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Tag: cindy pon

Is This Just Fantasy?: It’s A White, White World–And That’s Got To Change.

Just Fantasy PoC fantasyAs a life-long devotee of fantasy fiction, I’ve frequently defended the value of stories that feature dragons, magically gifted heroines, or angst-ridden werewolves.  And while I’ve often stated that fantasy fiction isn’t necessarily an escape from reality simply because it includes magic or ghosts, even the most committed fan must acknowledge that the genre is incredibly disconnected from reality in fatal ways.  For one, fantasy fiction remains an overwhelmingly white world–an area of literature where you might find vampires or psychic detectives but rarely characters of color.

This lack of diversity is a widespread problem in young adult literature and the larger publishing industry but speculative fiction is especially guilty of inequitable representation within its stories and industry.  Just last week, The Guardian published an article by speculative fiction author & essayist Daniel José Older  discussing the insidious ways that systemic racism and white privilege has permeated the science fiction and fantasy publishing & fan communities.  At last month’s YALSA Young Adult Literature Symposium, there was an entire panel titled “Where Are The Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci-Fi?”, which Hub blogger Hannah Gómez recapped with great accuracy & insight.

So, how do we, as readers, fans, & promoters of these genres, demand & nurture fiction with imaginary worlds as diverse as the one we live in?  To start, we need to read, buy, promote, and request titles by and about people of color.  Accordingly, I pulled together some authors and titles to check out, focusing on fiction that falls on the fantasy side of speculative fiction.  This list is far from comprehensive; for more titles, I recommend checking out Lee & Low’s genre-specific Pinterest board, Diversity in YA, and We Need Diverse Books.

High Fantasy

2004 Edwards Award winnerearthsea Ursula K. Le Guin has long been considered one of the best and most beloved high fantasy writers; she’s also consistently written stories with people of color as protagonists–although film adaptions & book covers have often blatantly ignored this, white-washing characters like Ged, the brown-skinned protagonist of A Wizard of Earthsea.  The 2013 Edwards Award winner Tamora Pierce also includes characters of color in her novels; her Emelan books feature both black & multiracial protagonists.

silver phoenixFans of thrilling adventures & complex heroines should try novels by Cindy Pon, Ellen Oh, or Malinda Lo for rich high fantasy tales rooted in a variety of East Asian cultures.  Cindy Pon’s lush & exciting Silver Phoenix and its sequel, The Fury of the Phoenix follow young Ai Ling as she discovers her unique abilities and battles an ancient evil based in the royal palace. Ellen Oh’s Dragon King Chronicles (beginning with Prophecy) also focuses on a powerful young woman struggling to embrace her destiny–the yellow-eyed demon slayer Kira who might be the key to saving the Seven Kingdoms from destruction.  Malinda Lo’s Ash (2010 Morris Award finalist, 2014 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults and Huntress (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2012 Rainbow List, 2012 Amelia Bloomer List) are richly imagined, romantic novels I recommend to all fantasy readers!

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Dystopia in Color

Elysium2I saw the movie Elysium when it opened earlier this month. This dystopian movie includes a multicultural future, with Matt Damon plays Max daCosta,  a Hispanic anti-hero in future LA.   This look at a Hispanic main character given the chance to change the world or save his life (he can’t do both) was a break from the usual round of science fiction in general and Dystopia stories in particular, where the man or woman who rights wrongs and changes society is usually white. A search of recent young adult and middle grade books led me to several that provide readers with a future filled with heroes of different backgrounds, ethnicities, locations and circumstances.

silver sixThe Silver Six is a middle grade dystopian graphic novel written by A.J. Lieberman, and illustrated by Darren Rawlings and published in 2013 by Graphix.  The cover shows the six heroes: Phoebe,  Hannah Yoshiama, Patel, Oliver, Rebecca, Phoebe, and Ian. Their scientist parents are assassinated after they discover a cheap form of power that would free humanity from bondage to Craven Mining, the world’s only energy  supplier.

