We Need Diverse Books…and What We Can Do About It
I’ve been kind of blue all day. It started with me reading all these sharp, short, and clever posts at #WeNeedDiverseBooks and knowing I wanted to jump in, but having this weird feeling that I…shouldn’t. All right, I’m risking showing off a few neuroses here, and I’m going to keep this part of the post short because this is so not about my worries, but I want to share because, well…it’s possible others are having some of these feelings, too. So, basically, my initial self-centered responses were a mix of:
- I have been very lucky in terms of not having my identity attacked, ignored or dismissed–so lucky that I have no real stories to share.
- As a child, I wasn’t looking for other Jews/Jewish atheists in stories; I was looking for other insecure girls who escaped the world by curling up alone with a book. And I found plenty of those. So I basically got to spend my youth recognizing myself over and over and over in books. Again, lucky.
- When I went to look at my shelves, I was hit with some guilt at the small number of books I had to include in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks photo I did post. Mixed in with recognition that most of the books I save on my shelf are favorites from my childhood and that, while I still believe them to be wonderful books, we are much further along now than we were then in showing the entire, real world in stories. We still have a long way to go, yes, but we’re moving. And mixed in, also, with the happiness that I do have these particular books in my life.
- A sense, obviously left over from when I was like FIFTEEN?!, that I am somehow not cool enough to join in this fight. I know…whatever THAT’s about! But I think, again, it’s tied to my feeling of luck, of privilege, of having escaped that isolation of NOT seeing myself in my chosen world. For pete’s sake, there were certainly plenty of times I didn’t see myself in the real world around me, but I did–time and time again–choose books over that world, so, you know…it worked. Because books always told me there were others like me. So how could I step up to the plate and speak “for” others who weren’t given that experience?
And then I started reading a few more of the posts. The signs. Seeing and hearing about the kids. And, honestly, the blueness turned to waves of sorrow. Because, crap, what we’re still doing to children by not representing them in stories. What we did to their parents. Worse, still, what we’re doing to all of them by representing the world as some narrow little definition of peoplehood, of reality, of cool.
So I gave myself a shake and told myself to shake off my stupid, self-centered fretting and shift my attitude. It is my fight, because I care about children and I care about stories, and if you tell me the two are not inextricably connected, I will argue with you even after I lose my voice. So here’s my commitment to myself. I will…
- Actively look for books that represent the real world, the whole world. I’ll start by building a list of those everyone is mentioning/showing in their WeNeedDiverseBooks posts.
- Buy more of these books.
- Check out more of these books from my library.
- Put in requests for my library buy more of these books.
- Talk about these books on my blog and via social networking.
- Talk more.
- Push myself to include diversity in my own stories. This means getting past the slight laziness about doing research and getting past the bigger fear that I will say something wrong, depict someone stereotypically, offend someone or hurt their feelings. And I will do my best to find Beta readers who can help me avoid/correct all those things.
I don’t know if it’s enough. I don’t know if these are the right steps. But I know I’m doing something.
And in case you can’t see the titles in the photo, they are:
- Christopher Paul Curtis’ The Watsons Go To Birmingham 1963
- Chris Moriarty’s The Inquisitor’s Apprentice
- Margot Benary-Isbert’s The Ark (out of print and very expensive used; try hunting for it your libraries)
- Doris Gates’ Blue Willow
- Steve Kluger’s My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park
- Kathryn Fitzmaurice’s A Diamond in the Desert
- Joyce Moyer Hostetter’s Blue
- Tim Federle’s Five, Six, Seven, Nate
- Jeannine Atkins’ Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madame C.J. Walker, Marie Curie, and their Daughters
- Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family
- Zizou Corder’s Lionboy
I like you book selection, Becky! I agree that our job is to represent “peoplehood.” Good way of putting it.
I think this is a brave post, Becky. I’ve struggled with some of the same issues, in thinking about this campaign. Thanks for sharing your plans! They’ll help.
Thanks, Jen. That means a lot, coming from you. 🙂
Awesome post. And you captured a lot of my feelings perfectly. Heck, I wasn’t even Jewish as a kid – I converted as a grownup. So I just looked for adventure and escape in books, and always found it.
I am proud, though, that my picture book was illustrated to include all sorts of families, even though the credit really goes to the publisher.
You should be proud. And keep some of that credit for yourself! Thanks for your comments on the post, too. “Adventure and escape,” yes–following those kids who were like me in so many ways, EXCEPT that they had adventures. Very much the armchair explorer, me, as a kid. 🙂