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 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.
As a longtime autism advocate, I
spend a lot of time thinking about diversity. My son Jake—who’s illustrated two
of my series for Macmillan—is on the autism spectrum and also has a
language-based learning delay, which has made reading especially difficult. But
stories are so important to us that Jake and I found a way to improve his
reading—and to help kids around the world be better readers.
When Jake was in fourth grade and
books started getting harder (i.e., fewer pictures), he decided to draw his
vocabulary words on index cards to learn them. Our garage is filled with boxes
and boxes of these index cards with stick figure drawings illustrating words
like “royalty,” “embarrassed,” and “military.” Friends would see the cards and
laugh at Jake’s cartoons—not only because of his sense of humor but for the spot-on
accuracy of how his drawings illuminated his vocabulary words.
As a novelist, I asked myself the
quintessential writing question: What if?
What if I wrote a novel about a kid who has a difficult time reading but
still loves books and stories? What if Jake illustrated the novel with his stick
figures? What if we could help other reluctant readers in the process of
My son and I collaborated on what
would become My Life As A Book, which
is now a series of seven novels in twenty-six languages. (My Life As A Youtuber is the latest.) It’s not the success of this
middle-grade series that humbles me, however; it’s the can-do attitude of a kid
with special needs taking control of his own learning process.
Over the past seven years, Jake and
I have traveled the country doing author-and-illustrator visits to elementary
and middle schools, talking to students about the different ways people learn. In
our series, our main character is a visual learner, so drawing is the way he
processes information. When Derek reads, he imagines the story as a movie in
his head, the same way experts teach children with reading disabilities to
picture stories. When we visit schools, I’m always amazed at the different ways
people learn: kids with auditory processing issues, children with tactile and
sensory concerns, or some kids who really need infographics to make sense of data.
Diversity of learning is an important topic in education today, one that I’ve
studied firsthand to help Jake make sense of and learn to process information
in his own way. (My path to learning includes copious amounts of coffee and
Having a series that’s a staple in
ESL and Special Ed classes—not to mention enjoyed by neurotypical middle-grade readers
who just want a funny story—thrills me to no end. More important, it’s given my
son purpose, along with a career doing something he loves. Sometimes working
through things that are most difficult for us can lead us to discover not only
solutions to our own obstacles but to other people’s as well. Great job, Jake
Tashjian. You make me proud.
Janet Tashjian is the author of the popular My Life
series including My Life as a Book, My Life as a Stuntboy, My
Life as a Cartoonist, My Life as a Joke, My Life as a Gamer, and My
Life as a Ninja, as well as the Einstein the Class Hamster series,
illustrated by her son, Jake Tashjian. Jake and Janet live in Studio
loved them, from going to Hebrew school, to my parent’s
tradition of letting us eat ice cream for dinner on April Fool’s day, to the
way we lined our shoes up in straight, neat rows before going inside my Nai Nai
and Ye Ye’s apartment.
love of traditions has lasted into my adult life, and I often wonder if my
family and our traditions are the reason
that I write. My mother’s family is
Jewish, and came over from Russia several generations ago. My father’s family is Chinese and Christian,
and my Ye Ye was an evangelical Christian minister. I’ve inherited a rich family history that
teems with stories, from my grandparents’ accounts of their close escape from
Communist China with my father as an infant, to the stories my mother’s mother
tells of Passover Seders all in Hebrew and Yiddish, with linen napkins so big
they spilled from your lap to the floor.
We’re also a family that continually generates new narratives, because
when you ask your evangelical minister grandfather to please come up to say an
Aaliyah at your Bat Mitzvah, that simple act is, in itself, a pretty excellent
Tell us about your most recent
book and how you came to write/illustrate it.
My debut novel is Children of Blood and Bone and it comes
out on March 6th, 2018. From a creative standpoint, I came to write
it by discovering the orisha—West African deities—through a stroke of luck while
on a fellowship in Brazil. This gave me the idea for CBB after I discovered a
digital painting two years later that gave me the inspiration for the
characters and events in the story. From a professional standpoint, I came to
write CBB after the first book I tried to get published went nowhere, but
solidified for me that I would be most happy writing full-time. Additionally, I
was heavily influenced by the tragedy of police brutality and felt compelled to
say something about it through my work.
Do you think of yourself as a
Yes because I’m black and
Nigerian-American, and my diverse background has a big impact on what I write,
why I write, and the way I write.