Guest Post: How to Create Diverse Characters

by Kimberly Mitchell

YemeniBoy

A boy from Taiz, Yemen

With the launch of the #weneeddiversebooks campaign last spring, the idea of diversity in children’s writing is everywhere these days. As the diverse books movement moves forward, all writers of kid lit should consider how to create diversity in their work.

Creating characters outside your race and ethnicity can sound daunting. It doesn’t have to be this way. My characters often represent cultures and races outside my own. In Traders of Incense, my protagonist is an Arab boy, based on my time spent in Yemen. In Pen and Quin and the Mystery of the Painted Book, Pen and Quin are Mexican American twins. My motivation behind creating these protagonists stems from my desire to connect with readers and view the world through the eyes of others.

Here are some suggestions on how to create authentic, diverse characters.

1) Mine your own background and experience.

I’ve had the chance to travel to some spectacular places, from Yemen to Peru. The people I’ve met and the cultures I’ve experienced changed the way I view the world.

Where have you traveled? It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as the Middle East. Perhaps you grew up in the South and now live in the Northeast, or vice versa. Or you came from a predominantly majority town and now work with people from different backgrounds.

Use these experiences as launching points for characters and settings in your work.

2) Consider your relationships.

Who do you hang out with? Are your friends, colleagues, and mentors different from you ethnically, economically, or culturally? If not, now is the time to examine those relationships and diversify! It’s difficult to write diverse characters when your own life doesn’t reflect diversity.

If you want to create characters outside your own experience and do so in an authentic way, you must reach out to people different from yourself with an open mind and heart. Be open with your intentions as a writer, but be authentic in your desire to develop the relationship. People love to talk about their families and traditions if you let them. My friends from other cultures and backgrounds have been great sources for me to draw on when creating my characters. Enjoy making new friends and learning new things!

3) Cultivate familiarity.

As you create your diverse characters, you must be familiar with the background and family you’ve chosen for them. Cultivating familiarity means putting yourself in a position to really know what it’s like to be your character.

It could mean studying a new language, traveling to a new city, or finding those places in your own city where your character would live, work, and play. Get familiar with it until it feels natural to you. Until that happens, your characters won’t feel authentic.

4) Do your research – and not just on Google.

Let me say that Google Earth is an amazing invention. I have used it countless times in my own work. A 360-degree street view? Yes! However, the internet cannot provide all the information you need to create your characters.

Doing your research should include finding places and people like your characters and talking to them, participating in events, and reading stories similar to your own, especially when those stories reflect the types of characters you’re creating.

5) Authenticate through readers.

This one is huge for writers creating characters outside their own backgrounds. If possible, I always include beta readers with ethnicities or backgrounds similar to my characters and ask them to read the story with an eye toward that aspect of the work.

For my story that includes Mexican-American protagonists, I asked friends who are Mexican and American, and now raising their Mexican American sons, to read the story. Listen carefully to the response of your readers, and be willing to tweak the story according to their response.

6) Be prepared for kickbacks.

As hard as you try, you won’t fully be able to escape criticism. There will always be people who question your ability to write a story about a Latina girl if you aren’t Latina, or who claim you can’t speak for a Muslim boy if you’re not Muslim.

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The author with a Yemeni friend

Certainly you want to avoid stereotyping as much as possible, but if you use your experiences, relationships, research and authentic readers well, you’ll be able to weed out many of the difficulties of writing across diverse backgrounds.

7) Love your characters and your story. Let them speak for themselves.

As writers, we get to choose the types of characters we create. We can’t let the fear of stepping outside of ourselves dictate our choices. The alternative would be simply staying within the comfort of your own race, background, gender, ethnicity, social status and nationality.

And I, for one, refuse to do that. The children we write for deserve better.

KimberlyMitchell2014Kimberly Mitchell loves journeys, real or imagined. She has traveled to five continents and speaks four languages. Kimberly is represented by Marlene Stringer of the Stringer Literary Agency and hopes to find publishers for her middle-grade novels soon. She lives in Northwest Arkansas with her husband and the best souvenir she ever found, a Yemeni cat.

More Libros Latin@s: 24 YA & MG Novels By/About Latinos in 2015!

Just when you thought your To-Be-Read list couldn’t get any longer, here we have 24 young adult and middle grade novels to be released in 2015 that are all by and/or about Latin@s. While they all share this aspect, you’ll see the novels are diverse, representing these genres: horror, fantasy, contemporary, science-fiction, memoir, magical realism, romance, and historical. Authors include award winners Margarita Engle, Pam Muñoz Ryan, and Matt de la Peña, as well as NY Times Bestselling authors Kierra Cass and Anna Banks. Alongside these authors are many debuts, which are *starred* in the list below. If you click on the cover image, you will go to the book’s Goodreads page, so you can easily add them to your TBR list! And if you’re adding them, you are likely interested in diverse kid lit and should, therefore, consider participating in the We Need Diverse Books reading challenge. Happy reading!!

