Sunday, February 22, 2015

Keeping It Real - Diversity in Books

On an evening when we're watching one of the least diverse Oscars in recent history, one wonders if this is the norm across all forms of media and entertainment.  

Unfortunately, the discussion of race in young adult novels is still a hot topic and has been  for sometime.  As Jen Doll in her article "The Ongoing Problem of Race in Y.A." notes, the three most popular Y.A. series, Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games all feature main characters who are white. Even a story aptly titled Divergent focuses on lead characters that are caucasian. 

However, things are changing.  We're excited about the range of stories that are now being told about people of colour in children's literature.  The Cooperative Children's Book Center tracks diversity in children's books and has seen their figures increase in recent years, specifically in African American and Asian/Pacific American titles.  

If you are interested in seeing more diversity in books, check out We Need Diverse Books, an organization focused on promoting diversification efforts and increasing visibility for diverse books and authors in children's literature. 

Hopefully by this time next year we'll see something a little more colorful at the Oscars than just the red carpet.


  1. Someone once told me that it was "lazy and racist" for a white author to write a book without "people of color" in it. But, as a white person, and an author, I find that statement highly offensive. Nobody complains when a black person or an asian person or a hispanic person writes stories about people that share their ethnicity. And why should they? In general, a person is uniquely qualified to write about their own ethnicity and culture. People tend to draw from their own experiences when they write. Shouldn't that include white people? Why should we point at white authors who write white characters and act as if they are the problem? (I'm not accusing you of this, but I see it a lot, especially from my fellow white authors.)

    Isn't it reasonable that, if most authors are white, then a majority of their books will feature white characters, therefore a majority of popular books will be stories that feature mainly white characters? This isn't racism. It's probability.

    We live in a diverse world, and I think our literature should reflect that. But I think sometimes this discussion ends up looking like "White BAD, Color GOOD."

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comment Rebecca. I would also find that comment offensive. I'm not Caucasian, but I too fall back on writing what I know. You'd think that it would be Joy Luck Club 2.0 but it's actually the opposite. As someone who's watched mostly American broadcast television (even though I'm Canadian) and grew up reading Tiger Beat and VC Andrews novels, a mainly Caucasian cast is what I'm used to. We're seeing more diversity in literature because people are demanding that now (and national demographics are changing), and it's great that this is starting with children's books. Because when diversity becomes "what you know", then it's no longer an issue :).

    1. That's interesting, Jenn. I once asked my husband, whose family is from Mexico, if he projected his own ethnicity onto ambiguous characters when he read, and he said he usually sees characters as white if they're not described otherwise. It makes sense that this is partly a result of what he saw in the media growing up. I didn't watch a lot of television when I was a kid, and I spent a large part of my childhood in an area where there was a very diverse mix of people. So to me, diversity really was "what I knew." Still, every one of my MCs (that's not an animal in a picture book) has been white, until recently when I started a project inspired in part by my own experiences in raising kids with mixed backgrounds.

      I think that, whatever people write, they should write authentically and without a sense of obligation.

  3. That's great that your new project is inspired by raising kids with mixed backgrounds. Sometimes people are afraid to write what they know or a story because they think it doesn't fit the popular norm. Hopefully as more diverse projects are written and published, we'll see writers explore new territory not because they feel forced to pursue it, but because it's something they've either always wanted to do but were afraid or just hadn't really thought of previously. Best of luck on your new project!