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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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.

 

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 Golden Hour by Maiya Williams

The Golden Hour was a great page-turner. I started it one night and was halfway through by about 2/3am. I really like time travel and, while the French Revolution isn’t an era of history that I love exploring, Maiya Williams made me able to enjoy it. There was something a bit old school in the style of adventure, very Edward Eager, whose Magic series books I read as a child, involving magic and time.

In the book, Rowan Popplewell and his sister visit their great aunts in a small (fictional) town in Maine. Their mother died a year ago and it’s been rough going. Nina, the sister, doesn’t speak and no longer plays the piano. While there, they meet up with twins, Xavier and Xanthe, who are black (!!!) and the four of them adventure to the local creepy hotel, where Xavier swears he saw ghosts. The aunts, the mysterious characters they are—with their shining new “antiques”—slyly encourage Rowan to visit the hotel, despite his reservations. The hotel turns out to be a portal. Otto, the concierge, doesn’t book stays, he books trips to anywhere in the past, as long as it’s the same day you’re traveling. But you can only travel twice a day, at Golden Hour, the time when the sun is setting and everything is cloaked in golden light, or the sunrise equivalent, Silver Hour. What fun! Rowan is hesitant to go, but Nina, missing her mother and finally breaking out of her shell of depression a little bit, skips off to the hotel in the middle of the night. Rowan thinks he knows where she went, the Enlightenment. Except he got the years wrong and he and Xanthe and Xavier head off to The French Revolution!

They meet a whole host of fictional and historical characters, including Marie Antoinette and Louse XVI. They search all over Paris looking for Nina, getting involved in the Revolution along the way. They realize she’s not even there, but not before making lots of very important people very angry. They skip a few years in the future (too many people trying to visit the French Revolution causes a ripple in time) to their execution. The aunts come to save the day, allowing Rowan, Xanthe and Xavier to escape and land back in the present, only for Rowan to realize where in the past Nina went. NYC 1990. Right before Rowan was born and her parents were happy and alive. She intended to stay with them, to get an extra 14 years with her mother, but Rowan convinces her that it’s not good to live in the past. Together, they can overcome their grief and live in the future.

It’s a sweet story with fun time travel antics. I am, of course, glad that there are two black sidekicks (though I must admit, when I first started the story, I knew there were black characters, but didn’t know they were sidekicks and so I thought Rowan and Nina were black. But slowly the description told me otherwise. And then we met the twins and I realized what was happening). They’re super smart, charismatic and funny, and Rowan has a crush on Xanthe.

Cover of

Cover of The Hour of the Cobra

In the preview for the next book, The Hour of the Cobra, it seems to follow Xanthe’s POV. This makes me happy, as it doesn’t just assume that Rowan is the hero and the twins are his sidekicks. They each get a chance at being the hero. The next book looks like it’s going to ancient Egypt, which is a period I enjoy learning about.

I immediately looked up Maiya Williams and saw that she not only writes children’s books, but also wrote for television! So basically she has my career. I emailed her and she sent me a brief response back that same night, which is really nice of her. One day, maybe I’ll email her again with more specific questions. But I mean, seriously? How crazy is it that she’s a black woman who writes TV and MG SFF books, when that’s what I’m thinking I want to do? Very serendipitous and cool.

This book was great and I am looking forward to borrowing the sequel. I do have a few questions or comments about the book.

  • How do the aunts get stuff back from the past? I thought Otto said that things weren’t allowed to be brought forward, or did he just mean people? The next book seems like it will cover more about the aunts Curio business.
  • I wish Nina had more of slow turn around. She went from not having spoken in a year, to speaking and playing the piano all in one night. I wish we’d gotten more steps before that. It seems like she’s not quite herself still in Rowan’s eyes, but it’s still a bit fast for me.
  • Are the aunts coming to save the day a bit deus ex machina? There are pieces of their involvement mentioned throughout the story, but they suddenly come in to pull the cart leading the kids to their execution away at the very last moment. But I suppose Rowan does do some of the work in saving himself.
Welcome to my first book post! I hope to do more!