Day by Day Diversity

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

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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?

Me.

You.

Everybody.

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 Replies to “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-GarciaTHE RED UMBRELLA by Christina Diaz GonzalezTHE WHOLE STORY OF HALF A GIRL by Veera HiranandaniEXCLUSIVELY CHLOE by J.A. YangBAMBOO 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 HidierHouse on Mango Street by Sandra CisnerosThe Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee DivakaruniHome is with our Family by Joyce HansenSold by Patricia McCormick.We have loads of NF too 🙂

  4. 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 SimsThanks for your great blog!

  5. TEACAKES FOR TOSH by Kelly Starling Lyons and E.B. LewisTAMALITOS by Jorge Argueta and DomiGRANDMA'S CHOCOLATE by Mara Price and Lisa FieldsA KID'S GUIDE TO ARAB AMERICAN HISTORY by Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha AddasiFLYING THE DRAGON by Natalie Dias LorenziThanks so much for this post. I like your noise. 🙂 I will do better.

  6. From my YA shelf:GREEN, by Jay LakeX IN FLIGHT, by Karen RiversYEAR OF THE GOLDEN DRAGON, by B.L. SauderSILVER PHEONIX, by Cindy PonAnd (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

  7. 1. Proxy by Alex London2. The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman3. Hand in Hand by Andrea Davis Pinkney4. The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith5. The Language Inside by Holly Thompson

  8. I will stick to MG/YA novels read recentlyShooting Kabul N.H. SenzaiCrow Barbara WrightCopper Sun Sharon DraperOne Crazy Summer Rita Williams-GarciaFatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha LaiImportant post- thank you!

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