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.
Jo Meserve Mach, Vera Lynne Stroup-Rentier, and Mary Birdsell, authors of
Claire Wants a Boxing Name, share their book list “Books Making the World Better Through Inclusion.” Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Emanuel’s Dream by Lauri Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls
I love true stories and this true story of Emmanual Ofos Yeboah is so inspiring! Because his mother believes he can teach himself how to gain the skills he does just that. The fact he is missing part of one leg doesn’t limit him. Emmanuels quote at the end of the book says it all: “In this world, we are not perfect. We can only do our best.” [picture book, ages 4 and up]
2. My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari Best, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
This is a fun story that takes place at school. It portrays inclusion in a wonderful way. Zulay becomes just another child participating in Field Day. At first she seems different because she is blind but then she is like every other child competing at school. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
3. Max the Champion by Sean Stockdale and Alexandra Strick, illustrated by Ros Asquith
I like this story because it’s about following your passion. Max loves sports and he and other children with all types of abilities enjoy playing together. The fact that Max has a hearing aid doesn’t interfere with his inclusion in the sports he loves. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, author of Splatypus shares her book list “8 Picture Books About Feeling Different But Finding Your Place.” Check out the preview below and the full list & 5 book giveaway on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Flight School by Lita Judge
Little Penguin wants to fly — no matter what anyone says about aeronautical deficiencies of the penguin body. He perseveres, relying more on willpower than talent. Eventually, adding an encouraging teacher and a dash of teamwork allows Little Penguin to soar to new heights. I love how this story makes you believe in miracles — even if they need a little assistance. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
2. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
Chrysanthemum loves the uniqueness of her name until she realizes at school that unique means different and that different isn’t always accepted. Her self-esteem is deeply affected by her classmates making her feel out of place. But Chrysanthemum finds a kindred spirit and learns a lesson I myself have struggled with often — that even things (and people) that don’t seem to belong do actually belong somewhere. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
3. Unlike Other Monsters by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Colin Jack
Everyone knows monsters don’t have friends, so Zander (himself a monster) isn’t surprised by his friendless state. But while he is unsurprised, he is also disappointed. Unlike other monsters, Zander longs for friendship — which he thinks he may have found in the form of a little red bird. Before Zander can truly bond with his new friend he has to learn to let go of other people’s (or other monsters’) expectations and give himself permission to be himself. A sweet story of finding new friends and also of finding yourself. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Megan Dowd Lambert, author of Real Sisters Pretend, shares her book list “Eight Picture Books with Diverse Family Constellations.” Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Fred Stays with Me by Nancy Coffelt, illustrated by Tricia Tusa
A little girl whose parents are divorced splits her time between her mom’s house and her dad’s. Her dog, the eponymous Fred, also moves between homes, which gives her a sense of stability and consistency in her co-parenting, joint-custody family arrangement. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
2. Stella Brings the Family by Miriam Schiffer Baker, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown
Stella has two dads and isn’t quite sure what to do for her class’s Mother’s Day celebration. Ultimately, she decides to bring both of her parents, as well as other family members who nurture her, and they are all affirmed and welcomed by everyone at school. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
3. Real Sisters Pretend by Megan Dowd Lambert, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell
Inspired by two of the author’s daughters, this is a story about adoptive sisters, Mia (who is multiracial) and Tayja (who is Back), who affirm their bonds with one another after a stranger questions whether they are “real sisters” since they don’t look alike. They punctuate their pretend play with conversation about their adoption stories, and it all culminates in a warm family hug with their two moms. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Aram Kim, author of No Kimchi for Me!, shares her picture book list of “Diverse Books with Food (and Recipe).” Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji by F. Zia, llustrated by Ken Min
Aneel enjoys his grandparents’ visit, especially his grandpa’s fairytale-like old stories from India. This book intertwines contemporary Indian-American life, traditional Indian lifestyle, great storytelling, and intergenerational bond over stories and food. It is a great mixture of everything! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
2. Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, illustrated by Kristi Valiant
Cora is the youngest and always stuck doing a “kid’s job” in the kitchen while her big brothers and sisters do a cool job. When Cora is in the kitchen with her mom alone, she finally gets to do a grownup job and plays a big part in cooking a delicious Filipino noodle dish pancit! Readers can feel the excitement of little Cora and follow her delightful journey. *Recipe included. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
