It’s More Than Representation: My Thoughts on the Lack of Diversity in Children’s Books

I write from where I come from isn’t a good enough excuse as to why there are only white straight people in your book.

diversity_tinakugler

Tina Kugler’s illustration on the statistics on racial disparities

My parents always worked to make sure I had books featuring black protagonists, knew my history, played with black barbie dolls,etc… basically representation was always there. Yet I still found myself reading other things. The books my parents provided were great, but I wanted to read about superheroes, criminal masterminds, wizards, girls who disguise themselves like boys to become knights, and so forth and those characters didn’t look like me, not on the covers and no where in the books, but I was okay with that because I just wanted to read.

I didn’t care who was on the cover, I didn’t care that I mostly read “boy books” growing up or that there were no queer romances in my YA books.

I. Did. Not. Care.

I kept not caring until college. I’d pretty much stopped reading books for pleasure during my last two years in high school. To say the least, those were some rough times for me and finding new books for me was the least of my problems. Plus, it was no longer cool to talk about The Clique series, Vampire Academy, Twilight, and so forth at the lunch table like my friends and I used to do just a couple years earlier. I graduated high school, went to Wellesley College, and all of a sudden everything my parents had “forced” on me about black pride and activism slapped me in the face. I suppose you could say I woke up. That’s not to say I look back with fondess at those years, as a child, I spent picket fence in hand protesting injustices in black communities, but I do look back and thank those years for the person I am now.

Activism comes in all forms.

I hated the protests my father dragged me to because they meant nothing to me. I was a booklover, my happiness was always assured as long as I had a good book, it was my means of escaping, or so I thought when I was little. Yesterday I finally watched Catching Fire, one of my favorite book series, yet because of this article or rather thanks to it, I couldn’t stop looking at Katniss and thinking damn, 1) this is/was such a whitewashed film even thought the books weren’t  and 2) this would’ve been so much better had someone from Rue’s district been the protagonist, who seemed like the poorer ones & are basically sharecroppers. Not to mention, as the article the latter link goes to says, “if you’re going to write a story about the marginalized, why not reach down and pick the darkest girl?”

It’s thoughts like these that keep me up at night. Sure, like my dad says, you should be able to envision yourself in any book. I mean, that’s what I did for years. However, is there any wrong in wanting/should I be ignored because I want to read about a black girl who isn’t hating herself, her skin color, who isn’t a slave, who isn’t living during the civil rights movement, who isn’t from one of the various time periods in history class when I was called upon to speak for my entire race. (Ha! As if that teacher really wanted to hear my thoughts about the civil rights movement… I read Malcolm X and bell hooks for fun, don’t even go there.)

Sure as a child I was content with reading books featuring only white straight kids with no disabilities. These characters, aside from the fact that it was up to them to save their world, were freaking perfect and though I didn’t realize it, it led to years and years of me hating myself because I could never be like them and whenever I said my favorite character was Jo March, I was always quickly reminded that I would’ve been a slave at that time or that I wasn’t a boy when I said my favorite character was Artemis Fowl.

So yes, although the answer I write from where I come from is nice. I will no longer accept it. I’m not calling out one single author for there are many authors who have said something similar. However, the stories I write do not only feature black characters. I do a TON of research, even when writing black characters, because believe it or not, even people of a certain culture have stereotypes about that culture that can bleed through into their writing.

You say you write from where you come from, I ask, where do you come from?

Where I come from is pretty diverse, and no it’s not the ghetto.

I read books because I like them & identify with them in some way.

Even to this day, I don’t throw a book away because it has a white girl on the cover. That’s stupid. However like Christopher Myers argued in his piece in the NY Times, it’s time for us to show The Market that we’re tired of this falsified, warped world in which only white people survive dystopia. (<– that links to the intro post, the entire series is phenomenal!)

We need to get rid of this mess.

I love my action-adventure MG books, but why when I sign up for a panel featuring action-adventure MG/YA authors, whose books I love, all the authors are male? Don’t tell me there aren’t female MG action-adventure authors, I read two this month. Don’t tell me there are no black YA Spec-Fic authors, I can name three phenomenal ones (not including Octavia Butler, ❤ her though).

