Day by Day Diversity

Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

As of last year, babies from so-called “minority” communities became the majority born in the United States, and it’s by no means the only nation with a diverse population.

At the same time, representation of books by and about people of color, citizens of Native nations and those from the LGBT community are slim to statistically insignificant in the body of youth literature.

That’s a problem because it suggests to kids from those communities that people like them don’t belong in the world of books, because it suggests to everyone else that they don’t matter, and because we’re losing out on some amazing stories. It’s also discouraging to writers and artists who hail from those same backgrounds. It says to them that their artistic talents are not needed, possibly even that they’re not welcome.

All of us in the conversation of children’s-YA books are responsible for that reality. 

We have to own it. 

And here’s the harder part: we have to do something about it?




It’s personal to each of us and all of us. These are all our kids, these are the stories we’re producing and supporting and passing on. How are we doing? How can we do a better job?

Let’s take stock.

Move to your closest bookshelf. Start pulling relatively recent books by and/or about people from the underrepresented communities. How does that stack look? Should it be taller?

Here are the five books at the top of my stack:

Bronxwood by Coe Booth (YA)

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami (MG)

Chained by Lynne Kelly (MG)

The Agency: The Traitor in the Tunnel (A Mary Quinn Mystery) by Y.S. Lee (YA)

 Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (YA)

What are the five books at the top of yours?

Could you share the titles in the comments to help raise awareness?

Is your stack looking a bit short? You don’t have (at least) five?

Hit your local bookstore or buy online. On a budget? Try the public library. If the books aren’t on the shelf, by all means, request them. Requests prove interest and audience.

Are you a children’s/YA book blogger or author blogger? Scroll through your posts—a few months of them. Do the books you feature include those with African-American protagonists? Those illustrated by Asian-American artists? Or is it a sea of white?

Meet Yoshi Kitahara in Feral Nights

If the latter, are you sincerely interested in changing that? What practical day-by-day steps will you take?

Then start thinking bigger picture – in terms of diversity of region, socio-economics, factor in protagonists with physical or mental challenges, or from other countries other than your own.

You know what best connects “multicultural” books to young readers?

Word of mouth.  

We think of effecting change through big words, and those do have a tremendous impact. But everyday, consistent speech can make a huge difference, too.

Am I making enough noise?

Are you?

10 thoughts on “Day by Day Diversity

  1. The You Know Who Girls: Freshman Year, by Annameekee Hesik
    Trash, by Andy Mulligan
    Shooting Kabul, by N.H. Senzai
    Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo (not children's or YA, but it's sitting behind me with the others)

    Those are better-than-usual odds given the number of books in the stack, but they could still be better.

  2. * Yes, you are making enough noise. Thank you!
    Some of my noise –

    ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia
    THE RED UMBRELLA by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
    THE WHOLE STORY OF HALF A GIRL by Veera Hiranandani
    BAMBOO PEOPLE by Mitali Perkins

  3. The demographics are astounding, but not surprising given the high rate of contraception.

    Here are some on my shelf that haven't been mentioned:
    Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
    House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
    The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
    Home is with our Family by Joyce Hansen
    Sold by Patricia McCormick.

    We have loads of NF too 🙂

  4. 5 from my shelves:

    DOES MY HEAD LOOK BIG IN THIS?, Randa Abdel-Fattah
    DAVID INSIDE OUT, Lee Bantle
    THE WAY WE FALL, Megan Crewe
    LIAR, Justine Larbalestier

  5. Great post. I get most of my books from the wonderfully diverse collection at the Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon, but was pleased to find five on the shelves of my tiny apartment. They're not all young adult, but good for any age reader:
    *Little White Duck, by Na Liu (which I just reviewed)
    *Leaving Gees Bend by Irene Latham
    *Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexi
    *Storyteller's Beads by Jane Kurtz
    *Moon Otter and Frog by Laura Sims
    Thanks for your great blog!

  6. TEACAKES FOR TOSH by Kelly Starling Lyons and E.B. Lewis

    TAMALITOS by Jorge Argueta and Domi

    GRANDMA'S CHOCOLATE by Mara Price and Lisa Fields

    A KID'S GUIDE TO ARAB AMERICAN HISTORY by Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha Addasi

    FLYING THE DRAGON by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    Thanks so much for this post. I like your noise. 🙂 I will do better.

  7. From my YA shelf:

    GREEN, by Jay Lake

    X IN FLIGHT, by Karen Rivers


    SILVER PHEONIX, by Cindy Pon

    And (I hope this isn't obnoxious, can't resist, it's my own first book!) THE LAST DAYS OF TIAN DI: SHADE & SORCERESS by Catherine Egan

  8. 1. Proxy by Alex London
    2. The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman
    3. Hand in Hand by Andrea Davis Pinkney
    4. The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith
    5. The Language Inside by Holly Thompson

  9. I will stick to MG/YA novels read recently

    Shooting Kabul N.H. Senzai
    Crow Barbara Wright
    Copper Sun Sharon Draper
    One Crazy Summer Rita Williams-Garcia
    Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
    Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
    Important post- thank you!

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