*SHUTTER by Courtney Alameda

20757532Micheline Helsing is a tetrachromat—a girl who sees the auras of the undead in a prismatic spectrum. As one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing lineage, she has trained since childhood to destroy monsters both corporeal and spiritual: the corporeal undead go down by the bullet, the spiritual undead by the lens. With an analog SLR camera as her best weapon, Micheline exorcises ghosts by capturing their spiritual energy on film. She’s aided by her crew: Oliver, a techno-whiz and the boy who developed her camera’s technology; Jude, who can predict death; and Ryder, the boy Micheline has known and loved forever.

When a routine ghost hunt goes awry, Micheline and the boys are infected with a curse known as a soulchain. As the ghostly chains spread through their bodies, Micheline learns that if she doesn’t exorcise her entity in seven days or less, she and her friends will die. Now pursued as a renegade agent by her monster-hunting father, Leonard Helsing, she must track and destroy an entity more powerful than anything she’s faced before . . . or die trying.

JOYRIDE by Anna Banks

22718685A popular guy and a shy girl with a secret become unlikely accomplices for midnight pranking, and are soon in over their heads—with the law and with each other—in this sparkling standalone from NYT-bestselling author Anna Banks.

It’s been years since Carly Vega’s parents were deported. She lives with her brother, studies hard, and works at a convenience store to contribute to getting her parents back from Mexico.

Arden Moss used to be the star quarterback at school. He dated popular blondes and had fun with his older sister, Amber. But now Amber’s dead, and Arden blames his father, the town sheriff who wouldn’t acknowledge Amber’s mental illness. Arden refuses to fulfill whatever his conservative father expects.

All Carly wants is to stay under the radar and do what her family expects. All Arden wants is to NOT do what his family expects. When their paths cross, they each realize they’ve been living according to others. Carly and Arden’s journey toward their true hearts—and one another—is funny, romantic, and sometimes harsh.

24527773THE SMOKING MIRROR by David Bowles

Carol and Johnny Garza are 12-year-old twins whose lives in a small Texas town are forever changed by their mother’s unexplained disappearance. Shipped off to relatives in Mexico by their grieving father, the twins soon learn that their mother is a nagual, a shapeshifter, and that they have inherited her powers. In order to rescue her, they will have to descend into the Aztec underworld and face the dangers that await them.

HOSTAGE by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

23899848Welcome back to Las Anclas, a frontier town in the post-apocalyptic Wild West. In Las Anclas, the skull-faced sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can speed up time, and the squirrels can teleport sandwiches out of your hands.

In book one, Stranger, teenage prospector Ross Juarez stumbled into town half-dead, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble— including an invasion by Voske, the king of Gold Point. The town defeated Voske’s army, with the deciding blow struck by Ross, but at a great cost.

In Hostage, a team sent by King Voske captures Ross and takes him to Gold Point. There he meets Kerry, Voske’s teenage daughter, who has been trained to be as ruthless as her father. While his friends in Las Anclas desperately try to rescue him, Ross is forced to engage in a battle of wills with the king himself.

22918050THE HEIR by Kierra Cass

Twenty years ago, America Singer entered the Selection and won Prince Maxon’s heart. Now the time has come for Princess Eadlyn to hold a Selection of her own. Eadlyn doesn’t expect her Selection to be anything like her parents’ fairy-tale love story. But as the competition begins, she may discover that finding her own happily ever after isn’t as impossible as she always thought.

THE HUNTED by Matt de la Peña

21529626When the Big One hit, Shy was at sea in style. The Paradise Cruise luxury liner he worked on was a hulking specimen of the best money could buy. And now it’s at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, along with almost all of its passengers.

Shy wasn’t the only one to survive, though. Addie, the rich blond daughter of a mysterious businessman, was on the dinghy he pulled himself into. But as soon as they found the rest of the survivors, she disappeared.

The only thing that filled the strange void of losing her was finding Carmen, his hot coworker, and discovering a way to get back home. But Shy’s luck hasn’t turned. Not yet.

Back on the dinghy, Addie told him a secret. It’s a secret that people would kill for-have killed for-and she has the piece that could turn everything on its ear. The problem? Shy has no idea where Addie is. Back home in California seems logical, but there are more ways to die back home then Shy could ever have guessed.

And thanks to what Shy now knows, he’s a moving target.

