“We read to know we’re not alone.” Dr. Robert Carballo, one of my English professors in college, made this statement one day in class, and I never forgot it!
One of the most important reasons #WeNeedDiverseBooks is so that every kid can see themselves represented in a book. This works in two ways:
1.A character who has been traditionally marginalized takes the spotlight and provides readers with a sense of being “not alone.” We validate others by making them visible.
2. Readers of various backgrounds are invited into this character’s life and allowed to find that beneath the differences, there are things they share. They see this “other” as someone who has feelings like them at their core. It becomes more difficult to marginalize someone you care about and understand!
I would encourage you as writers/illustrators to broaden your idea of diversity by considering when YOU have seen yourself in a book. Can you name a book that made you feel “not alone” in some way? Maybe it has to do with race or gender, or maybe it has to do with something entirely different. But reflecting on the books that have mattered to us as writers/illustrators is crucial in the process of making books that matter to others. Please share in the comments! And consider letting the authors of your favorite books know how meaningful their work has been to you.
There have been many such books for me, but here are two examples. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a freckly white girl. There are lots of people who look like me – lots of white girl characters in books. But finding characters that felt like me was a challenge! As an introverted child forced to move and change schools every few years, I felt very lonely and misunderstood. I immediately saw myself in Diane Stanley’s Goldie, from Goldie and the Three Bears. I was Goldie – and Goldie found a friend! (Plus, it’s just a PERFECT and clever spin on the fairy tale!) Here’s the summary:
In this spirited new version of a classic fairy tale, we meet a determined heroine with a mind of her own. Can she help it if everyone she invites over is too bossy or too boring or too snobby or too rough? What Goldie desperately wants is a friend she can love with all her heart. And one day, she finds one who’s just right.
Another more recent example is DEVOTED, by Jennifer Mathieu. Though my specific experience was somewhat different, I identified with Rachel’s intensely emotional journey to find herself and make sense of her faith. I was also home-schooled for several years – and there aren’t many contemporary characters with that experience.
Here’s the summary:
Rachel Walker is devoted to God.
She prays every day, attends Calvary Christian Church with her family, helps care for her five younger siblings, dresses modestly, and prepares herself to be a wife and mother who serves the Lord with joy.
But Rachel is curious about the world her family has turned away from, and increasingly finds that neither the church nor her homeschool education has the answers she craves. Rachel has always found solace in her beliefs, but now she can’t shake the feeling that her devotion might destroy her soul.