ALA Midwinter 2014: Authors Weigh in on Diversity in Youth Literature

photo by Lessa Pelayo-Lozada
Soman Chainani, Phoebe Yeh, and Ellen Oh

At ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia, the conversation surrounding people of color in youth literature left the halls of the convention center and headed over to the Karma Cafe for the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association dinner.   The dinner featured a discussion with authors Soman Chainani and Ellen Oh, moderated by Phoebe Yeh, vice president and publisher of Crown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House.

Both authors started off describing their works and the process behind their stories.  Unsurprisingly, both were rooted in a need for books about non-mainstream ideas and characters.

Soman Chainani began by discussing his series, The School for Good and Evil, which was recently optioned for film.  He discussed the gap he saw between his beloved Disney versions of stories which were often sanitized versions of their origins.  This served as the basis for his series which, from the cover, looks like a classic Disney-esque book, but which he describes as containing almost anti-Disney in themes such deconstructing notions of what it means to be a boy or a girl, and looking at binaries such as young and old in addition to the traditional battle between good and evil.  Chainani also described how he purposefully creates diverse characters, since in fantasy traditional race and ethnicity are not as common and diversity relies instead on subtleties such as names of characters (he tries to pick a name from a different culture each time) and skin color.  Continue reading ALA Midwinter 2014: Authors Weigh in on Diversity in Youth Literature