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.
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.
The idea for AMAL UNBOUND came to me several years ago. At the
time I’d known I wanted to write about a girl like Amal who was brave and full
of hope and who lived in Pakistan—an often misunderstood country— but I wasn’t
sure what her specific story would be. While reading the day’s headlines one
day in 2012 I came across the inspiring story of Malala. Her story stopped me
in my tracks because it reminded me of the strength and resilience many young
people I worked with as a teacher showed every day—their situations were of
course starkly different than Malala’s but many of my students were also
resilient and brave in the face of unspeakable difficulties. With this in mind,
thinking about all the brave children around the world who never get a headline
but who work in the way of justice nonetheless, I began writing AMAL UNBOUND.
Lately, many people have told me that AMAL UNBOUND feels like a timely story. I
can understand that. A story about resistance and justice against all odds and
the power of each of us to affect change does seems like an incredibly timely
story. Of course in 2012 when I began writing this story I could have had no
idea how deeply relevant the story would have been today but it is and I’m
grateful if it is giving people hope. The name Amal means hope in Arabic and it
is my hope AMAL UNBOUND that not only does this book show us a glimpse
into a country that is often misunderstood but that it also reminds readers of
their own inner strength and the importance of working in the way of justice
whether a spotlight shines on us or not.
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
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.
first diversity question today is how do you self identify?
am a black American woman.
did your background influence your early reading and writing habits, if at all?
I grew up in a family
where education was of utmost importance. Reading, writing, and all things
academic were as normal and mandatory as breathing. I am thankful for how much
my parents valued education. They read to us each night and exposed us to different
texts ranging from poetry and children’s literature to newspapers and
encyclopedias. I still remember when my dad ordered a collection of
Encyclopedia Britannica that filled an entire bookshelf in our living room. I
do admit that I initially didn’t like reading for fun, but I thoroughly enjoyed
writing my own stories, poetry, and songs. Reading grew on me, and, to this day,
both reading and writing are integral parts of my life.
up, did you see and/or envision yourself in the stories you read?
I didn’t see myself in
many stories that I read, but two do come to mind: Vera B. Williams’s Cherries and Cherry Pits and John
Steptoe’s Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters.
I don’t remember loving those books, but they do stick out in my mind—possibly
because they had black girls in them. As a teenager I remember reading Mildred
D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry,
and while the protagonist was black, I didn’t feel like I connected to her that
much. I think I insulated myself from not being represented in books because I wrote
my own stories where I was the main
character. I wrote a bunch of stories starring Detective JaNay Brown where I’d
go on adventures and solve mysteries. I also remember writing stories with
black girls that were similar to me, even if they didn’t have my name. So
although I didn’t really feel myself connecting to published books, I
definitely connected to my own work since I was the one solving all the
Sandy Tharp-Thee, author of
The Apple Tree, shares her book list “10 Native Books to Inspire the Young Ones and Young at Heart!” Check out the preview below and the full list & 25 book giveaway on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Buffalo Song by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth
The story of how the buffalo nearly became extinct, but because people cared enough and worked together we can still enjoy the American buffalo today. It offers insight to the meaning and importance of the buffalo to Native people from yesteryear to today. Based on true events, it reveals the consequences of one small buffalo being rescued by a boy and his father.
I believe the author said he spent sixteen years researching this true story. When I read it, I like to have the children sing with me. As a tribal librarian, this story allowed me to share the past, present, and future of buffalo. Today, the buffalo are no longer in danger, and we can enjoy them in the wild but also purchase the healthier bison meat. It is because of people coming together that this is possible.
Before reading this story with the children, I would share: Imagine if I could give you a gift and that gift gave you the shoes that you are wearing. Now imagine if that same gift provided your clothes, food, and even your shelter or home. What might you say to the creator that gave you such a gift? How would you care for such a gift? [picture book, ages 7 and up]
2. The Story of Jumping Mouse by John Steptoe
One of the smallest creatures—the mouse—is drawn to the sound of the river and the idea of reaching the top of a mountain. His journey gives him a new name, “Jumping Mouse.” Along the way he discovers that he can help those in great need. The sacrifice is huge, but he freely gives, and his award in the end is life changing.