18625184REBELLION by Stephanie Diaz

It’s been seven days since Clementine and Logan, along with their allies, retreated into hiding on the Surface. The rebels may have won one battle against Commander Charlie, but the fight is far from finished. He has vowed to find a way to win—no matter the cost. Do the rebels have what it takes to defeat him…and put an end to this war?

As Clementine and Logan enter a desperate race against time to defeat Commander Charlie—and attempt to weaken his power within his own ranks—they find themselves in a terrifying endgame that pits them against a brutal enemy, and each other. With every step, Clementine draws closer to losing Logan…and losing control of herself.

ENCHANTED AIR by Margarita Engle

23309551In this poetic memoir, Margarita Engle, the first Latina woman to receive a Newbery Honor, tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War.

Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not.

Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

*THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT by Melissa Grey

20345202

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

22504701ROLLER GIRL by Victoria Jamieson

For most of her twelve years, Astrid has done everything with her best friend Nicole. But after Astrid falls in love with roller derby and signs up for derby camp, Nicole decides to go to dance camp instead. And so begins the most difficult summer of Astrid’s life as she struggles to keep up with the older girls at camp, hang on to the friend she feels slipping away, and cautiously embark on a new friendship. As the end of summer nears and her first roller derby bout (and junior high!) draws closer, Astrid realizes that maybe she is strong enough to handle the bout, a lost friendship, and middle school… in short, strong enough to be a roller girl.

*UNUSUAL CHICKENS FOR THE EXCEPTIONAL POULTRY FARMER by Kelly Jones

22639675

Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown feels like a fish out of water when she and her parents move from Los Angeles to the farm they’ve inherited from a great-uncle. But farm life gets more interesting when a cranky chicken appears and Sophie discovers the hen can move objects with the power of her little chicken brain: jam jars, the latch to her henhouse, the entire henhouse…

And then more of her great-uncle’s unusual chickens come home to roost. Determined, resourceful Sophie learns to care for her flock, earning money for chicken feed, collecting eggs. But when a respected local farmer tries to steal them, Sophie must find a way to keep them (and their superpowers) safe.

Told in letters to Sophie’s abuela, quizzes, a chicken-care correspondence course, to-do lists, and more, Unusual Chickens is a quirky, clucky classic in the making.

SURVIVING SANTIAGO by Lyn Miller-Lachman

23013839To sixteen-year-old Tina Aguilar, love is the all and the everything.

As such, Tina is less than thrilled to return to her homeland of Santiago, Chile, for the first time in eight years to visit her father, the man who betrayed her and her mother’s love through his political obsession and alcoholism. Tina is not surprised to find Papá physically crippled from his time as a political prisoner, but she is disappointed and confused by his constant avoidance of her company. So when Frankie, a mysterious, crush-worthy boy, quickly shows interest in her, Tina does not hesitate to embrace his affection.

However, Frankie’s reason for being in Tina’s neighborhood is far from incidental or innocent, and the web of deception surrounding Tina begins to spin out of control. Tina’s heart is already in turmoil, but adding her and her family’s survival into the mix brings her to the edge of truth and discovery.

Fans of Gringolandia will recognize the Aguilar family as they continue their story of survival and redemption.

ECHO by Pam Muñoz Ryan

22749539Music, magic, and a real-life miracle meld in this genre-defying masterpiece from storytelling maestro Pam Muñoz Ryan.

Lost and alone a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.

SHADOWSHAPER by Daniel José Older

22295304Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.

*WHEN REASON BREAKS by Cindy L. Rodriguez

22032788A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.

In an emotionally taut novel with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls grappling with demons beyond their control.

*MORE HAPPY THAN NOT by Adam Silvera

19542841The Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto — miracle cure-alls don’t tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can’t forget how he’s grown up poor or how his friends aren’t always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it’s not enough.

Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn’t mind Aaron’s obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn’t mind talking about Aaron’s past. But Aaron’s newfound happiness isn’t welcome on his block. Since he’s can’t stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.

*HOLLYWOOD WITCH HUNTER by Valerie Tejeda

23202520From the moment she first learned the truth about witches…she knew she was born to fight them.

Now, at sixteen, Iris is the lone girl on the Witch Hunters Special Ops Team.

But when Iris meets a boy named Arlo, he might just be the key to preventing an evil uprising in Southern California.

Together they’re ready to protect the human race at all costs. Because that’s what witch hunters do.

Welcome to Hollywood.

HUNTERS OF CHAOS by Crystal Velasquez

23309533Ana’s average, suburban life is turned upside down when she’s offered a place at the exclusive boarding school in New Mexico that both of her late parents attended. As she struggles to navigate the wealthy cliques of her new school, mysterious things begin to occur: sudden power failures, terrible storms, and even an earthquake!

