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.
Tell us about your
most recent book and how you came to write/illustrate it.
My debut novel, The
Poet X, came out a month ago! I began writing the book when I was an 8th
grade English Language Arts teacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The
novel was a direct response to working in a school that was 77% Latinx and 20 %
Black, but it seemed for that age range there were not enough texts that
culturally represented my young people. I was inspired to write a coming-of-age
story from a very specific lens: an Afro-Latina growing up in New York City
discovering her voice through poetry. I
wanted a book about a girl learning to take up space.
Do you think of
yourself as a diverse author/illustrator?
Both my parents are from the Dominican Republic and I was
raised to be very proud of my cultural heritage. I cannot extricate my identity
as a woman of Afro-Dominican descent from any of the work I create.
“Child, what are you going to do with that degree?”
I was full of pride on the day I graduated college—until Grandma
Lynell asked me that simple question. You would think that someone with a
nearly perfect GPA and two graduate school acceptance letters would know exactly how to respond. My goal was to
become a professor of African-American literature and black feminist thought. But
I hung my head low because I felt that I had not only tricked myself into
thinking I was completely sure of my life’s goal, but that I had also duped
those women and men who sacrificed so much for me to be able to walk across the
stage that day.
I laughed it off and went about celebrating, but Granny’s
question hit me—hard.
The first time I met Miracle (not her real name), she arrived in a full suit of armor: a thick mask of makeup, black eyeliner pointed like arrows at the edge of her eyes - a warning, perhaps, to not look at her the wrong way - hair slicked back into a severe ponytail, a jean skirt and flat black leather boots suitable for running away, if need be.
My friend, a detective with the NYPD at the time, had arranged the meeting. Miracle was known to police as a reliable source of information about sex traffickers in Brooklyn. She is also a survivor of child prostitution.
When I decided to write Little Peach, I knew I could not attempt the story without speaking directly with victims. I felt I had no right to type a single word on the page without doing so. Little Peach could not be my sheltered imagining of the issue, but an accurate account guided by the victims themselves. My job was to cede my voice, and give rise to theirs.
The first night we met, Miracle and I spoke for three hours.
She told me about the scouts that lie in wait at bus terminals and outside of group homes, looking for runaways and desperate, injured kids. She told me I could go to Port Authority that very night and I would see men wearing red or blue – signifying their particular gang affiliation – hunting for girls.
She showed me the tattoos she was given by her pimp, including a five-point red star placed strategically behind her ear by a sect of the Bloods that deals in trafficking. The placement is intentional: she could easily be identified as their property with the turn of her head.
Some months ago, I heard this question a few times while participating in a career fair with youth members of Leave Out Violence (LOVE), a nonprofit after-school program serving at-risk youth dedicated to reducing violence in the lives of young people and their communities.
Other questions followed. “Yes, I read a lot,” I said. “No, I don’t have to always correct grammar. Magnificent copy editors do that because I miss so many mistakes.”
I talked more about collaborating with authors, the editorial process of making a book, and all the creative work I get to do with a lot of brilliant people.
Teens participating in the career fair, For the LOVE of Our Future, were members of the organization’s media arts program. Sitting in an intimate circle, along with professionals in a variety of fields, we spent three thirty-minute sessions with a different group of diverse young people—diverse not only in age, gender, and ethnicity but also in educational pursuits and career interests.
These marvelous teens readily asked honest, engaging, and intelligent questions. LOVE has created a comfortable and open atmosphere, making it easy for thought-provoking dialogue to flourish. I was overwhelmed by the interest in publishing, although more of the group was interested in the writing of books, including one young woman who planned to write for Korean television shows and a sixteen-year-old guy who had written a manuscript inspired by The Catcher in the Rye. Unfortunately, many of the teens had a distant view of publishing—one in which somewhere the gatekeepers make the books. In addition to questions about college majors and SATs, they wanted to know how to get into publishing.
HAPPY BISEXUAL AWARENESS DAY It may be Banned Books Week - but it’s also Biweek. Put together by GLAAD, Biweek is a place to celebrate bisexuality.
But independently of Biweek is today - Bisexuality Awareness Day / Bisexuality Visibility Day! Celebrated for years in the bisexual community, it’s a place to celebrate and showcase bisexuality, which often gets erased in mainstream media.
How could we resist getting involved? Our good friend Dahlia Adler shared her list of books with amazing bisexual representation for us to share with all of you. Her guide to QUILTBAG / LGBTQIA+ representation in the writing world is astounding, and we highly recommend you check it out!
Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis • Geography Club by Brent Hartinger • Pantomime by Laura Lam • Shadowplay by Laura Lam • The Elementals by Saundra Mitchell • Over You by Amy Reed • The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar • The Fourth Wish by Lindsay Ribar • Twin Sense by Lydia Sharp • Far From You by Tess Sharpe • Coda by Emma Trevayne
Which one of these books - or characters - is your favorite?