3. Jalapeño Bagels by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Robert Casilla
Pablo helps out in the family bakery and picks an item to bring to his International Day at school. The bakery carries his mom’s various Mexican sweet bread and his dad’s Jewish bagels and challah bread. All kinds look delicious to Pablo, but he finally picks jalapeño bagels that seem to represent himself. The story carries multicultural fare effectively and deliciously. *Recipes included. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Duncan Tonatiuh, author of Danza!: Amalia Hernandez and Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet, shares his picture book list of “Bold, Creative Girls and Women.” Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
This book is based on the story of Millo Castro, a young girl who pursued her dream of playing the drums at a time when girls in Cuba where not supposed to. Engles verses and López’s illustrations add magic to this inspirational story. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
2. Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
This fun book in rhymes is about a young girl who gets into a bit of trouble investigating the cause of a mysterious pungent smell. Ada does not give up on her inquiry though because she has the mind and determination of a scientist. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
3. Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin
This fun book about two Chinese-American twin sisters is broken up into six short stories that connect at the end. It is a great read for beginning readers. [easy reader, ages 5 and up]
Yehudi Mercado, author of Sci-Fu, shares a graphic novel list recommended by characters from his book Sci-Fu. Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Wax’s pick
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 3: Stardust Crusaders by Hirohiko Araki
Wax is all about music. It’s the life force that flows through him. I imagine he would really tear into an action-packed manga about a troubled kid who thinks he’s possessed with a demon, but it turns out to be a superpower called “A Stand.” Many characters are named after famous musicians like Ronnie James Dio, Iggy Pop and Terrence Trent Darby. [graphic novel, ages 14 and up]
2. Pirate Polly’s pick
A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Madeleine L’Engle and Hope Larson
Pirate Polly would have resisted reading A Wrinkle in Time, thinking was for too cool for it, but as soon she opened this dimension-bending epic about a troubled tween searching for her scientist father through space and time, she was hooked. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
3. Cooky P’s pick
Jake the Fake Keeps it Real Hardcover by Craig Robinson and Adam Mansbach, illustrated by Keith Knight
Cooky P knows he’s not the smartest (like D), or the coolest (like Pirate Polly), or the most talented (like Wax), so he would relate to the middle-grader who fakes his way into an elite music and arts magnet school. [notebook novel, ages 8 and up]
Jamia Wilson, author of Young Gifted and Black, shares her own diverse picture book list on Next-Generation Change Makers. Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website!
1. Young Gifted and Black by Jamia Wilson, illustrated by Andrea Pippins
This our love letter to the next-generation of black leaders doers, thinkers, dreamers and creators. [picture book, ages 7 and up]
2. How Mamas Love Their Babies by Juniper Fitzgerald, illustrated by Elise Peterson
Celebrate the variety of ways diverse mothers support their children through labor and love. It also happens to be published by the Feminist Press, where I work. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
3. Thunderboy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
This gorgeous relationship between a father and son also explores the meaning of names and how they shape who we are. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
My mission as an author is to mine the past for family
stories, fading traditions and forgotten struggles. Add to that unsung heroes.
When my friend and frequent collaborator Eric Velasquez pitched the idea of a
Schomburg biography to me, I was intrigued. Like Schomburg, Eric has roots in
Africa and Puerto Rico. I detected Eric’s passion for the project and I could
not refuse. I believe this is the book that Eric was born to create. Even
though the book had a ten year gestation, I am honored that Eric asked me to
collaborate. This is our fifth book together.
When did you first learn about Schomburg?
I knew of the Schomburg Center before I knew about the
man behind it. I did picture research there in the early 1980s. That was long
before there were digital archives online. Back then, I had to wear white
gloves to handle vintage photographs. I recall being in awe of the Center’s
vast holdings. What I did not know is that Schomburg the man was a bibliophile
and a leading light of the Harlem Renaissance, a period I first wrote about in Sugar
Hill: Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood. That picture book isillustrated
by Gregory Christie.
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.
The CBC program “Diversity in Our
Digital World: Visual Literacy Across Borders” was a great success at the
International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) regional conference
sponsored by USBBY (usbby.org) at the University of Washington in Seattle,
October 20 - 22. The CBC session featured two illustrators, Suzy Lee and Keith
Negley, as well as a publishing professional, Tucker Stone.
