If you work with children’s books and go online, there’s no way you can miss the colorful logo of the “We Need Diverse Books” (WNDB) campaign, which launched in 2014. What started as a tweet between creators Malinda Lo and Ellen Oh has turned into a grassroots movement that has bloggers, authors, librarians, and publishers getting involved and addressing the need for diverse characters and narratives in children’s literature.
We Need Diverse Book logo
According to their website at weneeddiversebooks.org, the organization defines diversity as recognizing “all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIApartn, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.”
In the last year, the WNDB campaign has established itself as a tax-exempt public charity, partnered with School Library Journal and the Children’s Book Council in promoting their cause, established the Walter Dean Meyers book award, and among other things, created the popular #WNDB. Diversity panels have popped up at conferences everywhere from School Library Journal’s Day of Dialogue to the American Library Association to the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
Part of what spurred Oh and Lo to take action was the all-white panel scheduled at last year’s Book Expo America (BEA) BookCon event. This year, BookCon and WNDB partnered for a panel entitled, “We Need Diverse Books: In Our World and Beyond.” Authors Sherman Alexie and Jacqueline Woodson were scheduled to be part of the event, but WNDB did point out that no authors of color were to be featured at the annual BEA children’s breakfast.
It seems the call for diverse books would begin with authors. In a recent interview, middle school teacher and first-time novelist Cindy Rodriguez talked about diversity in her new YA book, When Reason Breaks. While in the revision process, she took the time to add diversity to her novel.
Said Rodriguez, “Emily Delgado is Puerto Rican, Tommy Bowles is half-Mexican, Ms. Diaz is Latina, Kevin has two dads, and Sarah is black. The story, however, is not about being Latino or gay or black. It’s about teen depression, attempted suicide, and Emily Dickinson. When we talk about diversity in children’s literature, we often think about it in terms of books with an almost all minority cast of characters dealing with issues linked to race, culture, etc. I’ve read lots of those books, and I think we need more of them, for sure, but we also need more books with diverse characters tackling other issues. The characters’ culture, race, sexual orientation, etc. may play a part in the narrative because it’s important to who they are, but it shouldn’t always be the “problem.”
What’s next for WNDB? They recently developed an internship to help “diversify publishing from the inside out”, and will host the first Children’s Literature Diversity Festival in Washington D.C. in 2016.
Wondering what you as librarians can do at your libraries? Some advocates suggest not just buying books with diverse characters simply for that fact. They want you to buy books with diverse characters because they are good. For more tips, check out Marybeth Zeman’s two-part series on “Can Children See Themselves in the Books on Your Shelves?” here: