The #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign
It’s a sad truth that the hardest part of my job – and the most time consuming – is going through every resource I can to try and find books with diverse characters or written by diverse authors. As a woman, I know how empowering it is for me to see positive depictions of women in the media, so I want those for my tweens and teens as well. I want them to read about and see on the covers a diverse population that looks more like the real world we live in.
As I mentioned the other day, the Tween and I have been doing a rewatch of Buffy. I never noticed how the cast really lacked diversity, especially in the beginning seasons. In fact, the first recurring POC character wasn’t introduced until season 3 – and he’s a bad guy named Trick. It is possible that some of the other main characters identify as nonwhite, I don’t know, but that’s not what you see on the screen. In later seasons Principal Wood was added to the cast, but if I was being honest about this show I love, it gets an F in diversity. And a lot of people feel that Middle Grade and Young Adult books get an F in diversity as well.
To understand the magnitude of the issue, School Library Journal looked at 2013 titles and found that there were five – yes, 5 – middle grade titles released in 2013 that featured a black boy as a main character.
- Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng
- The Cruisers: Oh, Snap! by Walter Dean Myers (part of a series)
- STAT: Standing Tall and Talented: Slam Dunk by Amar’e Stoudemire
- STAT: Standing Tall and Talented: Schooled by Amar’e Stoudemire
- Streetball Jammers: Sasquatch in the Paint by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Do be sure an check out the SLJ article because there are some interesting comments. For example, Kate Messner discusses her Silver Jaguar Society books, which include Capture the Flag and Hide and Seek, which have a diverse cast of three main characters. They are fun mysteries, sort of in the vein of National Treasure for middle grade readers.
Diversity matters because we life in a diverse world. There are 7 billion people on this planet. There are 313.9 million people living in America. Only 63% of those Americans identify as White, Non Hispanic. That means that 37% of the U.S. population identifies as something other than Caucasian. But do 37% of our books feature Tweens and Teens that identify as POC? The answer is no. There is a lot of really good information about this at Diversity in YA and I suggest you spend some quality time there. They really take a look at the bestseller lists, break down what is happening and share upcoming titles that you’ll want to add to your collection.
Diversity is about more than just representation for POC. It is about better representation for woman, for GLBTQ teens, and for characters with disabilities. So when things recently reached a tipping point, a campaign was put together: #WeNeedDiverseBooks. This campaign is really important and I hope that everyone will participate.
What can you do?*
RIGHT NOW (or sometime before May 1), take a photograph that in some way states why you think we need books that represent all of us. The photo can capture whatever it is you want to highlight. The planners suggest holding a sign that says “We need diverse books because _____.” Send your photo to email@example.com or submit it via the Tumblr page. Starting at 1:00 PM EST on May 1, 2014 people will be using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks to share the photos.
On May 2, 2014 there will be a Twitter chat–again using that hashtag–at 2:00 PM EST. Share your thoughts on existing problems with the lack of diversity in children’s and young adult literature, and share the positives, too.
On May 3, 2014 at 2:00 EST there will be book giveaways and a “put your money where your mouth is” component to the campaign.
Visit the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Tumblr, often
*I totally lifted the What Can You Do section of this post off of Debbie Reese’s American Indians in Children’s Literature blog. Visit it here for some great discussion on the representation of American Indians in children’s and YA lit.
Filed under: Diversity
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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