Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of talk on Twitter about lack of diversity in books for young people. It seems that adult fiction (literary, mostly) has no problem featuring people of different cultures, but the same isn’t happening in picture books, middle grade reads or young adult stories. And if there are characters of different races in those books, most often they are minor characters who play a stereotypical role (the repressed girl in a hijab, the African-American boy involved with a gang, the Asian friend who is immersed in school and nothing else). Why is this happening, and why aren’t more people working to change this problem?
Stories are reflections of ourselves. We read to see ourselves in characters, to live through their experiences, to be challenged by thoughts, and to make sense of our world through stories. But what if you’re not seeing yourself in books? What is the message? The message is that you don’t count, that your experiences aren’t valued or important, and that shouldn’t be the case. Every story deserves to be told, regardless of and especially because of the differences. And for young people, the message that there is diversity in our world is the most important thing of all. Young people need to see themselves in books to KNOW that they matter.
This isn’t the fault of authors alone, of course. There might be many authors around the world writing for youth with diverse characters and settings. The problem might also lie within the publishing realm. Publishing companies want to make money. That’s their primary goal, of course. And to make money, they have to sell commercially viable books. If they buy a book they know will only sell a few thousand copies, they’re going to spend more than they end up making, and that’s just not good business sense, no matter how socially responsible. Smaller, more independent publishers might have a little more leeway to publish books aimed at a specific market, but those books will most likely not reach a great portion of the public either, and so we’re still left with the same problem.
Some of the solution might belong with self-publishing, especially now that self-published books are becoming mainstream. Authors who self-publish can write any type of characters they wish, without input from a publishing house. And while more and more self-published books are coming to the forefront of public interest, it’s up to the author to do as much marketing as possible to get their books out there. It’s also up to the general reading public to RECOMMEND those books featuring socially diverse characters and themes to other readers. If you buy a book you love, pass it on, share the name with a friend, and give that book some legs! It’s one of the ways we can find a solution to this problem.
Right now, there is a Twitter campaign going on to shine some light on the subject of diversity. If you’re on Twitter, type in the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks to follow and participate in the conversation. There have been a lot of wonderful tweets lately, such as:
#WeNeedDiverseBooks because I can read 100 talking animal picture books at storytime, but struggle finding books with African American kids. ——Twitter user Trish Doller @TrishDoller
#WeNeedDiverseBooks and that includes socio-economic diversity!——-Twitter user OrigamiYoda @OrigamiYoda
#WeNeedDiverseBooks because there should be no such category as diverse books. They should all just be “books”. —-Twitter user Marci Curtis @Marci_Curtis
And so, if you’d like to participate in the campaign, it begins today. Here are the plans:
On May 1st at 1pm (EST), there will be a public call for action that will spread over 3 days. They’re starting with a visual social media campaign using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks. They want people to tweet, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, blog, and post anywhere they can to help make the hashtag go viral.
For the visual part of the campaign:
- Take a photo holding a sign that says “We need diverse books because ___________________________.” Fill in the blank with an important, poignant, funny, and/or personal reason why this campaign is important to you.
- The photo can be of you or a friend or anyone who wants to support diversity in kids’ lit. It can be a photo of the sign without you if you would prefer not to be in a picture. Be as creative as you want! Pose the sign with your favorite stuffed animal or at your favorite library. Get a bunch of friends to hold a bunch of signs.
- However you want to do it, we want to share it! There will be a Tumblr at http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com/ that will host all of the photos and messages for the campaign. Please submit your visual component by May 1st to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “photo” or submit it right on our Tumblr page here and it will be posted throughout the first day.
- Starting at 1:00PM (EST) the Tumblr will start posting and it will be your job to reblog, tweet, Facebook, or share wherever you think will help get the word out.
- The intent is that from 1pm EST to 3pm EST, there will be a nonstop hashtag party to spread the word. They hope to get enough people to participate to make the hashtag trend and grab the notice of more media outlets.
- The Tumblr will continue to be active throughout the length of the campaign, and for however long needed to keep this discussion going, so everyone is welcome to keep emailing or sending in submissions even after May 1st.
On May 2nd, the second part of the campaign will roll out with a Twitter chat scheduled for 2pm (EST) using the same hashtag. Please use #WeNeedDiverseBooks at 2pm on May 2nd and share your thoughts on the issues with diversity in literature and why diversity matters to you.
On May 3rd, 2pm (EST), the third portion of the campaign will begin. There will be a Diversify Your Shelves initiative to encourage people to put their money where their mouth is and buy diverse books and take photos of them. Diversify Your Shelves is all about actively seeking out diverse literature in bookstores and libraries, and there will be some fantastic giveaways for people who participate in the campaign.
We Need Diverse Books for young people!
(Information about the campaign taken from We Need Diverse Books)