Ana soon learns that she and three other girls with Chinese, Navajo, and Egyptian heritages harbor connections to priceless objects in the school’s museum, and the museum’s curator, Ms.Benitez, is adamant that the girls understand their ancestry.

It turns out that the school sits on top of a mysterious temple, the ancient meeting place of the dangerous Brotherhood of Chaos. And when one of the priceless museum objects is shattered, the girls find out exactly why their heritage is so important: they have the power to turn into wild cats! Now in their powerful forms of jaguar, tiger, puma, and lion they must work together to fight the chaos spirits unleashed in the ensuing battle and uncover the terrifying plans of those who would reconvene the Brotherhood of Chaos.

These titles do not yet have final covers, but we have provided as much information as we could find. Some of them are already listed on Goodreads.

OUT OF DARKNESS by Ashley Hope Pérez. This title is not yet listed on Goodreads, but Ashley wrote a post for us about the historical event at the heart of this story.

Zoraida Córdova’s LABYRINTH LOST in which a teen girl in family of powerful Brujas, accidentally banishes them in a bid to avoid her own magical destiny, then ventures into the otherworldly land of Los Lagos to save them, with the mysterious but alluring Nova as her guide, who seems to have an agenda all his own.

MOVING TARGET by Christina Diaz Gonzalez. It’s a middle-grade novel pitched as “Percy Jackson meets The Da Vinci Code.” In the story, a 12-year-old girl studying in Rome discovers she is a member of an ancient bloodline enabling her to use a legendary object that can alter the future.

THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS by Anna-Marie McLemore, in which two teenagers from rival families of traveling performers fall in love despite impossible odds.

NEVER, ALWAYS, SOMETIMES by Adi Alsaid, described on GoodReads as “two best friends, a boy and girl, make a list of the cliché things they will never do their senior year.”

NAKED by Stacey Trombley: When tough teenager Anna ran away to New York, she never knew how bad things would get. After surviving as a prostitute, a terrifying incident leaves her damaged inside and out, and she returns home to the parents she was sure wouldn’t want her anymore.

Now she has a chance to be normal again. Back in school, she meets a boy who seems too good to be true. Cute, kind, trusting. But what will he do when he finds out the truth about her past? And when a dark figure from New York comes looking for Anna, she realizes she must face her secrets…before they destroy her.

If we’re missing any, please let us know in the comments!

Which ones are you planning to read?

Guest Post: A Bucket-load of Talk + No Action = a Bucket-Load of Nothing

By René Saldaña, Jr.

At a cozy dinner attended recently by children’s book writers and illustrators, I listened to two conversations happening simultaneously. On the one side of me, my left, folks were talking about Daniel Handler’s blatantly stupid remarks at the National Book Award ceremony (really, in what world would anyone ever feel entitled to bring up such vile imagery, and worse, to do so in such a cavalier fashion?). Yes, these writers and artists agreed, the remarks were dumb and insensitive at best, racist at worst. But, he did offer an apology (via Twitter, of all places; how much more impersonal can a person get! It seems to be the norm though). He also donated $10,000 to We Need Diverse Books, with the promise to match whatever amount came into WNDB in the next 24 hours, up to $100,000. He apologized, went the logic, and he did give, and to such a worthy organization who is sure to do miracles with these funds (visit this organization’s web site for more information: http://weneeddiversebooks.org). And, so, reluctantly but never the less, most of the authors and illustrators that evening gave Handler the benefit of the doubt. An easy pass, in my opinion.

On the other side of me, my right, others were talking about GOP aide Elizabeth Lauten who, on her Facebook page, wrote some pretty vile material of her own about President Obama’s daughters. A conservative, I categorically disagree with her statements. They were uncalled for. I disavow them, and what consequences she suffers she brought on herself. You see, it’s one thing to attack the politics of the man, even the man himself (as happened with Bush and Palin both and with the same ferocity), but to go after a president’s children, who had no say in his pursuit of the presidency, is uncalled for.

Lauten, my table mates continued, after some soul searching (she’d written that she prayed about her situation, spoke with family who advised her to admit her wrong-doing) apologized and, furthermore, quit her post. Despite Lauten’s behavior after the fact, there was an unwillingness to the right of me, it seemed, to afford her the same “easy way out” as was being given to Handler on the opposite end of the table.