If the problem is that there aren’t enough, get more. Find these writers, mentor them, sign them on, publish them. We, readers, grew New Adult, and with books such as Shannon Stoker’s THE REGISTRY and Sarah Harian’s THE WICKED WE HAVE DONE we’re getting NA that’s expanding beyond Contemporary Romance. If we want something, we need to tell The Market we want it because The Market does not exist without us. I’m not saying abandon books because they feature a cast in which girls of color don’t survive dystopia, although I pretty much have. I’m saying purchase books that reflect how our society is, or, as Malinda Lo did in ASH or Alaya Dawn Johnson did in THE SUMMER PRINCE, create a world in which it’s fine to be a queer and of color. Although I didn’t have books like the previous two when I was younger together we can ensure that children today and in the future do.

If the problem is that these minority voices aren’t being heard, stop talking and put the mic in their hands. It’s nerve-wracking that the only way diverse voices and posts like the one I’m writing can be heard is if they’re said by someone outside that culture. I’m not blaming the outsiders, because they’re just trying to help, but still, give us the mic. If we don’t want it, we’ll hand it to someone else. We’re not trying to be the spokesperson for our culture, but since I did grow up as a black queer girl and am one, unlike an outsider/an ally, when diversity as a trend is over, I’ll still be who I am. My experience will still be erased in children’s books, in Hollywood, and so on. For us, this isn’t a fad, we truly ever give up. Sure I could try to hide my queerness, but um, no. I did that enough growing up and I still do, I will not be silenced in this forum.

There’s a time and a place for anger…that time is now.

Whimsically Yours,

PnC

–As a post script, I will add that there are many people I interact with on Twitter and/or via my blog who say they want more characters with disabilities, from non-Christian religions, POC, LGBTQ, books set in non-western cultures, and “girl books” that read more like “boy books.”  These people I’ve talked to are librarians, writers, readers, bloggers, agents and even editors at major publishing houses. Some, like my SHC client, Dahlia Adler, are known for making phenomenal lists (<–This QUILTBAG YA/NA Compendium of her is pretty freaking awesome) compiling their favorite books featuring these types of characters. However it can’t end there, we have much work to do, but it does make a difference. Maybe not for all children, but for sure for one and that is what really matters.

–I recently read a post on the Dystel & Goderich Agency blog titled “The R Word.” That word being race, I assume. It’s a great post and it got me thinking and a bit fired up. I am in no way angry about what Mr. McCarthy wrote, in fact I’m very thankful that he wrote what he did. It’s a very honest piece. However, my reply was quite a bit too long for the comments so that’s what spurred this post.

As far as writing resources go, I have several specific links on my blog menu under resources, but for a plethora of tips on writing race, queer characters, and many though provoking discussions check out Malinda Lo’s writing advice section.

…I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂

Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi…

sankofa bird

“Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” or “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.”

For the longest time the Sankofa Bird has spoken to me.  It is the bird which flies forward while looking backward with an egg, symbolizing the future, in its mouth.  To me Sankofa means more than a second chance, it is the empowerment of oneself, of a people, to reclaim that which has been lost and use it to move forward.  It is also the surname name my father chose for himself, not wanting to carry the last name Caldwell with roots that most likely led back to some slave master.

I love the idea of reclaiming things, ideas, words that were used to oppress a people or that have been forgotten.  The act of reclaiming is such a powerful tool that whenever it is used wisely I can’t help but smile.  But it takes courage to reclaim things and sometimes you can’t always share what you have begun to reclaim with just anyone.

For me, I used and use the Sankofa bird and the saying so often associated with it, to empower myself to reclaim writing.  When I was younger I used to write all the time.  When I wasn’t reading, I was writing.  A letter to my parents, a journal entry, a story.  Anything was up for grabs to be told using the written word.  Then one day, I think around late middle school, early high school, I realized that to “be cool” you were expected to be an “active” member of society, to act like you were different but really just conform.  To sit in your room and read and write, that wasn’t cool.  Then I got to college and after a year of adventures (for lack of a better word), that could’ve cost me my life and led me to lose a lot of love for and faith in myself, I reclaimed writing.