This story is precious to me because the mouse while being so small is nonetheless unafraid. Even when a buffalo and a wolf cross his path, the mouse doesn’t let his feelings of awe overcome him; instead, he humbly revels in the realization that a little mouse like he might be able to help them. Indeed, he helps the two strangers freely without question. If only we could be like the tiny mouse. One of my favorite sayings is to remember whatever we do is not wasted, and, of, course everything we do does come back. [picture book, ages 7 and up]
3. Welcome Song for Baby by Richard Van Camp
This board book is true to its title—a song to welcome a baby. Every child deserves to hear how dear, loved, cherished, and beautiful they are and how they are making the world a better place. A promise and thank you sung to the gift: the baby.
This book is a song, and I have found that babies will stop crying to listen to it sung softly. But more than that, babies need to hear the sweet words of welcome that are in this book. Siblings could easily learn the words to sing to a new brother or sister. The photographs are excellent, and I found even the youngest of children enjoy looking at real photographs. (One of my younger patrons with autism especially enjoyed books that included photographs with faces.) [picture book, ages infant and up]
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]
Mike Mullin, author of Surface Tension, shares his book list “Books for Teens Featuring African-American Protagonists.” Check out the preview below and the full list & 5 book giveaway on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
I first read this novel the same year I first saw Star Wars, when I was ten or eleven. Both experiences linger in my memory nearly 40 years later. It wasn’t the first time I’d read books with Black protagonists (that would be Ezra Jack Keats’ brilliant picture books), but it was the first time I’d read about the brutality of racism. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry is set in 1930’s Mississippi—Taylor sets the scene so well that by the time you’re done reading you’ll be able to taste the rust-colored dust of the dirt roads.
Cassie is an indomitable heroine. Every time I read her story, I alternate between feeling terror and elation as she confronts everything from racist insults to horrific threats against her person. But the true brilliance of the novel is the theme of fire running throughout it, beginning with the horribly burnt body of Mr. Berry and ending with a forest fire—it serves as a stark metaphor for the all-consuming nature of racism. [chapter book, ages 11 and up]
2. M.C. Higgins the Great by Virginia Hamilton
I think I loved this book because I identified so strongly with the protagonist: Mayo Cornelius Higgins, a brainy, disaffected young man who watches the world from atop a 40’ steel pole. Like M.C., I climbed everything in sight. (Trees, buildings… I never had a 40’ pole, but I have no doubt I would have tried to climb it. My favorite place was a tree covered in vines—I could climb up, stick my head out the top, and gaze over what looked like a leafy meadow suspended 60’ above the ground.) I also identified with the alliance M.C. builds with his neighbors, the light-skinned, red-headed Killburns. I never tried to build a wall with the Black kids who lived next door to me—Mark, Todd, and Glen—but we did build some wicked BMX ramps together! Years after I first read M.C. Higgins the Great, I met Virginia Hamilton and she signed a copy for me. I wish I’d bought a hardcover, but at that point I was in college and nearly broke. I also wish my handwriting were half as lovely as hers:
If you enjoy M.C. Higgins the Great, don’t miss The Planet of Junior Brown and The House of Dies Drear, my other favorite Hamilton novels. [chapter book, ages 11 and up]
3. Monster by Walter Dean Myers
I could have put lots of Myers books on this list, but this is the one that haunted my dreams for months after I read it. The protagonist, Steve, is facing 25-years to life for a crime he didn’t commit. Myers tells the story entirely through diary entries and a screenplay Steve is writing. But the real story here is Steve’s inner battle, as he struggles to reject the label society has already branded him with: Monster. [young adult, ages 13 and up]
Eric and Natalie Yoder, authors of Short Mysteries You Solve With Math, share their book list “
Middle Grade Spanish/English Bilingual Books.” Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.
1. One Minute Mysteries: Short Mysteries You Solve With Math/Misterios de un Minuto: Misterios Cortos Que Resuelves con Matematicas by Eric Yoder & Natalie Yoder
Now you can solve mysteries in English, Spanish or both! This award-winning title is now available as a bilingual book. Use it to expand your language and math skills at the same time. Each math mystery takes just one minute to read, and challenges a child’s knowledge in essential, age-appropriate math topics. [chapter book, ages 10 and up]
2. Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States edited by Lori Marie Carlson
Growing up Latino in America means speaking two languages, living two lives, learning the rules of two cultures. This book of poetry celebrates the tones, rhythms, sounds, and experiences of that double life. Here are poems about families and parties, insults and sad memories, hot dogs and mangos. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
3. In My Family/En mi familia by Carmen Lomas Garza
This book is a tribute to the family and community that shaped the author’s childhood and life. Lomas Garza’s vibrant paintings and warm personal stories depict memories of growing up in the traditional Mexican-American community of her hometown of Kingsville, Texas. [chapter book, ages 6 and up]