At the hotel room later than night, I couldn’t help but wonder why folks in the industry were able to find it within themselves to forgive the one but not the other? I recalled how my table mates had spoken about Jacqueline Woodson’s very touching response in the New York Times. How much class she had displayed. One or two may have asked if his donation was nothing more than Handler trying to buy his way out of a very bad situation. A token payment, so to speak. Ten thousand little tokens, and then some. A lot of then some. Others responded that no matter, the money went to a great cause, that the amount of money raised in a day’s time was enormous, and imagine all the good that can come of it. Etc., etc.

Cynical like I am, the contrasting reactions at the table that night and from across the nation, boil down to politics for me. Who is given a pass for belonging to one party or the other, and who is not because he or she is a member of the opposite one? Best I can tell, Handler is likely left-leaning, as seems to be the majority of the publishing industry. He, like President Obama, has permission to evolve. He comes, as Woodson writes, from a place of ignorance, but his intent was never to hurt surely. He made a mistake, and hasn’t he already paid for it? (Literally?) He has learned his lesson, right? He has recognized the error of his way? And he’s dealt with it, no?

Lauten, on the other hand, is a Republican; therefore, her apology and action thereafter mean little. They are proof of her and the party’s hypocritical stance on diversity. Their lack of sympathy for the downtrodden. A heartless bunch, those conservatives. After all, once a racist, always a racist. And so she can’t possibly be sincere in her request for forgiveness. Her motives questionable.

In his reaction following the Eric Garner grand jury decision refusing to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo, President Obama stated, “…this is an issue that we’ve been dealing with for too long, and it’s time for us to make more progress than we’ve made. And I’m not interested in talk, I’m interested in action.” The president was speaking, obviously, about violence against Black men at the hands of the police and a similar violence against the Black community at the hands of those charged with finding justice for the disenfranchised: the grand jury. A jury of any kind. Our peers, impartial, truth-seekers, supposedly. But who fail, sometimes more miserably than at others.

President Obama’s words can also be applied to our quest for diversity in the publishing and education worlds. We can talk the talk all day long and not get one single solitary thing done. Talk is cheap, after all. We’ve been doing nothing but talking for far too long.

The alternative is to walk the walk. This means taking hard stances some times. This is one of those times, an occasion that matters more than we can imagine. Those affected for better or worse are those for whom we claim to work. Yes, Handler apologized, but it cannot be that easy for us to wave away his brand of racism because he gives to a good cause. We can’t let Handler off the hook, I don’t care how much money he donated and helped raise.

How many times have we said of kids of all ages “Oh, they know more than we realize”? It’s true. And this moment is no different, except in terms of the context of the times: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and several other instances our kids are hyper-aware of. There are protests across our nation fighting racism. They will hear what happened, what he said, how he laughed it off. How we let him off easy. They will see through our hypocrisy. It either matters, or it doesn’t. Just let that sink into your mind.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m overjoyed at what Ellen Oh, et al. will be able to do for young readers from the various diverse populations. These folks are walking the walk. They are taking action.

I, like our president, though, am tired of talk. Our children’s literacy success rests largely in our hands. And talk isn’t going to improve anything. It hasn’t thus far. Proof is Handler’s imagery from that evening’s speech. Isn’t he supposed to be from amongst our more enlightened class? If he hasn’t gleaned from all this talk over decades that there are lines drawn for a reason, then all this talk hasn’t accomplished much, has it?

Talk and talk and talk about what can possibly be done to make change happen is okay, but it’s got to lead somewhere. So far, it hasn’t on a grand scale. Rukhsana Khan explained more poignantly than I can ever do the harm a lack of action on our parts can do to an already-disenfranchised child. During her opening remarks at this year’s NCTE Friday morning General Session, she described the setting: a house, which implies an indoors and an outdoors; indoors a warm fire, comfortable chairs; outside, a porch, the cruel elements; inside, people with the means to turn the world of literature and literacy on its head, but who instead sit by the fire warming themselves; outside, the marginalized looking in, freezing, invisible, worthless. One looking in dreaming of the warmth, a place at the fire; the other looking at one’s reflection in the window produced by that darkness without.

I can’t tell you what to do to begin to right the wrong, or how. I won’t. That’s entirely up to you. What I will tell you is that the matter is urgent. These kids cannot be disappeared, and we—writers, illustrators, poets, literacy advocates, educators, publishers—cannot let them be disappeared. Handler gave; Lauten resigned. Both took action to try to fix things. Most of us don’t have the kind of cash Handler does, nor can we give up our livelihoods. But we can DO. Something. And something is better than nothing.

Our children’s lives depend on it.

