Wednesday, April 30, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

You've probably read this a million times already, but let me be the 1,000,001th person to talk about it.  We cannot--must not--stop talking about it.  And that's diversity in literature: specifically in juvenile and young adult literature.  I don't just mean diversity of characters.  I mean diversity of authors.  Because guess what (gasp!): OUR KIDS ARE DIVERSE.  The kids that I help every day at the library are not all the same (clutch your pearls!).  Their families are not all the same.  Yet the majority of popular, published J and YA books don't reflect the reality of their readers' lives.  It's still "noteworthy" when an author has their main character be a POC.  How is that noteworthy?  Why is that something extraordinary when for many, many people, being a person of color is their everyday existence?  Why should a child reading a book feel excluded or othered because of able-bodiedness or gender or race or anything else?

They shouldn't.

A lot of the recent uproar has come from a situation at BookCon, an event managed by ReedPOP and held right after BEA (Book Expo America) 2014.  BookCon's panels are exclusively men and one cat.  Grumpy Cat, to be precise.  this one by Preeti Chhibberthis one by Rebecca Joines Schinsky, and this one by Kelly Jensen (who also writes for Stacked Books and whom I totally respect and admire).  This article at the Daily Dot is a good compilation of everything that's going down.
Rick Riordan, in a move that made me love him even more, tweeted his confusion at the White Dudes Only memo that clearly went out at ReedPOP.  John Green's come under fire for his relative silence regarding the matter.  And YA authors, bloggers, librarians, and readers have risen up in this massive social media wave of indignation that has been spectacular.  This whole thing has been covered much more thoroughly and with more thought than I could possibly give it.  Check out all the postings on Book Riot, like

Ellen Oh (whose books are totally on my TBR, I swear, but a librarian's only got so many brains with which to read!  And I'm not The Doctor, with more than one heart, so it's hard to handle all the feelz) started a campaign called #WeNeedDiverseBooks.  It's blowing up on Twitter.  I've pledged to make a diverse books display at my library branches.  I sat and thought about how I could buy more books that represent diversity.  I'm planning on making a video about it for our library YouTube channel.

We cannot refuse to talk about diversity because it is uncomfortable.  When I was at PLA earlier this year, I had the privilege to hear Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative speak as our Keynote Speaker. He challenged us to be uncomfortable.  To willingly place ourselves in situations where we are uncomfortable.  To note that being uncomfortable isn't necessarily a bad thing.  We don't like it.  As humans, we like comfy chairs, warm cocoa, and snuggly animals.  If I asked you to please go sit out on a jagged piece of ice while wearing a wet bathing suit, covered in tarantulas, I don't think you'd do it.  You'd be really, really uncomfortable.  We're not doing that.  We're being uncomfortable with the rules society has set, with the barriers we grew up with and maybe didn't even notice were there until someone pointed them out to us.

Talking about diversity isn't some end-of-the-world thing.  It can be hard and we make mistakes and then we apologize and we keep going.  We owe it to ourselves and to our kids and our grandkids to talk about these problems in our society.  We owe it to the kids we serve as librarians and teachers to give them books that reflect who they are, not who the privileged want to portray because it's easy and comfy and will sell a lot of books.

Be informed about what's going on in the book world.  Speak up.  Tell them what you think, what you want, and what you need.  Demand diversity.

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