The United States is the most diverse country in the world. Yet when it comes to diversity in literature produced here, we are far behind. Wouldn't it be nice to see more children of all different colors and races represented in books more often? Yes, there has been an increase and improvement in this area, but the presence of children of color is still not as strong as it should be in children's books that are non-cultural or non-historical in nature.
There are many published books that feature characters of color but most have story plots that revolve around their culture. Publishers need to publish books with characters of color in every day situations, not just ones about their cultural history or practices. For the books that I illustrated "The Hero in You" by Ellis Paul and "My Body Belongs to Me" by Jill Starishevsky, both publishers told me they chose me because of the diverse characters that I draw in my illustrations. My most recent project was to illustrate a story called "Firefighter Mom" for Click Magazine (release date April, 2016). I had never drawn a firefighter let alone a firetruck before! But they chose me because the main characters were African American and I had children of color in the illustrations in my portfolio.
Many publishers say they're looking for more books with diverse characters, but the number of those books actually published is still not high enough. There is a need and a want out there - so it's also up to us writers and illustrators to start producing good, high quality work with characters of color so we can help make diversity a norm in children's books.
One organization trying to change that is We Need Diverse Books. They are working very hard to bring this topic to the forefront of the conversation in the publishing world as well as in movies and other forms of media.
So the next time you have an idea for writing or illustrating a story, ask yourself if you are making your characters too stereotypical or not diverse enough. After all, we live in a diverse world. Shouldn't our stories finally start to reflect that?
Angela Padron is a published illustrator of two books, including "The Hero in You" by Ellis Paul, as well as a Star Wars geek and chocolate chip cookie connoisseur. She also writes and illustrates her own picture books, board books, and chapter books. When she's not teaching, Angela works as a freelance writer and editor for educational publishers and spends weekends enjoying walks along the beach with her family. View her online portfolio at www.angelapadron.com. You can also "like" her facebook page, follow her on Twitter @angela_padron, and follow her own blog called "Show and Tell" with weekly posts about teaching, writing and illustrating books for children.
My newest book Lost. Found was released last week. It was the first time I’ve had a publishing house truly assist with PR, coordinating a blog tour and gently pushing me to be more active on Twitter. I was interviewed and wrote blogs for some of the finest educators around, and I had a great time. Lost. Found. is a Junior Library Guild selection and it’s received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal. You’d think I’d feel confident. You’d think I’d be looking forward to selling one, two, or more new manuscripts very soon. That’s not the case. Instead, I feel anxious, worried, and doubtful. We writers stare at a blank page, alone, when we begin work every day. Often, we feel like the red scarf in Lost. Found. – abandoned and forgotten.
Lost Found is a story of only eighteen words, two words repeated. It’s about...well, being lost and found again. Like many, I sometimes feel lost, both personally and professionally. There were seven long years between my last book and the offer on Lost. Found. I could say that it was a drought for many writers. I could blame it on the changes happening in politics, culture, and publishing, causing a maelstrom for many. But the truth is I was too often afraid...afraid to approach my desk, afraid my writing career was over, afraid to hear that troubling phrase, “You’re not good enough.”
When I visit schools I talk a good game. I talk with the students about the perseverance of Joshua Summerhayes in The Pumpkin Runner. We explore the big dreams of Little Four in Heart of a Tiger. I share a three-by-four-foot board covered with lots of big no’s, with one tiny yes in the middle. “It only takes one yes to be on the way to where you want to be,” I tell the expectant faces. I want my young readers to be strong, to stay determined, to believe in themselves. Oh, yes, I talk a good game, but in truth, I often don’t play a good game.
It’s not uncommon for even best-selling authors or the highest award- winners to doubt themselves. Is there anyway to overcome this writer’s malaise - our anxiety, our self-doubt?
It turns out that the lessons I share with young readers from my books are actually very useful in helping us stay calm and content on our writers’ journey. Run all your races with joy, like Joshua. Or we might say, write all your stories with joy. Follow your dream like Little Four. Even though you’ll never be a Bengal Tiger; you can still be a wise, powerful kitten. Or like Little Skunk in The Tail of Little Skunk, be true to yourself and your nature and you’ll know just what to do. Whether you feel you’re on top of the world or on the bottom, you can still be happy on your journey, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It doesn’t mean we don’t lose ourselves sometimes. The positive part is that we can always find ourselves again. Getting lost and then finding ourselves is part of how we learn.
What doesn’t help us? Comparing ourselves to others, always. Judging – others and ourselves.
What helps us? Remembering we are writing our story, no one else’s, personally and professionally.
I remember supporting my friend, the amazing Teri Sloat, while she was writing her book, I’m A Duck. I always adored this story, but as I recall, Teri had doubts about it even though Duck is an exuberantly happy and positive character, constantly celebrating life and himself.
Duck revels in life. “By some magnificent stroke of good luck, I’m a duck!”...”It gives me a thrill when I open my bill and I QUACK!”...”And wings – I’ve got wings! Just think, I grew both of these things!” How can we not love Duck?
Duck is a creature on a wondrous planet, spinning through space. He was meant to be here and do his thing! So are you. So am I.
As Glinda the Good Witch tells Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz, “You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.” Dorothy was never really lost. She could always find herself, if she really wanted to. So if you’re feeling lost, go find yourself, right now. Nothing was ever lost, that can’t be found.
Meet the Friday Blogonauts
First Fridays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer , man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
Second Fridays will feature awesome multi-award winning author Marsha Diane Arnold who will be writing about character-driven and/or nature-based books and/or anything she likes :)
Third Fridays will feature independent Aladdin/Simon & Shuster editor Emma Sector who has helped bring many books into the world.
Fourth Fridays will feature the great Christine Taylor-Butler who has published over 70 award-winning fiction and non-fiction and nonfiction books including the acclaimed new middle grade series - The Lost Tribes.
Fifth Fridays will feature the fabulous Carl Angel award-winning multi-published Illustrator and graphic designer.
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