The Need for Underrepresented Creators with #OwnVoices/#LivedExperience*
Diverse Books and #OwnVoices/#LivedExperience are not part of a trend in children’s book publishing. They are part of a movement. The children’s book community is recognizing that young readers need more opportunities to have books that act as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors (and now prisms). This concept was introduced by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop and has become well known in the children’s book industry. When children read, they learn about the world around them. What they read can influence how children view themselves and others and can impact their lives in many ways.
When children see mostly characters from the dominant culture, it sends a message of who is valued in society. Likewise, when children don’t see characters like themselves in books, they feel undervalued. This applies to not only race but also ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and disability. As children’s book creators, we want to ensure that all children feel valued and that children learn to appreciate the many kinds of people that make up our world so that they can carry those values along with cultural competence into adulthood. When children only see themselves in books, they also receive an unrealistic view of the world in which they live.
The Importance of #OwnVoices/#LivedExperience
When you think of the 1995 movie Braveheart, which depicts the 13th century Scottish warrior William Wallace, an image of Wallace and his kinsmen charging into battle in kilts may immediately spring to mind. These kilts, however, did not exist before the 18th century. I’m sure a lot of research went into making the movie Braveheart, which ended up winning five Academy Awards, yet mistakes were made. Assumptions were made. The research was incomplete and, obviously, there was no one involved in making the film that had lived the experience of 13th century Scotland. But because of the popularity of this movie and the lack of more accurate representations in the media of the First War of Scottish Independence, we now immediately assume that William Wallace led his men into battle in tartan kilts.
Anachronisms like this can easily occur when depicting characters outside of our own time period, but more importantly, mistakes are often made when we create characters outside of our own cultures and communities. As a result, these inaccuracies can perpetuate stereotypes and lead to microaggressions and discrimination, which will cause harm to our readers. While we as creators strive to include more characters from underrepresented communities in children’s books, we must recognize the importance of true and accurate portrayals that can only come from lived experiences. This is why “Own Voices,” or children’s book creators with lived experiences, are so important.
We urge our members to learn more about #OwnVoices/#LivedExperience and the need for diverse books. In addition to regional webinars and workshops, SCBWI has recently made several FREE resources available for members. One of these is “Writing Identity Elements into our Stories” with authors David Bowles, Linda Sue Park, and S. K. Ali. This recording is only available until October 18, so hurry and watch it before it’s gone. You can also view a recording of “Sticks and Stones and the Stories We Tell,” in which prominent members of the children’s book community share their own experiences of the discrimination they’ve encountered in the publishing industry. Participants include Crystal Allen, Floyd Cooper, Pat Cummings, Lamar Giles, Rafael López, Meg Medina, Linda Sue Park, Christian Robinson, Shadra Strickland, and Lisa Yee.
Additional free resources can be found here.
*Linda Sue Park encourages use of the term “Lived Experience” over “Own Voices” in the workshop above, and the SCBWI will be leaning into this term more going forward.