Janet Wong, poet and publisher at Pomelo
Books, and Susan Polos, school librarian from NY, introduced the panel. Wong
and Polos serve as co-chairs of the American Library Association/Children’s
Book Council (ALA/CBC) Joint Committee. Coincidentally, both are board members
of USBBY, Janet representing the International Literacy Association (ILA) and
Susan, ALA. Tucker Stone is also a member of CBC and represents CBC on the
USBBY board. CBC’s commitment to diversity, evident in its work and its blog,
proved a perfect fit for the conference theme, “Radical Change Beyond
Borders—the Transforming Power of Children’s Literature in a Digital Age,”
inspired by the work of Eliza Dresang.
The CBC breakout session opened with an
introduction to the work of CBC in the area of diversity. Slides showcasing
current CBC Diversity Blog posts made clear to all present that the range of
posts, including a storytime guide, authors’ posts, book guides, book lists,
Q&As, and more, highlight and encourage diversity in all formats and forms
for publishing professionals. Both illustrators selected for this panel, Suzy
Lee and Keith Negley, have been featured on the CBC Diversity Blog. Wong
explained that one goal of this panel was to expand the discussion of diversity
in children’s literature beyond race and ethnicity to feature “diverse
thinking” in the creation of children’s books.
Suzy Lee: “It all depends on the readers”
Suzy Lee (suzyleebooks.com) shared illustrations from her
work and spoke about three of her books, Wave, Shadow, and Lines
(published by Chronicle Books). She mentioned the importance of borders in her
work both through her use of the physical book’s bindings and gutters and as
story tools, taking the reader from a realistic scene to a metaphysical
understanding of the artist’s process. She explained how readers of “silent”
books can see what she, the illustrator, has intended them to see; readers also
bring their own interpretation to the reading. “When there’s no word pointing
out what to read, the readers can read more. It’s because the meaning of the
image is not fixed. It’s always changing. And it all depends on the readers;
they read as they want in their own way.”
One anecdote that Lee shared involved an
autistic boy whose teacher said that when Wave was shared in their
classroom, “the room was silent, and [the boy] could hear [the book] in his
head … he was captivated.” As Lee noted, this is the kind of moment “when
the ‘silent’ picture book shines.”
Keith Negley: “Toxic masculinity has run
Keith Negley (keithnegley.com) worked as an
illustrator and designer for magazines before writing and illustrating
children’s books published by Flying Eye, the children’s imprint of Nobrow, an
international publishing company. Negley’s books, while not wordless, tell
stories primarily through illustration and contain minimal text.
He shared work from two published books, Tough
Guys Don’t Cry and My Dad Used to Be So Cool, as well as a
forthcoming book, Mary Wears What She Wants (Balzer +
Bray/HarperCollins). Negley wants to break barriers of gender expectations,
showing that both boys and girls can resist the stereotypical boxes—and to show
dads who are affectionate and sensitive.
Tucker Stone: “Helping small publishers get
the word out”
Tucker Stone anchored our panel with a
reminder that our real challenge, when it comes to diverse children’s
literature, is with distribution.
Stone spoke both of his former position as
US Sales & Marketing Director with Nobrow US/Flying Eye Books, as well as
his current work as Client Marketing Manager for Children’s and Comic titles for
Ingram’s Consortium Book Sales & Distribution. In this new role, Stone
strives to communicate the interests of international readers to independent
publishers and to promote the titles he represents.
Outstanding International Books (OIB) Lists
Suzy Lee’s first book was signed during a
visit to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. She advises international authors
and illustrators to go to Bologna and to learn from the editors and agents
there, if possible. “Bologna was a real-wonderland … I was amazed at the
various perspectives and styles” of the international books on display. For
advocates of diverse books who are not familiar with international books and
are unable to travel to Bologna, Wong and Polos recommend downloading USBBY’s
annual Outstanding International Books lists for the past decade (http://www.usbby.org/list_oibl.html).
International books provide a valuable glimpse of additional approaches to celebrating
Polos is a School Librarian in the Bedford Central School District. Janet Wong
is a poet and co-founder of Pomelo Books (PomeloBooks.com), a CBC member.
Together, they serve as co-chairs of the ALA-CBC Joint Committee.