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.
Candlewick Press sat down with T.R. Simon to discuss her new
book ‘Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground’
CP: How do
the maturing Carrie and Zora see the world differently as they approach their
book two of the Zora and Me trilogy, Zora and Carrie are now twelve going on
thirteen. Although they are still children, they have encountered the sorrow of
death along with the pride and joy that life in Eatonville affords them. What
begins to alter them now is a slowly growing awareness of the past. While
Eatonville could seem idyllic, tucked away from the daily brutality of the Jim
Crow South, it is not free from the shadow of American history, particularly
from the history of slavery. The history of slavery is a hard thing for young
people because it requires them to confront the brutality of hate and the
despair of powerlessness. Zora and Carrie grapple with the conflicted feelings
that learning about Eatonville’s history brings up while simultaneously
realizing that life is necessarily, for good and for bad, informed by the past.
CP: Why did
you choose to tell this book with dual narratives?
struggled with how to powerfully connect the fact of Jim Crow to the
institution of slavery. Ultimately, I decided that the most effective way to do
that was to show them side by side. Reconstruction was the attempt of newly
freed slaves to enact self-determination, and Jim Crow was a formalization of
the backlash to Reconstruction. If you don’t understand how slavery operated
and the ideas of race that made slavery go, you can’t understand Jim Crow as
the logical social extension of that violently inhumane practice.
Dreamers is your own story of immigrating to the
United States from Mexico in 1994 with your newborn son. What inspired you
write Dreamers almost 24 years later?
I was working
on a graphic novel when Donald Trump was elected president. My heart sunk. I
could not believe that the man who had accused Mexican immigrants as criminals
and rapists had been elected to lead the United States. I felt unable to work,
and that my stories made no sense anymore. I also felt afraid of what would
come next for immigrant families like mine, like those of my friends and like
those that my books had been written for and about.
My editor, Neal
Porter, saw that I was stuck and offered his support and patience. He reassured
me that he was there for me until I was ready to produce a new book, he also
told me that he thought the book I should be working on was my own immigrant
your author-illustrator debut! Can you tell us about your inspiration for Alma
and How She Got Her Name?
ALMA is a picture book
about a little girl with a long name and a big story behind her name. The
story has autobiographical elements and is inspired by my own strong connection
to my extended family. I believe we are all a little bit of those that came before
us, and we carry a little of each of our ancestors with us. At the same time,
we are uniquely ourselves.
How does being a
diverse author and artist contribute to and inspire your work?
I was born and raised
in Lima, Peru, and moved to the United States in my mid twenties. In my first
years as an immigrant, I was trying to find my place in the US. I wanted to
feel less foreign and assimilate fast. I disliked standing out. But welcoming
my new culture and traditions came at the cost of giving up those aspects that
made me who I was. After I got married and had our first child, I came to the
realization that I needed to reclaim the unique aspects of my Peruvian culture.
I realized my culture was part of my whole personal identity, and I wanted to
pass my culture onto my children. It is at that moment that I started
illustrating and attempting to write for children. My work carries my Peruvian
and Latino culture deeply. In ALMA, I am writing and illustrating a book about
a little girl who is discovering who she is in this world just as I discovered
my place in my world.
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).
Tell us about your most recent
book and how you came to write/illustrate it.
BRIGHTSIDERS follows a teen drummer in a famous rock band as she deals with
being labelled a tabloid train wreck, coming out as bisexual, family struggles
and new feelings for her best friend and lead singer, Alfie. All my books are
about fame and fandom in some way, and while my last book (QUEENS OF GEEK)
focused more on the fan’s point of view, THE BRIGHTSIDERS is from the
perspective of a girl being thrust into the spotlight and dealing with the
fallout of that.
Do you think of yourself as a
I’m queer, nonbinary, and autistic. Those parts of my identity definitely
influence the stories I write and the way I see the world in my daily life.
Who is your favorite character of
all time in children’s or young adult literature?
This is a tough question! I have a few, but the one that I really connected
with as a teen was Adrian Mole of the Adrian Mole series, so he’ll always have
a special place in my heart.