Over the past few years, I have been working to increase the diversity of my school library’s collection, with an eye towards the ultimate goal of having the books on our shelves reflect the reality of the society in which we live. While I use traditional review sources, I have also found it helpful to explore online resources specifically intended to review and publicize diverse books. A few weeks ago, as part of a conference presentation, I decided to make this handy infographic of the sites I find most helpful. Hopefully you might find it useful too! (For active links to the websites, please scroll to the bottom of this post.)
What happened in YA last month? Here is a quick round up of featured posts on The Hub and other links to keep you up to date when collecting for your teens.
At the Hub
- Amazing Audiobooks, Volume 3 – featuring fantastic characters and a dash of magical realism
- QuickPick Immigrants and Refugees – new books are being written to inform the public of the realities of those seeking sanctuary
- QuickPick Science Fiction – four science fiction stories with fabulous hooks
- Banned Books: International Edition -international books that have found their way onto our Banned Books List
- QuickPick Novels in Verse – four titles with four very different approaches
- Romantic Comedies – escape into a fun-filled romantic comedy when you could use a little levity, love, and fun
- QuickPick Social Media in YA Fiction these titles serve as fascinating yet cautionary tales of social media
- Amazing Audiobooks Volume 2 – featuring historical LGBTQ romance, nonfiction, a murder mystery and more.
- Women in Comics – Refugee Experiences – Graphic novels featuring refugee stories from around the world.
- Monthly Monday Poll – Which YA book referencing modern or historical child-labor issues is your favorite?
Graphic novelist, Gene Luen Yang, the National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature mission during his term has been to encourage readers to read more diversely with his Reading Without Walls Challenge. It is a simple challenge that asks readers to do one of these three things:
For the month April, there is a nationwide push to have every reader participate.
The YALSA Hub has long supported creating a habit of reading diversely. Here is a roundup of recent booklists that supports each of Yang’s three areas.
Much of diverse young adult literature is contemporary, realistic fiction, or historical fiction about the struggle of being a person of color. As a teen library worker, I get to know the personal lives of teens and some of their stories are heartbreaking. From poverty to bullying, I recognize that the struggle is real and I am happy to be a non-judgemental adult soundboard. I am also grateful for the plethora of young adult fiction available so that I can hand a book to a teen I feel will provide some insight and comfort.
But when life is tough, many teens also like to escape into fantasy and science fiction. Readers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror also like to see themselves in these books. If people of color can survive slavery and oppression and poverty, they can also survive zombies and maniacal kings and dragons. So, where are the black Hermiones?
I am a teen services specialist and a major part of my job is to connect teens with books. I have an avid reader, who is Middle Eastern, who asks me to recommend fantasy books about once a month. A year ago when the We Need Diverse Books movement started, I asked her to do a cue card about why we need diverse books and she stated that she would like to see more Middle Eastern characters in fantasy. A little over a year later, I gave her The Wrath and The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh and she came back and absolutely raved about the book. She said that she particularly loved the inside cover because there was a girl who looked and dressed like her. This is one reason why we need diverse books.
If you are a library worker looking to enhance your diverse young adult repertoire or a teen reader looking for yourself in a magical world or a speculative fiction reader seeking something new, here’s a list of speculative young adult fantasy/science fiction titles for you to try. Please note that some titles feature characters of color in a supporting role—but that’s okay because Hermione was a supporting character, too.
Have you been watching the Special Olympics? What an incredible group of athletes! It occurred to me that we might find some potential participants in…
I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend BEA (Book Expo America) this week in NYC since I live in NJ. BEA will be held in Chicago next year, so I think this is the last time I’ll be going for a long time. I thought I would help those of you out who are going – or not going – by highlighting some of the diverse YA books available as ARCs that you might want to be on the lookout for. The need for more diversity in youth literature is ongoing, led largely by the We Need Diverse Books campaign. The following list of books and their descriptions are taken directly from SLJ’s BEA Guide to ARCs & Signings.
In a futuristic society run by an all-powerful Gov, a bender teen on the cusp of adulthood has choices to make that will change her life – and maybe the world by the author of Blue Fish.
