Monday, March 02, 2009

Wanted: Tough Questions About Diversity in Children's Books


I'm helping to gather questions for a panel at the New England Society for Children's Writers and Illustrators Annual Conference this Spring. We want the session to be salty, fun, and enlightening, and I need your help. Which changes, trends, achievements, and challenges in the industry would you hope to see discussed? What would you like to know about diversity in children's and teen books? Anything goes, and the harder the question, the better.

15 comments:

sarah park said...

What does it matter if more outsiders than insiders write an ethnic story if they do their research?
Isn't basing an award on ethnicity/race an essentialist practice? Who decides who can be "ethnic"?

Tockla said...

How much is it a publisher's responsibility to publish multicultural books? And from there, how much should they be actively seeking authors and illustrators of color?

renee said...

Will the term "multicultural literature" be obsolete someday? Is that something to be hoped for, or avoided?

Mitali Perkins said...

These are great! Exactly what I was hoping. Keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

How do you meet the challenge of most agents/editors/publicists/etc. not being multicultural themselves, and yet being gatekeepers between writer and reader?

--Erin Murphy

Anonymous said...

How can librarians influence publishers and authors to create books by and about children and teens of color? Our patrons demand it; we don't have enough options to give them. Thanks, Mitali, for asking.
Jean Canosa Albano

Anonymous said...

As a white librarian, how do I make sure that my voice as an ally counts? The library world and the publishing world are very white. The world is not. How can white librarians successfully advocate without seeming to be speaking for?

AliceB said...

E.B. Lewis, winner of numerous Coretta Scott King awards for his p.b. illustrations (which, BTW, are drop dead gorgeous) has said that there's no such thing as an African-American painting. There are African-Americans who paint. Couldn't this also be said of writing?

The corollary to his statement about paintings is that when asked by art students why he paints so many books with characters of color, he turns around and asks, why haven't you made more paintings with people of color? The question to the panel: doesn't everyone bear the responsibility of including everyone in their art? And just as paintings can visibly include all people, shouldn't writing? And doesn't that mean that white people must write about people of color?

Which then leads to my last question: what should we do to make everyone bolder about including other cultures without fearing the label of "cultural appropriation?"

SusanThomsen said...

Why don't more books for early readers reflect a diversity of names? Tim, Sam, Sid, Todd, Gert, and so on are "foreign" to many of the first graders I read with. Can't we do a better job of pulling them into a story (however brief it is) by including names of people like them?

elliottzetta said...

Hey, Mitali! Please ask the panelists to address the statistics posted by the CCBC--why do less than 3% of published children's books have black authors? Since so many editors--even at a multicultural press--are white, what steps are being taken to at least achieve a level of (multi)cultural competence to aid in negotiations with writers of color? How can the publishing industry produce "authentic" stories told from diverse perspectives when there's so little transparency (who ARE the gatekeepers? who is NOT getting through?) and such homogeneity among editors?

Stacy Nyikos said...

As a writer of a culturally diverse book, with Chinese, German, Latino and African American cultures represented, I've caught flack because I don't belong to any of these minorities, so here's a tough, political heated question. Do you think one must be of a minority to write about them, or use their culture in a book?

susan said...

How do we educate readers,educators and the publishing industry that multicultural literature provides universal themes and characters all readers can relate,too?

How do we dismantle stereotypes such as all AA fiction is historical, issue driven, focused on strife or the setting is otherwise foreign to mainstream readers?

susan said...

How do we promote reading across cultures among people of color?

Megan Frazer said...

When it comes to including characters from a range of backgrounds, is there a difference between true multiculturalism and tokenism?

Paula said...

Great questions so far!! And Susan asked mine, so I won't repeat or burst my brain trying to think of a new one since so much has been covered so well in the previous questions.

Mitali, I'm looking forward to hearing how the panel goes.