Technology always changes our reality and there are inevitable growing pains that go part and parcel with any innovation. Every meaningful advance always has social consequences. Always. From the G…
If you’d like to read more about diversity in children’s books, Kara’s blog is a good place to start.
I’ve been reading/listening to some interesting debates and discussions on social issues in children’s books and toys lately. Here are a few links worth checking out.
1. Missing in action figures
Without seeing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” I’ve heard enough about to know that the main protagonist, Rey, is female. So I was surprised to hear about her absence from most of the film’s merchandise. The Brood, a parenting podcast/radio show, dives into the details, reactions and corporate explanations.
2. More smiling slaves making desserts, more controversy
You may have heard about the backlash a few months ago over the portrayal of slaves in “A Fine Dessert.” Now a new picture book, “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” is receiving similar scrutiny.
3. ALA’s Youth Media awards are here, and so are some ugly reactions
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I will be joining Kara in this pledge. My Goodreads pledge is to read 100 books in 2015. This new resolution in support of #WeNeedDiverseBooks means half of my books read will represent diversity in all its strength and story.
The We Need Diverse Books campaign is challenging its supporters to pledge to read a certain number of diverse books this year. I am pledging to read 5o.
What qualifies as a diverse book? As the campaign challenge puts it: “Books where people of color can be first-page HEROES rather than second-class citizens. Books in which LGBTQIA characters can represent social CHANGE rather than social problems. And books where people with disabilities can be just…people.” I’ll also be making sure a majority of those books are also by diverse authors.
The campaign focuses on children’s literature, and the majority a large portion of my diverse reads will probably be picture books, but I will also be counting adult books, like “Half a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which I read at the end of 2014 and highly recommend.
Ngozi Adichie gave a TED talk on the critical misunderstandings created…
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Today is the last day to donate to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Indiegogo campaign (click here to contribute now), run by a powerhouse group of children’s book writers, illustrators, editors and agents dedicated to promoting diversity in children’s literature. Funds raised will be used primarily as grants for authors/illustrators bringing diverse stories to the field of children’s publishing.
I am not one of the powerhouses. But I am here to tell you why we need diverse books. I grew up straddling a strange divide between the Haves and the Have-nots, a sort of Half-Star Sneetch on the beach. When my half-star caught the sun, it looked like the real thing. I was viewed and treated as a Star-Belly Sneetch by most of the others who had stars upon thars. But when I met up with the other Sneetches on the beach–the ones with no marshmallows or hotdogs–most of them accepted me as one of their own. They didn’t see my half star, but noticed instead my deeply tanned skin, my unusual eyes, the shape of my nose and lips. Look for yourself. You’ll see it if you’re paying attention.
I grew up as the daughter of a U.S.-born mother, four generations removed from her mixed European heritage. And also as the daughter of an apostate immigrant from Pakistan, a father who rejected his home country but never quite settled into his chosen one, either. When I was growing up, NO one was writing stories about my kind of family. Post-911, most people still aren’t.
I distinctly remember the first time I had a sense of self-recognition in relation to a work of art. I was a young adult working as a Spanish-bilingual teacher in the Mission District of San Francisco when the movie East is East (1999) came out. Set in England, the story of a Pakistani father, English mother and mixed-heritage children resonated deeply with me. I laughed and laughed and knew it for true. It grieves me to realize I did not know until just now that two sequels followed this movie–they did not make it past “mainstream” American media filters.
The second and only other time I have recognized myself in art was just last week. Offended by images of scantily-clothed and oversexed female superheroes in a Marvel Supergirl comic, I went in search of something more realistic. And this is what I found:
The newest version of Ms. Marvel, written by G. Willow Wilson and especially as drawn by Adrian Alphona, tells the story of an immigrant’s daughter, a Pakistani teen from Jersey City who unexpectedly acquires shape-shifting powers. Once again, I encountered in fiction conversations and family relationships that mirrored my own experiences growing up.
Why is this so important? We read stories to make sense of our lives. Stories lay down pathways for us–how to be, how not to be–and give us the opportunity to rehearse living, in our imaginations where no harm can be done. What would we do in any given situation? And even more importantly, what could we do? What are the possibilities of our human life?
We need stories that mirror ALL of humanity for our children, not just images and stories of those in the most privileged groups, from their perspective. We need stories that demonstrate the inequities of oppression, and stories that illustrate the discomfort of privilege in the face of that inequity. We need stories about people in and out of the mainstream struggling with issues of power and institutionalized discrimination. We need stories showing how people can work together, how we can learn about each other, how we can bridges gaps of culture and power. And we also need stories of everyday life–of friendship, love, family, school–that feature ALL of our world’s children.