“POINTE is the third book I’ve written about a teenage black girl, but it’s the first in which her race was not the focal point or even a subplot of the story. As someone who grew up black in a predominantly white town in southwest Missouri, I wanted to write a character who dealt with some of the day-to-day issues and obstacles I’d experienced without that being the point of the book. I was very involved in academics and extracurricular activities as a child and teen, and although it was a little tough almost always being the only black person in the room, or being the first black person to, for instance, join my high school’s dance team, I think those years were instrumental in shaping the person I am today. Overall, I had a great time in high school and tried to make the best of it. If people were going to notice me for being different anyway, I wanted them to especially notice me for my accomplishments. I believe Theo has a similar attitude.”
author Brandy Colbert (@brandycolbert) talks about her debut novel Pointe, writing a girl of color, her writing advice and much more in our Twitter-style interview.
We’re also giving away a couple of finished copies of Pointe. This is a knock-out contemporary YA novel.
We found three diverse books that are being released this week. The fun thing is that one is historical, one is contemporary, and one is a dystopian. Here they are in chronological order.
Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle - HMH Books for Young Readers
Summary: One hundred years ago, the world celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, which connected the world’s two largest oceans and signaled America’s emergence as a global superpower. It was a miracle, this path of water where a mountain had stood—and creating a miracle is no easy thing. Thousands lost their lives, and those who survived worked under the harshest conditions for only a few silver coins a day.
From the young “silver people” whose back-breaking labor built the Canal to the denizens of the endangered rainforest itself, this is the story of one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, as only Newbery Honor-winning author Margarita Engle could tell it. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads
Drama Queens in the House by Julie Williams - Roaring Brook Press
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Jessie Jasper Lewis doesn’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t surrounded by method actors, bright spotlights, and feather boas. Her parents started the Jumble Players Theater together, and theater is the glue that holds her crazy family together. But when she discovers that her father’s cheating on her mother with a man, Jessie feels like her world is toppling over. And on top of everything else, she has to deal with a delusional aunt who is predicting the end of the world. Jessie certainly doesn’t feel ready to be center stage in the production that is her family. But where does she belong in all of this chaos? — Cover image and summary via Goodreads
Wanderers (Wasteland, #2)by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan - HarperTeen
Summary: The former citizens of Prin are running out of time. The Source has been destroyed, so food is scarcer than ever. Tensions are rising…and then an earthquake hits.
So Esther and Caleb hit the road, leading a ragtag caravan. Their destination? A mythical city where they hope to find food and shelter – not to mention a way to make it past age nineteen.
On the way, alliances and romances blossom and fracture. Esther must rally to take charge with the help of a blind guide, Aras. He seems unbelievably cruel, but not everything is as it seems in the Wasteland.…
In this sequel to Wasteland, the stakes are even higher for Esther, Caleb, and the rest of their clan. They’re pinning all their hopes on the road…but what if it’s the most dangerous place of all? – Cover image and summary via Goodreads
Rich in Color always does a great job of bringing attention to new, diverse releases!
For more book recommendations, check out the CBC Diversity Goodreads Bookshelf to find over 2,000 new and classic diverse titles to add to your collection.
Every six months or so, I see an essay devoted to the absence of religion and characters of faith in young adult literature. Google “religion in YA” and you’ll see plenty of posts which rightly address the fact that only a small percentage of the books marketed to teenagers by major publishers include any reference to religion. Most of these are consistently found in historical fiction.
Studies show that a lack of religious content in YA books is not due to a lack of adolescent interest in matters of faith. According to Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (2005, Oxford University Press), 60% of teens say that religious faith is an important part of their lives, and 40% pray every day. Thirty-five percent attend weekly services of some kind, while another 15% go to church at least once a month. One in four report that they are “born again.”
I know these facts to be true—not only from survey data, but from personal experience.
Please tell us about the most recent diverse book you published.
I have two answers for that, both examples of the different ways I would define “diversity”:
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson, a fully-illustrated work of narrative nonfiction, tells the story of the African American experience through the lens of an “everywoman,” an elder whose own family history has spanned decades and intersected with defining moments in American history. It’s an extraordinary book which received a Coretta Scott King Medal and an Honor, for writing and illustration respectively. Kadir is an African American writer and artist, writing about his own heritage, which is probably the first way anyone might define a diverse book.
The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas is a less obvious example. It is a teen fantasy, the first in a trilogy, set partly in 19th century England and partly in a magical world parallel to our own. What makes the book “diverse” for me is that Sherry is a Chinese immigrant who came to the States when she was thirteen years old.
While I actively look for stories in which the authentic experience of race, ethnicity, or religion is explored, I also think we need more diversity of authors, period, who just write great stories, whether or not they feature diverse characters. I would never want diverse authors to be pigeonholed.