"Casual Diversity" Depends on the Unseen Work of the Author

Librarian and blogger Betsy Bird recently issued a call for books featuring "casual diversity," or a list of children’s books in which "diversity is just a part of everyday life." Here's my two cents:
Even (perhaps especially) in such “real world” books featuring characters with different ethnic backgrounds, the author and/or illustrator should think through carefully how that heritage would shape each character. Perhaps none of that background work that has informed the author’s imagination will be obvious to the reader in the final story or art, but our reflection, personal experience, and research will all affect the characters' depictions–and the child reader–in subtle ways.
Throwing in a character of color here or there to make your book more multicultural isn't a shortcut to representing all kinds of children in the real world. As authors and illustrators, the onus is on us to do the unseen work of listening, learning, and understanding, especially because we write for children. What is "under the waterline" in us is bound to be revealed in our stories, and will inform what is "under the waterline" in our child readers.

3 comments:

Sherry Nelson Rosso said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your comments about subtlety in writing diversity. I haven't read Bird's article, but my take on her quote "diversity is just a part of everyday life" was that it would be so common and acceptable to see differences in people of different cultures around us. So casual that it is comfortable, acknowledging and accepting, while it colors the landscape of conversation and circumstance. So casual that the plot does not have to turn entirely or centrally on conflict in diversity, but can celebrate the layers diversity would bring to the character interaction and experience. I wonder if that is what she meant. I will have to check out the article.

Asakiyume said...

Betsy Bird's post was interesting, and the comments were *very* interesting and show how issues are connected. I think what she was aiming at is praiseworthy, though I agree with the commenters who weren't thrilled with the tone of the phrase "casual diversity." What you say, about intentionality and careful observation--about work and effort under the waterline--strikes me as very important indeed. Portrayals based on real observation *do* convey, whether at the picture-book level, middle grade, YA, or adult. (Still thinking about the issue of dynamics of power from your last blog post, BTW)

monir hossain said...

Great write-up! Writing is a talent, and it must not be wasted. As with everything that we had been entrusted, we should

let it grow and share it with the world.>self

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