Sometimes when I get on this soapbox, I am accused of repeating the same, exhausted tirade about the world’s injustices. How can I hope to convince others, to make change in the world, if I keep repeating the same “failed” story? Here is what I say in response to that:
From my perspective as a first-generation, mixed-race Pakistani-American woman–The story is not failing. It is finally being told effectively for the first time. People of privilege have NEVER been eager to hear about the underside of their positions of power, and they never will. These people often put considerable personal and institutional effort into silencing the untold stories of the oppressed. But in spite of that, we are still speaking out, more loudly and numerously than ever. AND IT IS MAKING A DIFFERENCE.
From my perspective as an apparently “white,” educated, upper-middle class American citizen–As members of a privileged group becoming aware of the inequities of power and how we benefit from the systematic discrimination in place, we have a responsibility to listen to the stories of the oppressed. Disempowered people are telling these stories over and over because inequity and discrimination HURT them. Institutionalized “-isms” and stereotypes are DAMAGING and WOUNDING people. They have stories to tell, and we have an obligation to listen, because refusing to listen to the story–or even worse, discrediting it–in itself is an act of abuse. Refusing to allow ourselves to feel discomfort when we hear what it’s like to be alive while black, for example, keeps the horror of inequity and oppression away from us and pushes it back toward the people who have already been holding it too long.
What can you do?
Read more about the We Need Diverse Books campaign on:
Read a different kind of book! What I’m reading now:
The story of a thirteen-year old Palestinian Muslim girl living in the West Bank, who travels illegally to Jerusalem, believing that if she can return with a piece of her lost homeland, it will save her ailing grandmother.
Great ideas for self-employed artists (especially those of us with young kids)!
GUEST POST by Carrie Charley Brown
You’ve taken the first day of school pictures, posted them on Facebook, and sent the kids back to school, backpacks and all. YAY! Some of you are rushing off to work yourselves. Then there are others, like me, who are working from home. We all have our own sets of challenges.
Personally, I struggle with the early morning wake-up call. When I #dragmybuttouttabed at 5:00 a.m., I’m not quite ready to tackle any goals. I put on my parent hat and slurp my cup of coffee while barking out reminders to my three drowsy children. After delivering them to three different schools, it takes every part of my being to resist the urge to go back to sleep. Enter the schedule. I know, I know…a schedule alone could send you back to your dreamy soft pillow. We’re taking baby steps here people. It…
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Kara Newhouse shares a red-hot mission on her blog: social change through kid lit. Does it get any better than that?
One summer in college I interned at the Human Rights Campaign (a national nonprofit that advocates on LGBTQ issues). My supervisor quickly noticed my keen eye for spelling and grammar errors and put me to work on long hours of copy editing bibliographies. I can’t think of a more boring thing to copy edit, since it’s not even sentences and paragraphs, but the upshot was that some of the sections were lists of children’s books with LGBTQ themes. At the time, I hadn’t read any books like And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.
How cool! I thought immediately. Most of the books seemed to have a message that having gay parents or being a gender non-conforming kid is A-OK, like the two more recent picture books I reviewed on this site in June. So my next thought was, Now we need children’s books where gender and sexuality’s not…
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I’ll be pinning this list up on the bulletin board above my computer, and re-reading it every time I revise.
- Query is for a book in a genre I don’t represent.
- Query is for a vampire book. Come back in 3-5 years.
- Query letter is addressed to “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.”
- Query letter is addressed to “Dear Agent.” My name is not Agent.
- Query letter is not addressed at all. It just begins, “Hi!”
- Query letter is addressed to Kristin Nelson. (This is not a problem if you’re actually sending your query letter to Kristin Nelson.)
- Query letter is 2 pages long.
- Query opens with a rhetorical question.
- Query opens with a tagline.
- Author has spent too much time constructing a one-sentence hook and not enough building the rest of the query.
- By the end of the query, I’ve learned more about the author than I have about the book. (Does not apply to nonfiction.)
- I can see that you’ve copied 100 other agents…
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Love these reminders, so well-expressed. I appreciate the tenderness with which Mylisa Larsen holds herself and her ideas.
“Where do you get your ideas?”
Man, I hate that question. Not because I’m jealously guarding writerly secrets. Not because I haven’t thought about it. A lot. Just because when I try to answer that question honestly, I babble.
Here’s the thing. Ideas are strange creatures. I know they’re out there. I see them out of the corner of my eye. But it might be in the grocery store. Or in the woods. Or looking at me from the window of a passing bus. Ideas don’t seem to have an established, identifiable habitat. Or habits. Sometimes they’re out wandering at 2 AM. Sometimes they refuse to show up at all until sleep needs have been lavishly met. They eat chocolate. No, grapefruit. Spicy fish?
It’s a puzzle. I can’t give a satisfying, tidy answer. But here are a few things that work for me.
Show up at your desk. And…
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Is your three-year old son asking for a tutu? Is your daughter wondering why Master Wu only picked boys to become the Ninja who save the Lego world of Ninjago? Do you gag when you cruise the color-coded toy aisles of Target? Read this!
Check out Tara Lazar’s inspiring blog to join the Picture Book Idea Month–30 new picture book ideas in 30 days. This will be my first time to pursue my writing goals so ambitiously. Wish me luck!