Also worth checking out is the #DiversityIsNot hashtag, which has been at the centre of a thoughtful discussion that’s happening alongside the campaign. I must admit that I have complicated feelings about the inclusion of books like, say, The Summer Prince in the button above if that’s not accompanied by a discussion of where they fall short. As much as I want to be supportive of a novel by a woman of colour that’s successful at portraying sexuality in complex and interesting ways, it’s worth bearing in mind that not all forms of representation are created equal. I don’t necessarily want to praise a book for “being diverse” and going beyond the usual Anglo-centric settings if it does so in lazy, appropriative and stereotypical ways. Trying is important, but when you get it wrong and default to stereotypes, you risk doing more harm than good.
I could try to explain why all of this matters, but a lot of people, many of whom have experienced the consequences of lack of diversity in publishing firsthand, have done it much better than I could over the years. It seems more productive, then, to point you towards their words instead. So in case you’re wondering what this is all about, here’s a brief primer:
- Ari’s open letter to Bloomsbury Kids from January 2010 (when the cover of Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore was whitewashed) is still one of the most powerful pieces I’ve read on why stories that reflect the diversity of the world we live in are important.
- Tina Kügel illustrates the Cooperative Children's Book Center stats for diversity in children’s books.
- Malinda Lo’s Diversity in YA tag is an amazing resource, full of links to thoughtful essays and insightful data crunching.
- Case in point: Diversity in 2013 New York Times Young Adult Bestsellers
- More Facts and Figures About Race/Ethnicity in YA and Children’s Lit
- Why We Need More Writers of Colour and Indigenous Writers to Write Fantasy and Science Fiction by Hiromi Goto
- Aarti’s introduction to A More Diverse Universe
- Zetta Elliott: Achieving Equality in Publishing
- The Time I Cried All Over David Levithan (Or: Representation Matters)
- School Library Journal: The Diversity Issue
The final stage of the the We Need Diverse Books campaign asks participants who can afford to do so at the moment to “put their money where their mouth is and buy diverse books and take photos of them”, adding that “Diversify Your Shelves is all about actively seeking out diverse literature in bookstores and libraries”.
If you can’t afford to buy books right now, suggesting a purchase to your library is also an excellent way to support the campaign. I’ve had conversations with Twitter friends before where they say they feel guilty asking their library to buy stuff during times of budget cuts, but as a library insider I absolutely promise that’s not a problem at all. Purchase suggestions are tools that allow acquisitions departments to gauge community interest, and the more financial pressures libraries face, the more useful that is.
With the above in mind, today I’m sharing my latest book order with you:
- The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata: the 2013 National Book Award winner sounds right up my alley. I also have Kadohata’s Kira-Kira on my TBR, and really need to make time for it sooner rather than later.
- A Step From Heaven by An Na: Speaking of awards, I’ve been meaning to get my hands on the 2000 winner of the Printz for ages, and today’s campaign proved a perfect excuse.
- Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson: My recent Readathon experience put me in the mood for more novels in verse. I already know Woodson is an amazing writer and I’m really looking forward to this one.
- Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai: As above re: novels in verse.
- 19 Varieties of Gazelle by Naomi Shihab Nye: After adding the four aforementioned titles to my basket, I realised they all had one thing in common: they were either winners or finalists for the National Book Award. So I thought I’d browse their Young People’s Literature category, and that’s where I came across my final choice. 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East was a finalist in 2002, and Naomi Shihab Nye is also the author of “Gate A-4”, a poem that shows up in my tumblr dashboard every now and then and that never fails to move me.
There you have it: five books I’m incredibly excited to read. Taking part in today’s campaign was a reminder of something I already know but that always bears repeating: reading more diversely is not the literary equivalent of eating my greens. It’s not a sacrifice of literary quality (however you define that) and reading enjoyment for a good cause; it’s merely a recognition that the world is not a level playing field; that there are reasons that go far, far beyond “literary merit” involved in why I come across some books much more easily than others; and that it’s up to me to make a conscious effort not to deprive myself of a wealth of excellent literature that can show me what the world looks like from different perspectives and thus enrich my reading life.
Lastly, to make things more fun I’m giving away a copy of one of the five books above. Just tell me which one interests you the most in a comment before Monday and you’ll be entered. The giveaway is open worldwide and I’ll be in touch with the winner next week.