Day of Diversity Panel 1: Diversity in Children’s Literature — History & Myths

To transcribe my notes seemed quite cumbersome, so hopefully these make sense — if not, let me know and I’ll try to put them into paragraph form 🙂

Diversity in Children’s Literature:  History & Myths

Milestones/How far we’ve come:

  • Increase of POC in Publishing – Still not many, but more than zero.
  • A few HUGE bestsellers by People of Color (POC) – Dork Diaries, Wonder, Out of My Mind

What are the Myths?

Jason Low (Lee & Low Books):

  • MYTH:  Diversity is only missing in the publishing industry sue isn’t limited only to the publishing industry
  • FACT:  The Diversity gap spans industries including media (note the most recent Oscar nominations, the Sci-Fi industry, etc), business, science…
  • Excellent blog:  http://blog.leeandlow.com/
  • Media acts like it’s a new issue every 3-5 years, we have to write about it, and then it dies out – but the issue is sustaining itself – we have to keep the balls in the air and move into action

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Gene Luen Yang (author):

Personal Note:  One of my favorite authors!

  • MYTH:  Diversity issues are a recent thing
  • FACT:  Every 3-5 years these issues come to light, get some press, and then disappear.
  • Gene looked at this issue through the lens of graphic novels which struggles with how do we depict other cultures in graphic novels?  It’s not all white men in capes.
  • Herge & Tin Tin:  The artwork evolves – starting w/the Blue Lotus, he struggles and tries to depict people of other cultures in a more authentic way
  • Some examples of great multicultural graphic novels:
    • For Kids:
      • Luke on the Loose (toon books) – a kid of any color can be a stand in
      • Gum Girl – Latina girl who chews so much gum she gets gum-like super powers – it even smells like gum!
      • Hereville – orthodox jewish community
    • For Teens:
      • Ms. Marvel
      • March
      • Anya’s Ghost
      • The Color of Earth

Adriana Dominguez (Agent):

  • MYTH:  Diverse Books Don’t Sell
  • FACT:  They do!  It’s just whether or not people want to see connections in the text
  • Ex.  Gaby Lost and Found has sold over 200,000 copies and is used in book clubs across the country — the novel centers on a girl who’s mother is deported and dealing with those issues — Personal Note:  LOVED this book)
  • There is not only one type of diverse book.  There are cross-sections and authors of color who write about nothing to do with race or ethnicity, etc.
  • For example, the book Taking Flight:  Could have been reduced to a book about a black ballerina but actually…  The classic Cinderella story; overcoming obstacles and following your dream.  Book has been optioned for film rights.
  • You are my baby series – Argentinian author, features no diverse peoples, all animals

KT Horning (CCBC):

  • MYTH:  We’re living in a post-racial society
  • Cites Larrick’s article in the Saturday Review back in 1965 citing the same issues
  • We Need Diverse Books – Important grass roots movement
  • “Buying a Book is a Political Act” — Put your money towards the books that are written with diversity in mind so that more books will be encouraged and purchased.
  • Feels one cause for the decrease is the budget cuts in libraries — less money = less time for review, less money for books, and relying primarily on Starred Reviews, Buzz, etc.  But these don’t necessarily designate quality.  Just popular.

What are the challenges we face when breaking down the walls that these myths stand behind?

  • KT Horning:  A feeling of powerlessness – what can we do?
    • Recognize the myths – white kids won’t read about kids of color – WRONG!  Kids want a good book above all
    • Recognize the Real power of librarians and our activities such as award committees – they make a huge difference to sales
      • Read the award books – Coretta Scott King, Pura Belpre, APALA Lit Awards, AILA Lit Awards, Stonewall, etc. — know them and promote them
    • Award Criteria changes?:  Consider the books in terms of diversity – books that reflect the diverse world
    • Rule of thumb:  Need at least 3 POC to effect change
  • Gene Luen Yang:
    • Book Displays in inconspicuous areas of the library (especially for LGBTQ issues so kids can see them but not feel too self-conscious)
  • Jason Low:
    • Look at your skill set and incorporate it into your everyday
    • Lee & Low poster on creating diverse collections
    • Talk about them ALL YEAR — not just during Black History Month, APA Month, Chinese New Year, etc.
  • Adriana Dominguez
    • Use the Cheat sheet for selling diversity by Grace Lin – Don’t just focus on the diversity parts, focus on the content of the story too.  Just becuase a kid is white or chinese doesn’t mean s/he only wants to read about kids who look like them although they should have that option http://www.gracelin.com/media/press/diversitycheatsheet.pdf
    • Be proactive

What are some of the examples of solutions and partnerships we should all explore further to go beyond myth to affect reality?

  • Link books together – if you like this book then you’ll also like…
    • Find connections that aren’t necessarily obvious
  • Alexis De Veaux – “Buying books is a political act.”  BUY THE BOOK
  • Pay attention to all award winners but also do your homework.  Don’t rely on lists already created.  Don’t rely on awards.  There are so many great books and options out there that may not make these lists.
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One thought on “Day of Diversity Panel 1: Diversity in Children’s Literature — History & Myths

  1. Pingback: First Up on the Agenda: Let’s Talk About Diversity | Lessa Librarian

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