In this guest post, author and media literacy expert Tina L. Peterson, Ph.D., demonstrates how media literacy skills can help readers think deeply about diversity in books.
When I was a kid, I rarely paid attention to the ethnicities of characters in my favorite books. I probably assumed that, because I related to them, they were like me – white, suburban, and middle class. Despite the fact that many of my classmates and close friends were Latino and Asian, it didn’t occur to me that the characters in most books I read didn’t represent the mix of people in my life. Continue reading
The daughter of an anthropologist, Laura Reiko Simeon’s passion for diversity-related topics stems from her childhood spent living all over the US and the world. She fell in love with Sweden thanks to the Swedish roommate she met in Wales while attending one of the United World Colleges, international high schools dedicated to promoting cross-cultural understanding. Laura has an MA in History from the University of British Columbia, and a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Washington. She lives near Seattle.
As the Librarian and Diversity Coordinator at a school with a global population, my guiding vision is that the books I offer must be both mirrors that reflect children’s lives and windows that open up new worlds. This is a challenge when the small percentage of children’s books in English showing people of color is largely restricted to stories of oppression far removed from my students’ daily lives of homework, soccer, and wishing for a puppy. Of course it’s important to be aware of injustice, but it sends a powerful message if we only show racial diversity in settings of suffering and conflict.
While “diversity” is not generally the first word that comes to mind when Americans think of Sweden, today fully 20% of Swedes are either immigrants or children of immigrants, many from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Combine this with Swedes’ commitment to children’s rights and a vibrant literary and artistic community, and you have the perfect setting for stimulating debates and boundary-pushing creativity.
This year marks our 14th annual New Voices Award writing contest. Every year, LEE & LOW BOOKS gives the New Voices Award to a debut author of color for a picture book manuscript.
Did you know that last year, children’s books written by authors of color made up less than seven percent of the total number of books published? As a multicultural publisher, we’re dedicated to increasing those numbers. The New Voices Award is one way we can help new authors of color break into publishing.
In this new blog series, we thought it’d be fun to bring together some past New Voices Award winners on the blog to see how they got their start as authors, what inspires them, and where they are now.
Q: How did you start writing picture books?
Linda Boyden, The Blue Roses
Last month we announced the finalists of our first New Visions Award, a new writing award for a debut author of color for a middle grade or young adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery novel. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting these talented finalists on our blog as they answer questions about what inspires them, the writing process, and more. Perhaps among these five finalists you’ll find your next favorite author!
Q: What has been your experience writing from a different cultural background that may be unfamiliar to most young readers?
Ibi Zoboi, Haiti.
While most readers are familiar with Edwidge Danticat, there are, of course, other Haitian and non-Haitian writers telling stories about Haitian children. M. Sindy Felin’s Touching Snow was a National Book Award Finalist. The recent winner of the Printz Award is In Darkness, a story about a Haitian boy during the earthquake written by Nick Lake. One of my favorite Haitian YA books is Taste of Salt by the late Frances Temple.
Haiti has an amazing literary tradition and under a brutal dictatorship, writers either risked their lives or were sent into exile. So, for me, writing about Haiti is very political. Though, my stories are cloaked in a world of magic. What better way to convey Haiti’s complex history and mythology than in a young adult fantasy novel? This simply adds another layer of depth to what young readers already know about Haiti, or any given culture. They must know that culture is multi-dimensional and is not regulated to the superficial “facts” in the media. This is why mythology breathes life into everything I write. While the names and magical systems differ, there is an interconnecting power in world mythology that can resonate with any reader.