength and the importance of working in the way of justice
whether a spotlight shines on us or not.