I wish I could say I’m a writer and proud.  That this is what I do, what I am, my everything.  But the thing is that it’s hard.  Like Tim Burton said, “…it seems that if you’re passionate about something, it freaks people out. You’re considered bizarre or eccentric.”  It’s true.  People get scared.  They wonder why at such a young age you know what you like doing, they tell you to have a backup because you’ll probably fail.  This is especially true if you want to do something creative, innovative, different, people just don’t understand why, for instance, you would devote yourself to something that might never be a “lucrative” life decision.  And though I shouldn’t let their words matter, it’s scary, it gets to you.  So instead of calling myself a writer, I’ve always just said I like to write.  Not a huge difference but still, it’s those slight differences that can really tell you about a person.

However the thing is, I am a writer.  I like to write, and I’m good at it.  By saying that it’s important to note that I’m not taking away from any other writer, I can support the creative work of others while still being creative myself.  Writing is what makes me happy. Yes, I’m good at a lot of things.  Can I plan events for 500+ people?  Yes, been there done that.  For me writing isn’t the only thing I can see myself doing.  The key for me is that without writing, I wouldn’t be as happy.  In the end of the day there’s nothing like sitting down at my computer and letting my creative energy flow.  Sure one day, I might have deadlines but still, writing will always enable and empower me to hone into a creative core that so many people don’t allow theirselves to reach (possibly because they’re afraid they’ll like it too much and then have a “mid life crisis”).

I don’t blame myself for stopping writing, for playing sports, for joining theater, for partying every weekend, for drinking myself into oblivion those have all been experiences that have contributed to who I am today.  In fact, I would say that without those experiences I would’ve never looked back into my past, back to see what really made me happy, to reach a happiness that is not measured by how close I am to my home but rather creates a home for me within myself.

Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi.  Not only is it not wrong but it is NEVER too late to get what you have lost, what you think you have forgotten.  That’s the amazing thing about us.  We have this magical ability to adapt to survive.  Sometimes we get so good at it, that we push aside parts of ourself so much so that they seem gone forever.  So it is equally important to think about how you really want to live, to survive.  I may be 20 but I’m already tired of the world’s bullshit.  I don’t want years to go by, for me to wake up in the middle of night, in some fancy house I don’t recognize beside some person who doesn’t even know me.  I want to live creatively, to live free, whatever that means, I not only want but need it.  I must allow myself to not be afraid of going after my desires.  Now.  Age does not define my ability.  I may not be “there” yet but I’m not too young to begin my journey (for the journey is equally as, if not more, important than the destination).  None of us are.  And if there’s ever a day you realize you’re on a path you don’t want to be on (not that you’ve taken the wrong one because you chose it therefore it is or was right for, at least at the time you chose it) just remember that it is within you to change your circumstances.  It definitely won’t be easy but nothing is impossible.

lion king - the past

Whimsically Yours,

PnC

Where Is Home?

(my empty room…cleaning it out was quite the cathartic experience)

Home.  That single word can conjure so many feelings, thoughts & images.  When I was younger I could’ve easily told you where my home was.  The little red brick house in East Fort Worth, yada, yada yada.  Then my parents divorced and that place got harder to label.  I was split between two homes but for many years neither of them felt like a home.  Sure, I had my room where I felt at ease but stepping outside of it introduced me to a world I wasn’t yet ready to reckon with.  Then I went to college.  I heard students call their dorm their home but it wasn’t mine.  I love Wellesley but the dorms, they need work.  Also I had a roommate and for an oldest child, five years older than her first younger sibling, I was used to being allowed me time & space.  Then two winters later I came back home to that little brick house and guess what, my dad had given my room to my sister and put two double beds in it.  Now the one place that had always been mine wasn’t.  Now, he just moved out of that house to completely different city where I have a bed in my sister’s room for when I come to visit.  And my mom, well she’s thinking of giving my room in her house to one my younger sisters.

