Anindita on Writing Diverse Characters

Growing up, I read almost no books in which characters looked like me, and when they did, they were usually trying to reconcile their Indian and American heritages. I didn’t like these books. Sure, they were a necessary step in multicultural literature, but to me, they were irrelevant. The presented a false dichotomy; my identity was much more complicated than two traits. Even worse: these books bored me. I liked adventures and mysteries, fantasy and science fiction. I had more in common with Meg Murry, who tessered to other planets, than with these characters who were supposed to represent me.

via Writing Diverse Characters | anindita.org.

Anindita B Sempere writes advice on how to write characters from diverse backgrounds. This quote really spoke to me because of an article I wrote a few weeks ago where I stated that reading Black books often feel like homework.

Books about different ethnicities and cultures don’t get to be “normal,” “fun” genres like science fiction and fantasy, mystery, or just a wacky tale with PoC characters. They’re often heavy hitting, historical novels or infodumps on cultural traditions–important, but boring to a kid who otherwise reads Harry Potter and, as Anindita mentions, A Wrinkle in Time. Ethnic characters don’t get to be the Meg Murrays or the Sammy Keyes (a personal childhood favorite), they must deal with racism and oppression and sometimes a kid just wants a character who looks like them to have fun, have adventures.

Hopefully, the diversity campaigns going around (#weneeddiversebooks in particular) help make change, make awareness, so that children of different nationalities can pick up a book and find someone like them and also learn about characters who are not like them, without feeling like they’re going to be asked to write a book report afterwards. So that they know that children of color can enjoy life too.

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Library Overload

Library Overload I want to read all these books all at once! I’ve overwhelmed myself and don’t want to return any of them, I want to read them all right now! #thatwouldbeoneofmysuperpowers #andinstanttransportation I hope to report on these books soon, but I also have work for a science fiction/fantasy class I am taking. See? Overwhelmed! Currently reading, Alif the Unseen.

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Sometimes Reading Black Books Feels Like Homework

Publishers need to tap into the reservoir of talented children’s book authors and illustrators of color for all children’s sake. Diversity in children’s literature doesn’t just benefit little Black and Brown kids. It’s important for all children to understand that other cultures are much more than a few historical figures or ethic traditions. Publishers must be committed to publishing books depicting non-white characters doing all sorts of things in all sorts of places. Equally important, educators must be committed to reading these books and promoting an appreciation and love of good children’s literature in all its varied forms.

via No, I don’t want your African American children’s book list!.

Alvin Irby of Reading Holiday Project wrote this in an article about how children’s book lists, when they feature diverse books, usually feature works about the big historical events. These kinds of books, while important, can seem boring to a kid. Irby says,

It is important for children to learn about their history, but representations of non-white characters should be more diverse and not sacrifice the cultivation of wonderment that characterizes great children’s books or neglect the mission of children’s literature, which I believe is to help children better understand themselves and the world around them.

This is definitely a major reason why a lot of kids don’t want to read. The books that feature characters that look like them are always going through something rough or it’s a historical figure that they’re learning about in school. These stories are important, but can make a kid feel like reading is homework.

Young black girls and boys need stories that are about their everyday lives too. And stories that are about them going on grand adventures with aliens and time travel and talking animals. The same kinds of stories that feature white children. That way, reading is more fun for them and they feel they are being represented in the world. They feel like they can go on adventures and investigate new worlds, opening up their curiosity.

We must make sure that children are engaged in the books that we’re trying to get them to read. Appeal to their personalities and do the research to make sure that they read the historical books but also those that activate the imagination.

Irby’s Reading Holiday Project aims to provide black boys books at barbershops (say that 10 times fast!) and sounds like a really cool endeavor. Check it out!

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White-Default Mentality Makes Our Brains Lazier

Rosse • Writing Characters of Color (Erasing White-Default Mentality).

Rosse writes regarding explaining cultural terms in her writing. Terms like “mami” or “papi” and the idea that constantly explaining them makes them “other” while things in British jargon, for example, are just quirks of being British–they don’t need to be explained. The reader will either figure it out or look it up.

I am currently reading Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson. It’s cool so far, a mixture of technology, romance, and Middle Eastern culture. There might be a jinni soon! In the novel, Wilson uses Middle Eastern terminology regarding clothing, food, and even insults or praises between characters. Because I am reading the hardcopy and not an e-book, looking up things takes more effort (just saying that my vocab skyrockets when I can press and hold a word and the definition comes up–a point in favor of e-books from my hardcopy loving self). I have looked up a few things, but either you can figure them out or it’s there to lend authenticity but not knowing precisely what it is doesn’t hinder from the reading experience. If it comes up twice and you still don’t know, look it up.

I think some of the problem we have to day is that we are lazy. I know I can be. I will move on rather than look something up. But if Wilson had replaced or explained the cultural terms she uses, I would be even lazier and it would bog own the narrative of the story. I wouldn’t use context clues to figure out a definition or an insult. And I wouldn’t learn something new about a culture that isn’t my own. In America, where so many people are different, we sure do want to homogenize everything. We accept different European cultures and traditions as being the norm (Halloween but not Dia de Meurtos, Christmas but not Kwanzaa), but don’t even want to learn about the traditions of other cultures.

It’s a common argument that diversity in children’s literature will make them more aware of the larger world and knowledge of how to accept and interact with people of different backgrounds, but it also will help them be smarter. Learn from context clues, research definitions, learn about cultural traditions, and/or delve into new histories and world facts. Get those gears working.

[R]ight now, we are so underrepresented that we have to announce our presence, so we are no longer invisible. When enough of us do so, and seeing a Person of Color in a book, or movie, or TV show is no longer an event, but just normal, completely ordinary, then our ultra-visibility will become another kind of invisibility, but a good kind of invisibility, born of equality instead of otherness.

–Rosse Raith

We Need Bigger Megaphones for Diversity in Kid Lit | BOOK RIOT

Click through to read via Book Riot a piece on getting more power players in the kid/YA lit industry to talk more about issues of diversity on behalf of those with not as many followers to their name (yet).

via We Need Bigger Megaphones for Diversity in Kid Lit | BOOK RIOT.

 

Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors

When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.

–Rudine Sims Bishop

via Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.

Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.

–Rudine Sims Bishop

via Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.