This is a companion book to Preus’s 2011 Newbery Honor Book Heart of a Samurai. In 1853 in Japan, Yoshi, a Japanese boy who dreams of someday becoming a samurai is taken up by Manjiro and becomes his servant and secret watchdog. Meanwhile, Jack, a cabin boy on Commodore Matthew Perry’s USS Susquehanna, becomes separated from his American companions while on shore. When he and Yoshi cross paths, they set out on a grand adventure to get Jack back to his ship before he is discovered by the shogun’s samurai.
Sometimes the worst thing you can do is nothing at all. This honest and heartfelt novel by the author of Say What You Will follows a disabled young adult who is attacked and a fellow student who witnessed the crime but failed to act.
Parker Grant is a junior in high school who loves to run, has great friends, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind – especially when it comes to how stupid some people can be around a blind person like her. The only topic to avoid is how Parker feels about the boy who broke her heart in eighth grade…who has just transferred to her school. And as long as she can keep giving herself gold stars for every day she hasn’t cried since her dad’s death three months ago, she’ll be just fine. Right?
Fei is from a village where there is no sound. When suddenly the villagers begin to lose their sight and their source of food, Fei, who can suddenly hear, has to save her village from darkness and starvation.
As 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.
2004 Edwards Award winner 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.
Fans 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!
Friday afternoon at the YALSA YA Lit Symposium, I attended Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy and Sci Fi?, which boasted quite the list of presenters and participating authors/editor. Led by Sarah Murphy, Kerry Roeder, Angela Ungaro, of The Watchers Podcast, the session started by acknowledging the fact that indeed, there are already quite a few heroes of color in SFF that we can pull out from history, thanks to authors like Octavia Butler and Ursula K. Le Guin. But we all know that there aren’t enough, and that’s a shame, especially when movements like We Need Diverse Books prove that we want them. To that end, participating authors Amalie Howard, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, and Cynthia Leitich Smith, plus editors Joe Monti and Stacy Whitman (who joined via video), discussed their experiences in the diverse (or not-so-diverse) world of publishing and genre fiction, especially in YA.
While there is much to say about diversity in YA literature that would take much longer than a simple post to get to, let’s agree that science fiction and fantasy seem especially to suffer from excessive whiteness (and excessive abledness, hetero-ness, etc, but that was not the theme of this session), probably due to the fact that publishers seem to think that characters of color only belong in realistic stories about very specific racialized experiences that are sanctioned by the status quo, like a story about a black person during the Civil Rights movement or a story about a Latino who is crossing the border into the United States. The question of the day seemed to be why there seems to be such resistance to genres that imagine entirely new worlds going on to imagine that people of color might be in them?
The presenters and participants all shared their frustration for the current state of publishing and their passion for changing it. Monti, who will be running his own new imprint, Saga Press, at Simon & Schuster, did not hold back from calling out other publishers’ refusal to change. He noted fighting with someone over a new cover of A Wizard of Earthsea, which failed to make Ged, the main character, black, even though the author has done nothing but insist that Ged is black. Monti noted that “we can’t get to a deeper truth if we ignore half the world…I don’t understand how a school system can be majority minority and publishers think Latinos are niche.” He said he strongly believes diversity will sell, because good stories are good stories, plain and simple.
Last month, I began a series devoted to highlighting diversity within YA literature in an effort to support the We Need Diverse Books campaign–check out my first post in the series for more information and to read about Sara Farizan’s novels. This month, I thought I’d focus on another critically acclaimed YA writer, Benjamin Alire Saenz, an award-winning author (2013 Printz Honor!) and poet.
A remarkably unique voice in YA literature, Saenz draws heavily from his own experiences as a young Chicano boy growing up on the Mexico/New Mexico border in the 1960s. His work also often deals with sexuality and homophobia, a result of Saenz’ own struggles with coming out which he did quite late in life. His intersecting themes of race, culture, class, and sexuality certainly make his novels stand out amongst the YA canon but it is not this alone that makes him so noteworthy.