What Diverse Books Really Means (And Why We Need More of them!)
Take the first step to writing your children’s book story. Download the free children’s book template here to help you get started.
One of my favorite things about the writing industry is that we support each other. Even though our books may be in direct competition to each other, we will still retweet another’s book launch announcement. We’ll go to each other’s signings and buy each other’s books.
We are a community who supports writers and their books. ❤️
However, in 2014, an organization was started called We Need Diverse Books, and it has made many writers nervous. People who don’t fit this mold, feel left out and wonder if there’s any room for them as a writer.
Understanding the Need for Diverse Books as a Writer:
I know writers are confused about the push for Diverse Books because I hear writers ask it at conferences. Writers in the Journey to KidLit community have asked me this. I even wondered this when I was just starting out only a handful of years ago.
Is there room for your story and your voice as a children’s book author?
If we go back to what I love about the writing community, we know the answer is yes. Yes, there’s room for your story. There’s room for ALL of our books in the world. We know this because there are children all over the world who need our story.
So why do we need an organization and submission requests for diverse books?
It’s hard as a white woman growing up in the middle of the country to notice that not every child growing up had a book they could relate with. But SO MANY people grow up wishing they had a story they could read and think “that sounds like me”. (It’s what we all want as humans! To be seen, heard, and understood.)
My best friend in elementary school refused to let me be Pocahontas for Halloween. I was confused why we both couldn’t be her since she was our favorite Disney character and we both cried when we found out she’d died. What I didn’t understand in my five-year-old limited knowledge was that Pocahontas was the ONE Disney character my BFF could relate to. (Literal twins with that straight black hair down to their butts. Where I couldn’t even get mine to grow past my shoulder blades.)
When I attended a retreat with illustrator, Jessixa Bagley, she explained why she loves to draw animal characters rather than humans in books. Because growing up, the characters she could relate to best were the animals! There weren’t any little girls in stories that she felt resembled her.
And the number of examples goes on and on!
Diverse books doesn’t mean stereotypical.
As a white writer, it can be easy to jump in here and say “Well, I’ll just create diverse characters.” Except that’s not the answer. We don’t need more projections about human life. Or empty stories that no one can connect to.
There’s more to Jewish stories than ones about the Holocaust. There’s more to black boy stories than ones about a boy growing up in the hood. There’s more to girl stories than ones who play with dolls and dream of being a princess.
We need real, authentic stories that only YOU as writers can give us.
As Kathleen Ortiz once explained to me at a conference: She may be Puerto Rican, but that doesn’t mean her experience is the same as every other person of Puerto Rican descent. There are Puerto Ricans from New York, Seattle, and Puerto Rico. All of them different. With their own experiences, hopes, beliefs, and stories to tell.
What story should you be writing then?
So what does this mean for you as a writer? What kind of story should you be telling?
You need to tell YOUR story. The stories that you want to write. Ones that are inspired from your past experiences. Ones that you wish existed as a child. Ones that you can’t wait to sit in front of your computer and type for HOURS!
When I was a kid, I loved reading books from all over! I learned about snogging in the UK. I read historical fiction about life in the times of kings and queens and turn of the century love and loss. I enjoyed stories about kids who lived in cities and spoke languages different than my own.
Because that’s what reading is. An adventure for each reader to connect, inspire, and dream.
Go write THAT story!
And if you’re worried about not being able to publish your book. Stop it. Just because some people are asking to work exclusively with people of different backgrounds doesn’t mean there isn’t room for you. It just means there’s a greater chance that someone who may not have had a voice has a chance to be heard.
And if you don’t want to wait the time it takes to traditionally publish your book, don’t! Self-publish. We live in the year 2020, where we have options. And we need to stop judging our fellow writers for using those options.
EVERY book deserves a space on a child’s bookshelf if you can write it well enough. And if you’re new to the Journey to KidLit community, welcome! We have everything you need to get started.
Check it out: 👇
- Children’s Book Template to get You Started
- Everything there is about Writing Children’s Books
- Your Complete Guide to Writing Picture Books
- All there is to know about Children’s Book Publishing
- A Roadmap to Children’s Book Publishing
- Age Categories for Children’s Books & Where Your Idea Fits