When you were a child or young adult, what book first opened your eyes to the diversity of the world?
I think the first book I remember really opening my eyes was The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou. I have no idea how well it holds up over time.
What is your favorite diverse book that you recently read?
Since I am currently serving on a committee which looks at books from all over the globe, I have many books with diverse characters from all countries. I couldn’t possible pick a “favorite,” but a new book I think everyone should read is I Have the Right to Be a Child which is an illustrated book about UN Convention on the rights of the child. It is stunning.
If you could participate in a story time with any children’s book author or illustrator (alive or dead) who would it be?
I would love to have met and heard John Steptoe–I would love to hear him tell and talk about Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, one of my favorite books of all time.
Over the past few weeks, I got to spend time with a diverse group of teenagers from the Leave Out Violence organization and Writopia Lab, and in doing so I realized how little I interact with teenagers on a regular basis. Yet, my job and career revolve around making books for them. How can I possibly be making the best books for today’s teenagers when I don’t even know them?
Well, this was my chance to get to know them and find out what they loved, hated, made them passionate, and totally turned them off about books. And what I learned really surprised me and made me re-think the way I imagine the readers for my books and YA novels in general.
Back in April, Riky Stock, director of the German Book Office in New York reached out to me with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—to join a group of children’s book editors on a trip to Frankfurt and Hamburg to meet with German publishers and agents. The German Book Office hosts this annual trip for editors to experience the wonders of beer, brats, and books in hopes of building a bridge between our two countries, for both American books that could succeed in Germany and vice versa.
My fellow editors for this year’s trip included Stacey Barney from Putnam/Penguin (and one of the founders of CBC Diversity!), Sheila Barry from Groundwood Books in Canada, Grace Maccarone from Holiday House, Ben Rosenthal from Enslow, and Reka Simonsen from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Our group had a great vibe, and by the end of the trip, we had our fair share of inside jokes and insightful discussion about books and, in particular, why foreign translations are so difficult for the North American market.
The CBC Diversity Initiative is committed to bringing diverse experiences to our book market, and this includes stories told from a non-American point of view. After learning some eye-opening numbers about the German book market, it’s evident that while the American perspective is pervasive worldwide, we in turn are reluctant to embrace stories from other cultures.
Here’s the breakdown:
- 24.8% of all new fiction titles in Germany are translations—and more than 70% of those are books from the US and the UK. Meanwhile, in the US, only 3% of all new titles are translations.
- The biggest bestselling series in Germany mirror the American market:
- Harry Potter
- Hunger Games
- YA and children’s translations into German have almost doubled in the last five years.
- In 2011, a total of 46 German translations were published in the U.S.
The fact remained: I was fascinated by stories—all people’s stories.
I declared my English Lit/Latino Studies double-major freshman year at Columbia University, and was lucky enough to snag an editorial internship with Dell Publishing (a crossword puzzle publisher) through my Hispanic Scholarship Fund mentor. That summer internship cemented my desire to work in publishing, while at the same time reinforced the fact that it had to be with work that I cared about (crossword puzzles, were just not that interesting), and at a place that gave me the opportunity to advocate for diverse literature.
For example, I’m a Persian male who was born in Iran, and raised all over Europe, and then Oklahoma. So if you send me FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, man, I am in it. I lived that experience. Maybe not exactly as Boobie Miles lived it. But I played ball in Oklahoma. I get the lingo. My first manuscript was the story of that experience.
In the same way, if you write a novel set in Rome, if you want to sample some Farsi for a character, or French, then I’m good. I’m still with you. I have firsthand knowledge of the languages, the cultural nuances, etc.