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.
Sonia Patel, author of Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story, shares her book list “Sexual Violence Diversity Books for Young Adults.” Check out the preview below and the full list & 5 book giveaway on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Rani Patel In Full Effect by Sonia Patel
My debut novel is about how a Gujarati Indian American teen growing up on the rural Hawaiian island of Molokai uses her love for hip hop and rap to navigate the emotional and interpersonal sequalae of incest and rape. The main character, Rani, is based on a mix of my experiences, those of patients I’ve treated and girls/women I’ve known. [young adult, ages 13 and up]
2. Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story by Sonia Patel
My second novel is about the love the grows between a transgender Gujarati Indian boy and a sex trafficked mixed ethnicity girl after their chance meeting on a mountain trail in Hawaii. Both characters are based on amalgams of real patients I’ve treated and their experiences. [young adult, ages 13 and up]
3. Push by Sapphire
I love the main character in this book, a black teenager growing up in Harlem. Her story is brutal and realistic. I’ve heard similar stories in my work as a child & adolescent psychiatrist. [young adult, ages 13 and up]
Read the full list and enter the 5 book giveaway here.
1) Why do you think there’s such a dearth of diverse children’s books?
In a couple of words: white supremacy. The
fact that there are more books published about animals than about black kids
says a lot, not only about our
society, but about “Western” sensibilities and colonization on the whole. About
the perception of “race” and the role of literacy in the development of
societal hierarchies. The English staked their claim on land in various places
around the world and forced the people in those places to learn the English
language, but literature and the arts were reserved for members of the highest
social classes. Who were all white.
The fact that we’re almost two decades into
the 21st Century and just now
beginning to see books written in English that reflect the realities of the
English-speaking world says a lot about who, historically, has been expected—or
even allowed—to achieve English
literacy. When all the business-related rhetoric is stripped away (“Those types
of books statistically don’t sell well.” “The numbers don’t suggest that this
would be a good investment.”), the implications are that 1) certain groups of
people don’t read and 2) the people who do
read wouldn’t want to read about x-type of people. The marginalized wind up
doubting the validity of their very existence, and the privileged continue to
see themselves as the protagonists of the only stories that matter. I’m sure I
don’t have to explain why this is detrimental to everyone.
Tell us about your most recent book and how you came to write/illustrate it.
BEAUTY is about queer Latina girls and enchanted, murderous gardens. The
Nomeolvides women, including the youngest generation of five cousins, tend the
grounds of La Pradera, a famously beautiful garden known both for enthralling
visitors and killing those who break its rules. This story grew from my love of
flowers and from wanting to write girls like me and my cousins into the world
of fairy tales.
Do you think of yourself as a diverse author/illustrator?
queer, Latina, and I’m married to a trans guy, so in a way I didn’t set out to
write diverse fiction any more than I set out to live a diverse life. Writing
inclusive stories was a matter of letting the truth I already know have a place
in my work.
I often have iterations of this conversation with my publishing colleagues, especially now that diverse books are becoming more visible (and hopefully will continue to be so). Reflections of my Asian-American experience were not common in the 90s and early 00’s when I was still in school; when I come across stories now, I think wistfully, “I wish I read this back when I was a kid!”
So I present you a completely personal, completely not comprehensive list of 7 middle grade and young adult books featuring contemporary Asian-American characters. While my heritage is Chinese, the characters here include Taiwanese-American, Korean-American, Indian-American and more—and I found plenty to identify with. The only other thing they have in common is the fact that even if they were published when I was the “right age,” I came to all of these as an adult.
There are seven narrators in The Girl at Midnight – a fact I wasn’t very open with during the querying process because I was worried the number might scare off potential agents. My thinking was that by the time someone read enough of the manuscript to discover just how bonkers I went with the number of point-of-view characters, they would either be invested enough in the story or they’d already soured on it. The gamble paid off.
Because there are so many narrators, I’m often asked how I approach writing a single story with so many PoV characters. I’m not always fastidious when it comes to writing methodology but these are a few points to keep in mind when writing different perspectives (especially when they’re different from you in terms of sex, gender, race, culture, etc.).
In the Fall 2014 issue of The ALAN Review, the peer-reviewed journal of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (ALAN), contributors were invited to share their experiences, challenges, hesitations, and successes in using or promoting young adult literature that features characters and/or authors of color.
Statistics suggest that, by 2019, approximately 49% of students enrolled in U.S. public schools will be Latina/o, Black, Asian/Pacific Island, or American Indian (Hussar & Bailey, 2011). However, the field has been increasingly criticized for not reflecting these demographics in the literature published for young adult readers. For readers of color, this can result in a sense of disconnect between lived reality and what is described on the page. For readers from the dominant culture, this can result in a limited perception of reality and affirmation of a singular way of knowing and doing and being. For all readers, exposure to a variety of ethnically unfamiliar literature can encourage critical reading of text and world, recognition of the limitations of depending upon mainstream depictions of people and their experiences, and the building of background knowledge and expansion of worldview.
Consider the experiences of the late Walter Dean Myers: “All the authors I studied, all the historical figures, with the exception of George Washington Carver, and all those figures I looked upon as having importance were white men. I didn’t mind that they were men, or even white men. What I did mind was that being white seemed to play so important a part in the assigning of values” (Bad Boy: A Memoir). And ponder Jacqueline Woodson’s words, “Someday somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down” (The Other Side).
The current issue of The ALAN Review addresses what educators and librarians have done (or might do) to give that fence a nudge.
Wendy J. Glenn is Associate Professor in the Neag School of Education where she teaches courses in the theories and methods of teaching literature, writing, and language. She is the former President of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English (ALAN) and current Senior Editor of the organization’s peer-review journal, The ALAN Review.