 

Rene SaldanaRené Saldaña, Jr., is the author of the bilingual picture book Dale, dale, dale: Una fiesta de números/Hit It, Hit It, Hit It: A Fiesta of Numbers. He’s an associate professor of Language and Literature in the College of Education at Texas Tech University in West Texas. He’s also the author of several books for young readers, among them The Jumping Tree, Finding Our Way: Stories, The Whole Sky Full of Stars, A Good Long Way, and the bilingual Mickey Rangel detective series. He can be reached at rene.saldana@sbcglobal.net.

Overflowing with Thanks, Bookwise

WNDB_ButtonThis is the week when we as bloggers pause to give thanks, starting with the fact that we have so many amazing readers–readers who care about Latin@ kid lit as much as we do! We appreciate each one of your clicks, comments, social-media shares, and other forms of participation. If you’ve been silent up to now, let us hear from you soon. We value your partnership.

Another thing we’re super grateful for this Thanksgiving is the emergence and explosive growth of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Ceilings are cracking under the pressure of this push and all of us stand to benefit, so thank you to the bright minds that dreamed it up.

Another reason to feel grateful in 2014 is that Latin@ kid lit is in much better shape than it was in years past. As we reflect back on our own or our children’s bookshelves, we’re delighted that kids today have a growing number of Latino options.

To demonstrate this point, check out a few of Cindy‘s beloved titles from her childhood, matched by current Latino options.

Cindy's Latino Option Collage

I, Lila, decided to frame this comparison through my oldest daughter’s experience. “J” was a 1980s baby who read late into the night by the light of her digital alarm clock, so you know she was crazy about books. Here are a couple of J’s favorites, matched with contemporary Latino options she would’ve loved.

What She Loved Collage

Now for expressions of thanks from two other members of the team.

Zoraida

2014 has been crazy for me. I work full time, launched the last book in my trilogy, wrote, sold and launched a New Adult romance. And I’m still not done yet. Despite a crazy work schedule, I am thankful that I do have a support system that allows me to find time to write. I have a wonderful network of friends and a boyfriend who knows me extremely well. I’m thankful that I get to be part of a wonderful group of writers here at Latin@s in Kid Lit, but most importantly that we’re getting the conversation rolling about issues dear to our hearts. I hope the next year brings even better things for us all.

LOTL.v3

Sujei

Growing up in Puerto Rico, Thanksgiving in my family seemed like “Eating Turkey with Fried Plantains Day.” Considering that November is Native American Heritage Month, I find deeper reasons to feel thankful. In my late teens, I started questioning the impact of this “first meal,” and saw it more as the beginning of genocide, colonialism, and the suffering of our indigenous people and ancestors. I’m thankful for books that teach us the real story and those that talk about Native people in the present tense and show us that they live everyday lives. Books that highlight these realities disrupt the narrative of old-school texts, which often historicize and stereotype indigenous people.

Here are three of Sujei’s recommendations for children’s books that honor the experiences and history of Native Americans.

People Shall Continue When I was 8 JingleCover_hi-res

Our mission is to promote diversity in children’s books, specifically Latin@ books and creators. So when you’re thinking about ways to diversify your kid lit bookshelves, explore our archives for reviews and posts. We’re so thankful that you care about Latino representation in children’s and teen’s books, and we want to continue serving those interests.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Shine a Bright Spotlight on Unsold Diverse Books: An Idea Inspired by Hollywood’s Black List

By Patrick Flores-Scott

I’m happy to have the opportunity to be blogging here at Latin@s in Kid Lit!

Once again, I’ve got the We Need Diverse Books movement on my mind.

If you’re reading this post, I’m sure you’re very aware that children’s literature does not reflect the true diversity of this land. And you’re very likely to agree that it must.  And you can explain the myriad reasons why it must. And you’ve most likely asked yourself, How do we fix this? And I bet you’ve got ideas.

It’s going to take many ideas from myriad sources and a lot of people working together in every phase of the publishing industry to make change happen.

I’d like to use this post to throw one possible idea into that mix. For many reasons, I’m not the guy to put this one into action, but I think it’s an idea worthy of consideration, and it would be very cool if someone ran with it.

The idea is stolen from Hollywood. It’s called the Black List. I’m not referring to the mid-last-century process of blacklisting supposed Hollywood communists and those who refused to name names, in an effort to keep them from ever working in this town again. And I’m not referring to NBC’s TV show, The Blacklist. I’m referring to the Black List, which is a list of the best unsold scripts for each calendar year. Simple as that.

The List was started by Franklin Leonard in an effort to bring attention to scripts that otherwise, may never have seen the light of day, and in an attempt to create a path to success for yet-to-be-produced screenwriters.

Check out this link to an interview with Franklin Leonard. It’s is a great introduction to the Black List.