I’m not trying to make a story about how my parents don’t care for me.  They do, I just never thought this day would happen even though I knew it would (if that makes any sense).  All of this has allowed me to really explore where my home is.  It isn’t at college, it isn’t in Texas, it’s within me.  Sure some places give me a sense of home because the conjure memories and feelings that put me at ease but really home where I make it.  Right now, home is in my college’s Science Center as I camp out here trying to escape this New England heat wave.  It’s taken a while but I’ve learned to find the solace I so claimed for myself as a young girl, hiding out in the depths of my room, in everyday places that aren’t as secluded or private as that room was.

Our ability to adapt is the true test of our ability to survive.  One day, I’ll have my condo with a view, my cabin in the woods but for now I have this table, my laptop, some snacks and a bit of silence.  Right now that’s all I need for I know that home where be wherever I choose to make it, if only I’m brave enough to do so.

The TED talk from TEDGlobal 2013 by Pico Iyer that inspired this post.

Inner Peace Award & Sunshine Award =)

HI!!!  Good Morning =)  I say good morning because it’s currently 3:55 AM right now.  Hopefully you’ll be enjoying this post at a much more reasonable hour.

Thanks to Julia of Julia the Writer Girl I was nominated for the twin awards the Inner Peace Award & Sunshine Award!  I’m honored.  Julia is an amazing writer who is doing some great things such as working on a young writers conference in Chicago she helps plan and has written many amazing novels she has blogged about that I hope to be able to buy one day (especially the assassin & the alternate reality one).

As per the acceptance rules, Seven Things About Me:

  1. I just got a new stuffed animal, his name is Christopher.   There’s the full family (he’s the cute little sea turtle in the front).  Also, his shell is detachable (so cool).   I want to buy him little dapper little outfits like this one: dapper chris

  2. I’m in the trenches (the querying ones…again), it’s all very bleh here.  For a while I was doing this bumming thing where I did nothing but be a bum and check my email every other minute (no but actually).  Then I was like..um no, girl.  Not again.  You must stop playing the worry/let’s build our already high anxiety game.  So, I did.

  3. I started writing again.  Something new, fresh, it’s nice.  I realized the problem with everything else I’d been trying to start writing was that it didn’t speak to me like my first MS had.  I didn’t wake up in the morning ready to spew out long trains of story.  It was all very nothingness.  I needed a story that was more than a good premise, something that I had to write, that hit at my heart.  I found it.  And after a few killer opening lines (not biased at all…), more bumming, brainstorming, resisting another shiny new idea (or two) I was off.  Which is why it’s 4:29 AM and I’m still up (even though I have work at 9 AM *head desk*).  I knocked out roughly 1,700 words in 90 minutes so I’m taking that as my sign from above that this one’s a keeper/I’m not allowing myself to quit it.

Typografie-Nike-Just-Do-It

 This is my current computer wallpaper…honestly no one gives advice like Nike.  So simple yet not always easy to follow.

4. I go to Wellesley College & I’m a rising Junior.  I’ve heard it’s a pretty good school (LOL) but sometimes I think I’d be happier traveling the world, living and writing.  Or just as well off at my local state school where at least I’d be near my family (yeah, I still get homesick I’ve just learned to keep myself busy enough so that it doesn’t hit me).  Yet I’m not sure if I would’ve rediscovered writing had I not had the first year experiences at/around Wellesley that I did & I have some great friends.  I just feel pulled, on one hand there’s writing, what I want to do and on the other there’s the path I feel I’m being pushed toward.  Sucks to suck because people are about to get a rude awakening…ain’t no body got time to not follow their dreams.

  5. I just started this amazing new journey/adventure with blogger & writer Raven Ashley.  It’s called Operation Diversity and you should read more about it & learn how you can join in on the fun 😉

  6. I’m now interning at Spencer Hill Contemporary (the contemporary imprint of Spencer Hill Press) under Cindy Thomas.  I LOVE it.  I’m interning in publicity so I’m getting to learn a lot about the little things that go into making a book’s launch, author’s career a success.  It’s wonderful & Cindy is such a great mentor.  SHP and it’s imprints are a great community so writers, bloggers, whatever you should keep an eye out…it’s worth your time (I don’t think there’s been a book I’ve read from them I haven’t liked…this includes before I got the internship.

