Thursday, August 16, 2012

Making Some Noise

I'll be honest, I didn't really feel qualified to post about ethnic diversity in children's books, but then I read Linda Sue Park's blog post about this and she encouraged me to "make some noise." So while she probably said it much better than I'm about to and has a lot more experience with this issue, here's me, making some noise.

After reading NPR's list of "100 Best-Ever Teen Novels," I couldn't stop asking myself, "Where is the diversity?" Where's Matt de la Peña, Coe Booth, Lisa Yee, Walter Dean Myers, Rita Williams Garcia, Pam Muñez Ryan and Cindy Pon? Seriously, not even Maya Angelou, Alice Walker or Toni Morrison? I could keep naming YA authors of color for pages.

Granted Sherman Alexi manged to make the list at number thirty-one. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird is third on the list, but that is still a white perspective on race. But this issue goes so far beyond books dealing with race issues that I'm not sure where to start. Many of the above mentioned authors don't even write books that address race relations--they simple write books with characters of color who represent the diversity and melding of cultures that make America great. We are stronger for our differences, and history has proven we are capable of change, even if it is hard and slow in coming.

Maybe we can excuse this because it is an NPR list, and their audience tends to be middle-class white people like myself (which is probably why I knew about this list in the first place). But isn't that even more of a reason to include diversity in our reading experience? We read to learn, explore, escape, so why are we reading so many books about the exact same type of people? Sure, you want to relate to the main character, but it shouldn't be skin color or even heritage that makes a character relatable.

In writing this, I also became fairly disappointed in myself. Why couldn't I think of a single YA author of Middle Eastern heritage? (Although I did think of Suzanne Fisher Staples's Shabanu, which is an amazingly powerful book.) I even checked my list of ten favorites on GoodReads, and not one of them features a character of color. So why is diversity missing from my own list?

The more I think about the NPR list, the more questions it raises about my personal reading choices, what books we expose children to and why we gravitate towards books featuring main characters of our own race. I don't know how to fix this problem other than to make a conscious decision on my part to read more diversely, but at least that's a place to start.

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