In the interview, Franklin Leonard states that:

“…the more that we can do to shine a very bright spotlight on people doing ambitious and very high quality work, the more likely it is that those scripts get made. I think the role we play is to shine that bright spotlight and say, “Here’s a bunch of stuff that maybe you overlooked, that maybe you loved but you didn’t pull the trigger on for whatever reason; it might be worth taking a second look.”

He goes on to say that’s exactly what happens when the list comes out each year. There are meetings all over Hollywood where executives go over the list and reconsider scripts they’d previously passed on, or they find new scripts that they then request from writers and agents.

Since 2005, over two-hundred films that made it onto a Black List have been produced. Some of them include Argo, American Hustle, The Descendants, Juno, The Wolf of Wall Street, Slumdog Millionaire, The Social Network, and The Wrestler.

In an attempt to start a dialogue, here are some ideas about how the Black List could work in the world of kid lit:

The Kid List (or whatever it’s going to be called) committee would solicit manuscripts from writers from underrepresented backgrounds, or manuscripts with underrepresented main characters, regardless of the writer’s background.

The purpose of The Kid List would be to connect publishers with manuscripts that an esteemed committee would deem worthy of publication. It would also be a vehicle for connecting unrepresented writers with agents. Furthermore, the list could be used as a form of mentorship for writers of promising manuscripts that do not make the list. These writers would be given quality feedback and the opportunity to resubmit to the list the following year.

The manuscripts could be sent from agents or from individuals who do not yet have representation. I picture manuscripts coming from unpublished writers, but I think it’d also be appropriate for a published author to submit a manuscript that has gone through the traditional editorial submission process without garnering a deal.

At the end of the year, the committee would create a list made up of  (whatever number) of manuscripts that they feel are worthy of publication. I picture the list being unveiled by the committee during one of the major book conventions.

The make-up of the selection committee would be crucial to the success of The Kid List. In order to shine that spotlight that Franklin Leonard talks about, the folks on the committee would need to be bright lights in their own right. They should be influential librarians, well-regarded booksellers and big-name authors. It would be a major time commitment—maybe like being a member of the BFYA committee—but I think there are enough big-time players out there who value diversity in children’s literature and who would like to play a role in making that diversity happen.

Recruiting a selection committee, creating its rules and structures… all that, would be a big challenge for some dynamic, driven passionate individuals. Are you one of them?

My big fear would be that the list would come out… and nothing would happen. Editors and agents would greet it with a big whatever. I just don’t think that’d be the case. I truly believe that, for the most part, editors would like to publish more “diverse books.” But change is hard. People need a nudge. They need help. They need to be educated and they need someone they respect telling them it’s okay to go for it. But more than all that, The Kid List would create marketing buzz for books before they’re even sold. What publisher wouldn’t want a piece of that?

I could picture the first Kid List coming out and one book being published off that list. It might not seem like much, but editors and agents would know that a cool book from an unknown author was sold, at least in part, because of The Kid List. They’d check it out a little closer the next year and maybe then a few more books would be published because of The List. From there, it’s not hard seeing a time and place where The Kid List has done for diversity in kid lit what the Black List has done for Hollywood.

And it’s not hard to picture young writers from diverse backgrounds, inspired by the idea that there’s a path that I can take to get a book published. And the characters in that book can look like I do.

There it is. One idea. Let me know what you think. Or don’t, and just go for it.

PatrickFS1Patrick Flores-Scott was, until recently, a long-time public school teacher in Seattle, Washington. He’s now a stay-at-home dad and early morning writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Patrick’s first novel, Jumped In, has been named to a YALSA 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults book, an NCSS/CBC Notable Book for the Social Studies and a Bank Street College Best Book of 2014. He is currently working on his second book, American Road Trip.

Guest Post by Author Cathy Camper: Lowriders in Space Blast Off!

Cathy Camper_headshot_photo (c) Jayson Colomby_smBy Cathy Camper

Elirio Malaria (a mosquito), Flapjack Octopus and Lupe Impala work at a car dealership six days a week. Lupe’s the mechanic, Flapjack washes and buffs the cars, and Elirio details the cars with his beak. Their dream is to have a garage and a lowrider of their own:

            They’d seen some cars blast by fast,

             And others that could shift and drift,

            But they wanted a car that would go low and slow.

            Bajito y suavecito.

            A universal car contest gives them that opportunity. But not until their car gets customized by outer space! Pinstripes from Saturn, pompom asteroids, and star-capped hubcaps make their car an interstellar phenomena!

