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.

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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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.

 

The Studio Museum in Harlem

Yesterday, I got to hang out at the Studio Museum in Harlem for a bit. I didn’t get to look at the new exhibit (I had to rush out to head to work), but I did get a peek at the books in their Museum Store, and I totally need to read them!

 

wpid-20140410_155939.jpgI love fairy tales, so I need to read Rapunzel, with that long beautiful braided hair of hers. Neighborhood Mother Goose looks interesting for similar fairy tale-esque reasons. Anansi the Spider is probably the most well known African myth (for as little as Americans, myself included, know about different African folklore and myth tales). But really, I just want to read them all and I want to see more books like this in mainstream bookstores. Where’s the shelf for these books, Barnes and Noble (outside of Black History Month)?

I just started volunteering at the Studio Museum, hopefully I get to do more things there. The employees seem really fun and cool, and most of the people who walked in the building yesterday were ridiculously stylish. I can’t stop thinking about this woman’s flowered skirt with pockets (!!) and contrasted teal tulle underneath that you can’t buy anywhere because she had her friend make it for her. But that’s off the point of the post and the blog in general. I can’t wait to go back and I hope I can read (and afford to buy) some of those books.

Here are some pictures from their quarterly magazine:

wpid-20140410_171301.jpg

Books for Kids

Activity examples for educators and parents

Activity examples for educators and parents

Reading is, of course, very important to nurture as a child, but so is art. They often go hand in hand. Kids will often want to create art based on books they’ve read and characters they love. More diverse children’s books creates more diverse art. We need more of that in the world.

Visit the Studio Museum in Harlem, on 125th Street between Lenox and Adam Clayton Powell Jr Ave (7th Avenue for any locals). $7 Suggested Admission for Adults, $3 for Students and Seniors, Free for children under 12. http://www.studiomuseum.org/ 

 

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.

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

The Definitive Ranking Of All Roald Dahl’s Books | Buzzfeed

Cover of "MATILDA"

Cover of MATILDA

I love Roald Dahl. He’s one of my favorite authors, he’s got some really great quotes that I love. I read his autobiography (Boy, I didn’t finish Going Solo), which is written and illustrated in the same style as his other books, which I thought was cool.

Here are some Dahl quotes to brighten your day.

“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” 

“If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” 

“I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.” 

“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.” 

“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. He taught me that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.” 

“A little magic can take you a long way.” 

And here’s Buzzfeed’s ranking of the top 15 Dahl stories. (Though I’m not sure why “believability” is a factor in a children’s fantasy novelist’s work…)

The Definitive Ranking Of All Roald Dahl’s Books.

My favorites are: Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I remembered reading Danny Champion of the World, without having read the BFG, and I was confused? Because it’s sort of a companion/sequel?

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