  7. I’m becoming obsessed with Lana Del Rey.  Which is hilarious since I have called her (in the past) several insults, etc…I’ve always considered her to be a propped up princess who basically bought her fame.  Though this might be somewhat true, I can’t lie…there’s something about that lazy voice of hers that draws you in.

Here are my nominations (yes it’s only 7 not fourteen but hey…)

  1. The Writers Republic
  2. The Loony Teen Writer
  3. Bookcasey
  4. Geeky Book Snob
  5. Andrea R. Black
  6. Impressions of a Princess
  7. Kip Wilson Rechea

If You Were Nominated:

1. Display the logo on a post.

2. Thank the person who nominated you and link to his/her site.

3. State seven (7) things about you.

4. Nominate fourteen (14) bloggers and inform them via comment in their blog. (Don’t stress about the number, quality > quantity (unless it’s the first draft of a MS, I suppose)

What’s Up Wednesday

Good Morning, Readers!  Happy Hump Day!  As a part of Ready. Set. Write. & just cause, here’s my fourth What’s Up Wednesday!

What I’m Reading

gay booksSo…to the left you’ll see my first chunk of “diversity” books, there’s Proxy by Alex London which is what I’m reading now, Huntress by Malindo Lo which is next (companion to Ash), and Ash by Malinda Lo which I recently finished (review up tomorrow).

Ash was gorgeous & beautifully written, truly a fairy tale (retelling of Cinderella), and Proxy is fascinating, an adventure with lots of missing pieces to the puzzle (and I’ve only just started).

Is there anything different about these books?  Only that they connect with me in a deeper level, because I understand some of the experiences, than most YA’s I read, which is nice.
What I’m Writing

2013-Participant-Campfire-Circle-BadgeMy new WIP, tentatively titled: The Alex de Vega Chronicles (MG).

It’s set in a futuristic world, where…well, why don’t I let sassy little Alex tell you herself:

Prologue/Back of book/idk…

It takes one to know one. 

It’s the year 3146, and the world is not at all like the one you’ve been led to know.

Vampires exist and so do werewolves, shapeshifters, faeries and just about every other mythical creature you could think of, in fact one of them is my friend.

But that’s not what I’m writing to talk about, you see the world is a deadly place (duh, right) and the Council, that once kept the peace between the races, is corrupt.

The faerie court is divided, the vampire lords are fighting amongst each other and the humans, we’re next on the menu.  The key to saving our city, Atlantis II, lies within the most advanced piece of technology there is, Pandora’s Box…only thing is, it was recently stolen, by whom know one knows.

Who am I?  You might be asking.

Like they say, it takes one to know one…I am Alex de Vega — of the de Vega crime family – criminal mastermind, the one who’s supposed to save this city (ironic, isn’t it?).

Why am I telling you this?

Well, call me overly cautious but in case I don’t succeed, I’ve programmed this journal to go back to your time so that hopefully you can stop all of this from happening.

Chapter One

Middle school sucks.

You’d think that after a couple thousand years someone would’ve figured out a way to make it more interesting.  I mean you’ve got teachers that expect students to sit in a desk all day and do worksheets.  It sucks more than the time my dad made me stay at home with little crybaby sister while he took my dufus brother out to case some new virtual reality software.  Not that I cared about casing some game when I’d already stolen the original before it hit the market and replaced it with a fake.  Boy was he mad when he found that out.  It was more the fact that they never let me go with them on any of their adventures.

Oh well, I had better things to do.  Like create the software to reprogram the bots that patrolled the school hallways so that in three, two—

“Ms. Harland, Ms. Harland,” said a messy, red-haired boy who’d busted through the door.  He drew in a deep breath.  “The droids, th-they’re fighting.  In the hallway.”  The boy fell to the floor.  “What do you mean they’re fighting?” she asked, peeping her head out the door.  There was a shriek; our head of school ran by, one of the robots fast behind him.