That’s how I pitched my graphic novel Lowriders in Space at Pitchapalooza in Portland, Oregon. Back when the book was just a manuscript and a vision in my head, I’d exhausted the list of graphic novel agents, and so winning this contest was like a dream come true. The prize was the advice of The Book Doctors, a husband-wife team who connected my project with an agent and eventually, an editor and publisher.

I’m a writer, artist and a youth services outreach librarian. I wrote Lowriders in Space because as an Arab American, I was fed up with the inability of mainstream comics and books to represent the diversity of kids I see everyday, kids who like me, don’t see themselves in books. When I first sent the script to the book’s artist, Raúl III, who is Latino, he told me, “This is the book I wanted to read as a child,” and he was as excited as I was to create it, and for the same reasons. Our editor at Chronicle Books, Ginee Seo, is Korean American, and she gets it too—like us she wants to give kids a book that meets them where they are.

I’d been working on the book since 2006, and was thrilled when the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign launched in May 2014. We’re hoping that when Lowriders comes out this fall, it kicks a big hole in the wall of racism of kids’ books, welcoming kids of all backgrounds to read it. We hope it encourages publishers to create more books by new authors and illustrators of color, and to inspire kids via reading our book, to become creators, too.

By 2050, one third of the US will live in English-Spanish speaking households—that’s our audience! The book’s also aimed at boys, because the literacy rate of boys is dropping, and like Jon Scieszka (who sponsors the Guys Read website), we want boys to read. We also envision that kids struggling to read, for whatever reasons, might find our book inviting. And it looks like adults are loving it, too, from all the reviews that have been popping up online.

Since I’m not Latina, it was crucial to me that our book was culturally correct. I did tons of research, read books, watched films, went to the Lowrider Magazine’s car show, and interviewed people. I’m also fortunate and forever grateful to have the help of many Latino friends and library co-workers, who read the manuscript, offered suggestions, and helped fine-tune the Spanish. One of the cartoonists I admire most is cartoon journalist Joe Sacco. His ability to go into places of high conflict, like Palestine and the Bosnian war and create detailed drawn and written records out of chaos humbles me. When I heard him speak, he mentioned that one of the things he tries to do is set his ego aside, and put the stories of those he’s writing about, up front. When I wrote Lowriders, I tried my best to emulate this goal, and to fight for, as best I could, what would make the story culturally relevant.

This goal included having the right illustrations. Traditionally in children’s books, the writer doesn’t choose an illustrator for the manuscript (though this is different in comics creation). I was warned along the way, “Choosing your own illustrator may work against you.” However, I felt it was crucial that Raúl illustrate this book, not only because he’s a brilliant artist (and if we’re saying we need more diverse kids books, we also need more diverse creators), but because his art added just the right touch of both cultural relevancy and the retro-nuevo feel the text demanded. Raúl told me that much of the setting and landscape is based on his childhood in El Paso, Texas. When he started sketching Flapjack Octopus, he said he couldn’t help but think of him in his pail as El Chavo del Ocho, sitting in his barrel—and so we changed Flappy’s name and look to reflect that.

Lowriders In Space_Int_2

Just as Raúl was able to make contributions to the text, I sometimes added context to the drawings. For example, it was important to me that our lowriders’ car had the Big Dipper on it. For the lowrider diaspora of Latinos and African Americans whom the book celebrates, the Big Dipper represents the path north, and more broadly, the path to freedom. What better symbol to have on a flying car’s license plate? Our book celebrates the influence of older comics, art, pop culture and car references that Raúl and I both love and wanted to share, including George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, the Hernandez BrothersLove and Rockets, Mad Magazine and Big Daddy Roth’s cars.

And then there’s the science – I love science! My first book Bugs Before Time was about giant prehistoric insects – including a sea scorpion as big as your mom. Why wouldn’t our graphic novel include science, when there really are things as wondrous as flapjack octopuses and braided rings of Saturn? The technology of cars is part of science, too, whether it’s learning how cars are buffed and painted, how air compressors make lowriders hop, or what vulcanizing does to make rubber tires strong.

We think Lowriders is going to read like something brand new, because of the unique, aligned intent of author, illustrator, and publisher and because of the crazy mix of culture, comics, and science our combined imaginations dreamed up. We hope you love it and it makes you laugh, and that you share your excitement with all the kids out there that might love it, too. When Lowriders in Space blasts off this fall, our real destination isn’t the outer galaxies, it’s to land in the hands of kids who deserve to see themselves in what they read, and to be read by everyone else so they experience how rich a culture of color can be.

Cathy Camper is a librarian focusing on outreach to schools and children in grades K-12. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow the book’s Facebook page for more news.

Coming soon on Latin@s in Kid Lit: A book talk on Lowriders in Space with more story details and more peeks at interior pages!