After Matt de la Peña received the Newbery Medal this week for his book Last Stop on Market Street, I was reminded of his work in promoting diversity in publishing.
De la Peña is on the advisory committee for We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit “dedicated to highlighting the best of diverse literature for children and teens and to heightening awareness through continued education.”
Here at the ERB, we value the practice of reading diversely and strive to recommend books that are written by diverse authors and that promote understanding of the experiences of diverse people.
Novelist John Green on why we need diverse books:
Browse the WNDB YouTube channel…
HOW CAN I HELP?
Ever since the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement began, the group has had overwhelming support and positive reception. Once we started our initial campaign in late April and early May, right away we had people asking how they could help and offering to volunteer time, resources, and more. It’s been incredibly heartening. WNDB is currently working hard on a volunteer program for all interested parties. In the meantime, here are a few ways that everyone can help promote diversity in children’s literature!
BUY DIVERSE BOOKS.
Actually buying diverse books is a very, very important way to help. The success of this movement rests on supporting creators and publishers who are putting out quality diverse content, preferably by diverse creators. Moral support is important, but monetary support for creators helps ensure their ability to work, and strong sales numbers allow publishers to bring on similar projects when they might have received resistance before. If you have the funds to do so, please purchase books, preferably soon after their release if possible. If your local bookstore doesn’t carry the book you want, ask them to order it. With enough interest, booksellers will begin to stock the books, further increasing access.
REQUEST DIVERSE BOOKS FROM YOUR LIBRARY.
If your book-buying money is limited, consider requesting books from your library. If libraries begin regularly stocking these books for their collections, exposure and access increases.
SPREAD THE WORD.
If you read a particular diverse book that strikes a chord in you, please recommend it far and wide. When your friends ask what to read next or if you have suggestions for their kids, suggest diverse books. If you belong to a site that does book reviews, consider posting one. Word of mouth is a powerful motivator for book purchases. We are also big proponents of using social media to spread the word and organize, and WNDB can be found on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. Please follow us on Twitter at @diversebooks and use the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag to tweet us your successes or suggestions! We’ll RT and amplify when we’re able.
GIVE DIVERSE BOOKS AS GIFTS.
If you know someone who you think would love a particular book, give it to them as a gift!
WRITE AUTHORS AN APPRECIATION LETTER AND SEND IT VIA THEIR PUBLISHER.
When you read a diverse book you like, send the author a nice note. You can address fan mail to their publisher or literary agent, both of whom can get in touch with the author. A kind letter will give the author a wonderful boost (trust us!), and sending it through the publisher will show them that the author is striking a chord.
IF YOU ARE A PUBLISHER, EDITOR, AGENT, LIBRARIAN, OR BOOKSELLER, TAKE A STAND.
Readers can only take this movement so far. Publishing professionals must take a stand and dedicate themselves to taking risks and not buying into the old standby “there’s no market” line. The success of diversity in children’s literature depends on people at ALL levels working to make it happen. Refuse to pass on projects solely because it’s “too hard” to sell a book with XYZ characters. Hire diverse staff with different outlooks and backgrounds. If it’s at all possible, offer paid internships. Make an effort to select a wider variety of books for your store or library. If you work in a bookstore, check out Grace Lin’s Cheat Sheet for Selling Diversity for some suggestions on hand-selling.
IF YOU ARE A TEACHER OR EDUCATOR, CREATE A DIVERSE READING PROGRAM.
If you have the power to do so, create a diversified reading list for your classroom. Encourage your students to read widely. Request that your school stock diverse books, or bring some from your own collection. Don’t limit students by saying they “can’t” or “shouldn’t” read about someone who isn’t like them, or that they “wouldn’t be interested” in certain books. Invite local diverse authors to speak in your classroom.
IF YOU ARE AN EVENT ORGANIZER, COMMIT TO DIVERSIFYING YOUR PANELS AND SPEAKERS.
When you’re in the planning stages for an event, consider the list of speakers and panels you’re inviting or selecting. Aim to feature a variety of people. Don’t throw in a single generalized “diversity” panel and call it a day — make an effort to diversify as many panels as possible by including people of color on a fantasy panel, LGBTQIA people on a romance panel, disabled people on a panel about plotting, etc. If you don’t have a lot of variety in your applicant pool, then you must do some outreach. Commit to showcasing representation beyond the majority.
These are a few of the ways you can help the #WeNeedDiverseBooks cause. Please stay tuned over the next several months… we’ll be rolling out a number of programs for classrooms and other volunteer opportunities! Keep being amazing in the meantime! As always, we thank you for your support.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com