Diverse Books, Diverse Families

Image courtesy of Flickr user theirhistory
Image courtesy of Flickr user theirhistory

As the holiday season enters into full-swing and all my friends are discussing vacation plans with their families far and wide, I got to thinking about the ways in which families are depicted in YA literature. In particular, the surprising lack of diversity in how family units are portrayed as a general rule. More often that not, YA main characters come from “traditional” heterosexual nuclear families with birth parents who are not divorced. That said, as families across the nation become increasingly more diverse on all sorts of levels, so too are fictional families in YA and adult literature. In honor, then, of diverse families, both the ones we are born into and the ones we find, I’ve rounded up a wide array of titles celebrating the love we give and receive from the most important people in our lives.

Counting by 7s
Counting by 7s

Holly Goldberg Sloan’s book Counting by 7s is a favorite at my school with both students and teachers alike. It centers on the life of the endearingly quirky 12-year-old genius Willow Chance, the adopted multiracial daughter of loving white parents. When her adoptive parents tragically die in a car crash, Willow finds herself taken in by her Vietnamese friends and their single mom. What I really appreciated about this book is that it emphasizes that family, although always imperfect, is something that can be created and that is ultimately transformative. Featuring a truly unusual and unique set of misfit characters, this is an uplifting book that reads something like a fable or fairy tale come true. Continue reading Diverse Books, Diverse Families

YA Lit Symposium: Where are the Heroes of Color in SFF?

YALSA_LitSymposium2014Friday 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. Continue reading YA Lit Symposium: Where are the Heroes of Color in SFF?

We Need Diverse Books: Spotlight on Benjamin Alire Saenz

benjaminsaenzLast 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. Continue reading We Need Diverse Books: Spotlight on Benjamin Alire Saenz

We Need Diverse Books: Spotlight on Sara Farizan

diversity images
Graphic courtesy of cci.utk.edu

In April of this year, the We Need Diverse Books campaign took the YA literary world by storm.  Sparked by an initial Twitter exchange between Ellen Oh and Malinda Lo, the movement quickly grew to encompass a wide array of authors, librarians, publishers, bloggers, and readers—a group fittingly representative of the diversity they seek to promote.  We Need Diverse Books’ mission is straightforward: “to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.”

So how can YA librarians actively support this campaign? Simple…by reading more widely, by book talking and recommending diverse books, by promoting a culture of empathy, and by educating ourselves on the many layered and complex issues that accompany being both allies and agents of change.

To that end, I’ve decided to devote a monthly post to highlight author and books that truly exemplify the diversity we wish to see reflected in our literature at large.  By diversity, I mean books that bring a rich, nuanced understanding of a particular viewpoint or experience to their readers; a viewpoint traditionally ignored or made invisible by the mainstream media.  What this means is that while I love Cho Chang as much as the next Harry Potter fan, her presence does not qualify the series as being an example of diversity. Rather, the books I’m interested in promoting are those that move beyond mere representation (or worse, tokenism) to portraits of diverse individuals that are authentic, unique, and relatable.

Photo Credit: Mark Karlsberg /  Studio Eleven
Photo Credit: Mark Karlsberg /
Studio Eleven

That said, I can think of no better author to kick-off this series than Sara Farizan, author of If You Could Be Mine (2014 ALA Rainbow List Top 10 Title) and the upcoming Tell Me How A Crush Should Feel (out October 7th). The daughter of Iranian immigrants, Farizan grew up proud of her heritage while also fearful of what her community would think of her sexuality.  Her struggle to reconcile her sexual identity and her cultural identity manifests itself in her writing and provides a compelling honesty to both her works. Continue reading We Need Diverse Books: Spotlight on Sara Farizan

Librarians Love: Books for Young Black Male Readers

by the Allen County (IN) Public Library
by the Allen County (IN) Public Library
YALSA-bk is a listserv with lively discussions among librarians, educators, and beyond about all things YA lit. Sometimes one listserv member will ask for help finding books around a certain theme or readalikes for a particular title. This post is a compilation of responses for one such request.

The original request
A year ago I asked the group a question about books for black MG and YA boys, especially those who were reluctant readers. The response was Bluford High and Walter Dean Myers, and not much else. In the light of the recent loss of Myers, I wanted to pose the question again. Who do you guys see as the next go to author for books to suck in black male readers? Do you know of any such books you would recommend. I was at a session a few years ago where Matt de la Pena spoke and said a young hispanic male had told him “that’s my life in your book.” Who do you see as the authors who could wring a response like that from today’s (and future) black teens?

Continue reading Librarians Love: Books for Young Black Male Readers