The children meet at an orphanage where they are assigned silver jumpsuits, a sleeping pod, dangerous jobs, and little food (the future is truly cruel to orphans). Thus begins a story that will have young readers turning pages as the children learn the value of friendship and sticking together, and work to find a place they can call their own. They discover that their parents’ deaths was not an accident and find a way to beat Craven Mining and have their own, peronal paradise. The science is more fun than real, but the pages are full of heart and love and self-discovery, the graphics are fun, and kids who are into science fiction will enjoy this story.

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Prom by the Covers

Dresses, tuxedos, up-dos … it can only mean one thing: prom is around the corner. Thankfully for all you prom-goers, inspiration for that perfect prom night is here! Each photo set below features mystery YA book covers with some rocking ideas for prom night. Read on to do some window shopping and test your knowledge of YA book covers at the same time. (To uncover the titles for each book, just highlight the text beside the correlating number.)

Let us know how many you got right in the comments!

PromDresses

 

1. Airhead – Meg Cabot

2. Amber House – Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed, Larkin Reed

3. Alice in Zombieland – Gena Showalter

4. Etiquette and Espionage – Gail Carriger

5.  The Catastrophic History of You and Me – Jess Rothenberg

 

 

 

 

 

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It Matters If You’re Black or White: The Racism of YA Book Covers

Whitewashing in YAMost of the time, I love young adult literature and am proud to be a YA librarian. But there’s usually a moment once a month when I feel sick, tired, and embarrassed to be working with YA books for a living — and that’s when I flip through my stack of review journals and see a menagerie of gorgeous white girls staring back at me from the covers of upcoming releases.

If a YA book features a white, female protagonist (and this accounts for a not insignificant portion of YA released each year), it seems inevitable that the book cover will display an idealized and airbrushed masterpiece of her on the cover. And when a YA book actually does have a protagonist of color, too often one of three things seems to happen:

  1. The cover is “whitewashed” and shows a Caucasian model instead of a person of color;
  2. The cover depicts someone whose race seems purposefully ambiguous or difficult to discern; or
  3. The character is shown in silhouette

These forms of racism on the part of publishers are unacceptable. And the fact that it is so rampant within the young adult publishing industry seems particularly despicable. The first step toward change is awareness, and so below I’ve tried to pull together a collection of examples of these forms of subtle and not-so-subtle racism. If you have other examples, please share them in the comments.

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Not Another Boring Vampire Romance

When I walked into the first panel of the morning in Anaheim at ALA, I wasn’t quite awake and hadn’t had my coffee. I was a little nervous about how I was going to take notes, but luckily “Not Another Boring Vampire Romance: Going Beyond the Norm in YA Paranormal Literature” was the perfect way to start off the day.

The panel was made up of Jackson Pearce (Fathomless), Kenneth Oppel (This Dark Endeavor), Cindy Pon (Fury of the Phoenix) and Kendare Blake (Girl of Nightmares) and they were on their game for it being such an early hour. Topics ranged from “why paranormal?” to having the authors classify their own books (Oppel: “I’m just trying to write a book.”) and the issue of families in young adult literature (Pearce: “Hard to adventure when your mom’s there.”). The broad range of topics was fascinating and very entertaining to watch.

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Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Part 1: Author Interview with Cindy Pon

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States.

According to the 2010 US Census, there are 17.3 million people of Asian descent in the country, representing the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States. Visit asianpacificheritage.gov for a wealth of resources from the Library of Congress.

So, what does Asian Pacific American Heritage Month have to do with YA literature? Quite a bit: the growth rate of the Asian population in the US means there’s an increasing number of young readers of Asian descent. What are they reading? Are they finding books and characters that reflect their cultural identities?

Happily, I’m seeing an increasing number of titles that feature Asian or Asian-American characters or settings—but we still have a ways to go. I interviewed author Cindy Pon to get her perspective on the representation of Asian and Asian-American cultures in YA literature.

Cindy is the author of two adventure-filled YA fantasy novels inspired by ancient China: Silver Phoenix, named one of the Top 10 SF/Fantasy for Youth by Booklist in 2009, and its sequel, Fury of the Phoenix. Cindy is also an accomplished Chinese brush painter and is one of the co-founders of Diversity in YA, a website and book tour created to bring awareness to the importance of diverse stories in young adult literature. Learn more about her on her website.

How does the representation of Asian and Asian-American culture in YA literature today compare to the choices on the bookshelves when you were growing up?

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