Thursday, March 1, 2018

Hello, Diverse Kidlit. It's 2018. How are you?

I'm still basking in the brilliance of Black Panther. I'm still thrilled that the Newbery Medalist is Hello, Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly, a Filipino-American woman. And I'm not ecstatic only about  the medal winner. Did you take a look at the diversity that glows from the whole Newbery list? The Caldecott medal? And of course, the Coretta King Scott and Pura Belpré medalists and honors?

Does this mean our call for more Diverse Books has been answered? That we "made" it and now we can continue back to the usual programming?

This post is an invitation for dialog, and I realize I might be preaching to the choir. Our Project MG Mayhem audience is a group of people in love with children's literature, and the children we serve in our daily lives. As Daniel Tiger says, "Sharing is caring," and one of my languages of love is sharing books that reflect the childhood experience in all its facets, whether it be by my own writing or the writing of others with the same commitment as mine. For me, one of the greatest pleasures is matching a young reader with a great story I know they will love, either because it will act as a mirror or as a window into the lives of those with other experiences. This last time at the school fair, I was pleasantly surprised by the abundance of characters of color either in the covers or acting as protagonists in a variety of genre and storytelling form. I did however realize something the CCBC strongly notes in their yearly report on diversity in books.

If we look at the numbers compiled and provided by the CCBC in their 2017 Multicultural Report, we'll see that although the number of books with diverse characters has encouragingly increased from last year, only a small fraction of them were written by authors from communities considered as minorities:

  • 340 had significant African or African American content/characters.
    • 100 of these were by Black authors and/or illustrators. (29.41% #OwnVoices)
  • 72 had significant American Indian/First Nations content/characters.
    • 38 of these were by American Indian/First Nations authors and/or illustrators. (52.78% #OwnVoices)
  • 310 had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content/characters.
    • 122 of these were by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage. (39.35% #OwnVoices)
  • 216 had significant Latinx content/characters.
    • 73 of these were by Latinx authors and/or illustrators. (33.8% #OwnVoices)  
(Taken from the CCB Blog) 

The full study is more extensively reviewed on their website. Take a look at it please. 

In the rush to get more diversity in kidlit, a new phenomenon was born, that of the Sensitivity Reader. I was one myself, exclusively reading others' manuscripts with Latinx representation with so much demand for my services, that I put my own writing on the back burner for more than a year. My reasons for quitting being a Sensitivity Reader are echoed on this telling post by Justina Ireland, who previously had created a resource list for industry professionals listing a variety of cultural consultants (or sensitivity readers). In her post, she explains why she won't be promoting the "list" anymore or updating it. 

If we look at the diversity in not only the authors and illustrators ranks, but also agents, editors, reviewers, and book sellers, we'll see that there's still a long road to go. New York Times bestseller author, Dhonielle Clayton, recently expressed a wish that there were more Black women who could review her new book, The Belles. Based on the replies and the backlash to her tweet, it's blatantly obvious that her wish expressed a dire need for more representation on all levels of the publishing machine. 
Maybe our problem in kidlit (and literature and arts in general) has never been a need for more diverse books, but a need to decolonize our stories, as Junot Diaz explains in this interview from 2012. 

My friends, I don't have any answers or witty conclusions, but like I said earlier on my post, what do we do with the numbers we have? How do we best serve our readers from every culture and background better? 

If according to the CCB studies "A character in a picture book was 4 times more likely to be a dinosaur than an American Indian child," after all the push for diversity in the recent years, how is it best to proceed from now on? Where do we go from here?
Again, I don't have any answers, but being an immigrant, a Latina children's author living in the US, this issue touches me closely. It not only affects me professionally, but personally. Where are kids like my kids in kidlit? And when my kids do see themselves, what narrative are my children learning? Written by whom? I think about all these questions all the time. I'm eager to learn your thoughts. 


  1. Such an important topic. I do think we are seeing a change, albeit one that has not yet gained full speed. When I look at the book deal news I see new deals for #ownvoices authors. I hope to see your work pubbed soon, Yamile!

  2. Thanks for raising these questions, Yamile. Even if we don't have the exact right answers just yet, we need to keep thinking about this and talking about it. And those of us that are #ownvoices authors need to keep writing.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!