“Oh my,” said our teacher.  She pushed the red emergency button behind her desk.  “Okay, stay here.  Someone will be here shortly; I’m going to rescue Headmaster Schley.”

I rolled my eyes, that woman had taken one self-defense class and she already thought she was Wonder Woman.  Not that it mattered since I’d only programmed the bots to tickle, of course, I’d be long gone by the time they figured that out”…

So yep, that’s my new baby.  I’ve been wanting to write an MG for a while, one that’s fast-paced, funny, a little dark, and has one hella a spunky girl as its MC.  (The best way I can describe this project is a combination of my old WIP the Otherworldly Chronicles, maybe the Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black, and Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer.)

It’s hard because all I remember are the good parts about the process toward finishing my old WIP, even now when I edit things I know it’s so close to being finished I push on.  With this one, I’m at square one, I know I can write it by the end of July (it’s for Camp NaNoWriMo) but only if I let myself fully go.  Right now I’m still at the beginning of chapter one, my inner critic trying to make everything perfect along the way.  

Ugh…is this really what the beginning feels like?  Why do I do this to myself???  Oh, right, I love it, right?

What Else I’ve Been Up To

big turtle side tank

1. On Friday, I went into Boston (for work) but was able to have some great times with friends at this amazing restaurant called Shabu-Ya.  I got to go to the aquarium (I got a sneak peak at the new top level to their aquarium).

And I had my first canoli & French macaron. me eating canoli macaronBefore dinner, I went from bookstore to bookstore making it my mission to find a few of the books on my “Diversity in YA” shelf (the link is to my goodreads shelf as my blog page isn’t up to date) I wanted to read first (Found all of them minus Bill Konigsberg’s book Openly Straight…I might have to order that one, also his blog is great too!).  It wasn’t easy, I think that goes to highlight how hard books with main characters who are a person of color and/or queer are to find.  The books I ended up buying are the ones I talk about in my ‘What I’m Reading’ section.

touched and dollhouse SH ARCs

-I got my ARC of Stalked by Death (Touch of Death #2) by Kelly Hashway & I’m so excited to read it…loved Touch of Death!! I also got this cool bookmark of The Dollhouse Asylum by Mary Gray (can’t wait for the book!!).

-I finally celebrated finishing my (5th?) draft of BLOOD OF ISIS & my blog birthday (so much that I’m probably am good until my birthday).  AND, while bumming around on Sunday I came up with ways to fix/make awesome a few story bumps I knew I needed to address in BOI.  (See, taking a break from your book baby (even if a small one)  really does work wonders) .  one to start) forCamp NaNoWriMo in July!

-Oh and I left my phone in a taxi Friday and it would’ve been my third or fourth phone lost this year (bad luck + stupidity) if the driver hadn’t kindly brought it to my school (for which I paid for dearly…).  And I went grocery shopping & decided I’m going to live off books & AB&J (AB = Almond Butter) because groceries are too damn expensive (I don’t know how people can stand to see that much money go away just like that for stuff that has such a short lifespan).

What Inspires Me Right Now

These NaNoWriMo pep talks:

Neil GaimanBeth RevisMeg Cabot | Holly Black | Lemony SnicketMarissa Meyer | Gayle Forman | Julie Cross | Scott Westerfeld

Interestingly, most of them are my favorite authors…figures.

I’m quite a bit obsessed with NaNoWriMo pep talks so yeah, I usually read them when I’m in the writing slumps (or trenches like I am now).

Also…the writing community, I talked about this a bit in this post from the other day but writers and people in publishing are awesome.  They’re this group of adults (I know teens right, I’m only 20 just speaking about adults here) who still believe in following their dreams even though they might have another job, be 70, barely get paid, it doesn’t matter…we’re real troopers 🙂  So pat yourself on the back because I don’t think we stop enough to tell ourselves how truly amazing we are!  I love you guys.

What have you been up to lately? (something mischievous??)

Whimsically Yours,

PnC