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.
I have a
friend who is a children’s book author and illustrator, and several years ago
she decided to quit her job as a tenured professor in order to pursue a more
creative life. She started teaching classes about writing and illustrating
children’s books, and she encouraged (well, pressured, really) me to sign up. I
said I would – I have a hard time saying “no” – and then thought “oh wow, what
did I just get myself into?” But it turned out to be one of the best things I
ever did. I also had no idea how hard it is to write a high-quality story for
children! It’s much harder than it looks. Taking that class showed me how to be
creative in an entirely new way, and writing for children fuels me in ways that
I can’t really put into words.
another reason why I do this, though. Not long after I took that class, I
started playing with the idea of writing a story about an LGBTQ+ Pride
celebration. When I was researching comps, I was stunned to find that not only
were there very few picture books featuring LGBTQ+ themes, but only one had
ever been written about a Pride parade (and it was published almost thirty
years ago). That was so disturbing to me – that LGBTQ+ people were virtually
invisible in children’s books. And I see on a daily basis what that
invisibility does to a community. Most of my college students (including those
who are LGBTQ+ identified) have never heard of the Pink Scare, or the Stonewall
Riots, or the AIDS crisis, for that matter. They know about HIV, but they don’t
know how the gay community was decimated by it. That lack of knowledge is
terrifying to me, and I want children AND adults to know about our history, our
culture, and how we got here. That’s why I wrote books like This Day in June, When You Look Out the Window (a book about Phyllis Lyon and Del
Martin), and Sewing the Rainbow (my
latest book about Gilbert Baker and the creation of the rainbow flag).
I can still remember every book with a LGBT main character that I read as a teenager in the 2000s – I was lucky enough to be able to buy some online, and even then I only found a handful or so. With some great exceptions, such as Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden or Geography Club by Brent Hartinger, a lot of them ticked the “queer misery” box: bullying, outing, murder, suicide… sometimes all of the above. But back then, I was just pleased to see gay characters in a book at all. I didn’t really question the message that books like this (inadvertently) send out: that same-sex relationships are ultimately going to lead to isolation, violence, and death. Fun stuff, eh?!
To be clear, I don’t have anything against those books. They were written at a time when barely any LGBTQ+ stories were being published, at least in YA fiction. And as far as I remember, most were trying to provide a critique of how society treats LGBTQ+ people, rather than of them or their relationships. Perhaps that was misguided, but regardless, it wouldn’t be fair to judge those books by today’s standards.
From the outside, it probably seems
a self-evident choice when an author from a marginalized group chooses to write
a protagonist that shares their lived experience. If “write what you know” is
sound advice, then choosing to speak from a personal and underrepresented point
of view would seem obvious. But for me and many other “own voices” writers, the
decision was not obvious at all.
When I was a teenager, just
discovering my love of writing, there was no such thing as It Gets Better, and no
gay characters in fiction for young adults; if a gay person appeared on a
television show, it was advertised as a stunt, aired at a special time, and came
with a content warning; and if gay characters appeared in the movies, they were
cruelly drawn caricatures, tragic victims or offensive comic relief. Back then,
it never even occurred to me that a gay person could anchor a piece of
mainstream art or entertainment.
My very first attempt at a
full-length manuscript was a YA horror novel about a teenage girl and her
smart-mouthed pals. One of her friends was implicitly gay (not out, not on the page, but the subtext was there,)
which was about as close as I dared come to representing myself in my own work.
My second manuscript featured a straight male protagonist who, in a running
gag, was frequently assumed to be gay by others—resulting in funny protests of
the “not that there’s anything wrong with that” variety. My third attempt:
straight girl MC with a gay friend. My fourth: straight girl MC with a gay
I recently started working in an indie bookstore. The great
thing about this job, aside from being surrounded by beautiful books all day
long, is that it gets me out of my writer brain and back in touch with my
reader brain. I work mostly in the kid’s section, and every day customers come
in with very specific requests. I’ve noticed a lot of the teens who frequent
the young adult section don’t ask for recommendations all that much, but the
middle grade and advancing readers section is a cornucopia of parents looking
for certain books or certain topics for their kids.
The other day, I had a mom ask me for a book with a trans
character for a first grader.
diverse can mean a lot of things to a lot people. That’s what’s fantastic about
the word. Diverse literally means variety.
budding writer, I have always been attracted to diverse characters. This goes
beyond just the color of their skin or the culture they come from. Although I
already have characters in my head that represent different races and cultural
backgrounds, I’m waiting for the right opportunity to start writing their
A couple of years ago, I was in search of a
critique partner, as many of us writerly types do. I had just written Disclaimer: I Like Boys, which has since
been renamed No Holding Back. This is
the story of Nathan and Preston. My boys. Finding love.
Named in honor of the late author and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, the Walter Dean Myers Grant will be given to five unpublished authors from non-majority backgrounds, who shine the light on diversity in their writing. @weneeddiversebooks