Ellen Oh on Diversity in KidLit: Try Even Harder

Several months ago, I was at a school event where a very young black girl was standing shyly off to the side as I was chatting with some 6th grade students after my presentation. She gave me her notebook and asked me to sign it, which I was glad to do. It was a book of her own poetry and short stories. I smiled and said “I’m so glad to meet a young writer!” She beamed at me and said “I love writing and I want to be a writer but I didn’t think I could because I’m not white.” I was surprised and asked her if she’d read any books by Walter Dean Myers, Angela Johnson, or Linda Sue Park. She nodded and shrugged her shoulder and said, “But I’ve never seen them in person.” To this young teen, an author of color was a mythical creature, not to be believed, until she’d seen one in person. She couldn’t believe in her dream to become a writer until she saw for herself that a real life POC had done it. This is why we must continue to fight for diversity in children’s literature. For all of our children, so that they can see that we exist and that they can believe that their dreams of becoming whatever they want, can come true.

–Ellen Oh

via We Are Still Not Doing Enough for Diversity in Kid lit.

Ellen Oh talks about how enough isn’t being done to promote diversity in children’s literature. Yes, there are great publishers whose missions are diversity and yes some major publishers have diversity imprints, and yes it’s been in the new recently (the Myers’ Times articles and a recent CNN article) and yes there are PoC authors being published, but it’s still not enough.

We can’t settle. Less than 10% of children’s literature is by People of Color. We shouldn’t aim for 10% and consider it done when we reach it. Recently, admissions statistics for my alma mater were told to me and the percentages for admission for African-American students was 6%, but the school was proud of their 6%. For it to be better than last year is great, but an air of “let’s continue to do even better” was missing. Maybe it’s the idea of celebrating too early. I’m glad representation is increasing, but let’s do more work before popping the champagne at every turn.

The passage above is so real to me, because I fell off of writing for a long time because I wasn’t feeling it, and I think that reason was because I was writing characters who were white, while I was surrounded by people of color. My characters had been white washed and it took me until recently to consciously acknowledge this fact and it’s still taking me effort to stop defaulting my characters to white. But because most of the characters I read are white, my brain has taken to imagining all characters as white. I need to force my own imagination to populate itself with people of color and I’ve been reading instances where others had to do the same. A terrible thing for self-esteem and representation. More authors of color, especially in the children’s book industry would be so beneficial to children seeing themselves positively both in the world and their own imagination.

Enhanced by Zemanta

NBC Interview with Dr. Zetta Elliott

NBC Interview with Dr. Zetta Elliott

I can’t seem to embed the video. But click through for the interview. Dr. Elliot talks about her struggles publishing books with characters of color and editors telling her “there’s no market for this.” Only about 5% of books published are written by people of color, but we are about 40% of the population. Dr. Elliot says that children of color are already the majority (which supports claims I’ve heard where PoC will be the majority by 2020). It’s crazy how the media doesn’t reflect reality at all, then get all affronted when PoC ask for more representations of themselves. No one believes in our buying power, but it is there. And we are so starved for representation now, that we go out in droves to see films, and watch TV shows, and read books with PoC as the main characters. Look at the success of Scandal or Kevin Hart’s films from last year. We want representation and we want it in our children’s literature too.

Dr. Elliot also says “Books can be windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. If you don’t see a mirror, you start to feel invisible.” Which I believe I’ve also heard author Junot Diaz say something similar. What he says, and I’m paraphrasing, is that a lot of monsters in folklore don’t have reflections–vampires are the most well known for this–and if you don’t see your reflection, you can begin to view yourself as a monster. Elliot says that when she was writing in high school and when she sees young black kids who present stories to her, it is white characters at the center of those stories. I am working on a piece for the website Black Girl Nerds that talks about my own experiences on the matter. Elliot says, “I had to dream myself into existence.” You have to undo years of conditioning to get yourself to write stories that are about people who are like you, rather than the people you’ve been reading about.

“Without a mirror it becomes difficult to see yourself in particular scenarios.” I didn’t know there were other “black nerds” besides me. I thought I was the only one reading mysteries and speculative fiction stories and wishing I could attend San Diego Comic-con. I couldn’t imagine that there were others like me. And there are so many fields and things that young people of color want to do and be and experience but don’t because they think that people of color don’t do those things. Books are a great way to show kids that they really can do whatever they want, because someone of their ethnic background has done it somewhere. Or they can read others’ stories of being the first [x] to do such and such a thing and be encouraged to do the same in whatever field they’ll be the first in.

Dr. Elliot also talks about the Diversity Gap and presents this fantastic image. I’ve read a lot of the books in the 93% but not a lot in the other percentages. This blog is helping me find those other 7%.

 

by Tina Kugler

#colormyshelf

There’s a twitter trend going around today called #colormyshelf and it’s totally overwhelming me with books I want to read! I have the tab open and will probably have it open for days until I get to full investigate some of the names mentioned. But here’s a link to check it out: #colormyshelf. Lots of titles with children form diverse backgrounds in different types of children’s literature. I love that this is going around!