At most of the writing and illustrating conferences or workshops that I've attended over the last ten years, the word "diversity" comes up a lot, mostly in the context that the publishing world needs more diverse books. Some editors and agents will say they want to see more main characters of color - those who are of some other race other than white, both in the text and in the illustrations. Others will say they'd like more stories with cultural themes or topics.
So what's the big deal about diversity?
Well, for one thing the world is a diverse place. And the U.S is one of the most diverse countries in the world - if not THE most diverse one. Granted, there are still areas of the U.S. that have populations with predominantly one race or culture, but for the most part we live among hundreds of different languages and cultures every day, especially in areas like New York and California. I grew up in New Jersey where I was exposed to many different cultures, races, and languages all the time. Many of my friends were from different races or mixed, like me. Just look at my first grade picture - we look like an ad for Benneton! (I'm third from the right, second row.)
In my own household there was diversity - my mom is from England and my dad from the Dominican Republic. I used to visit my dad's family every summer and spend weeks immersed in the Dominican culture - speaking Spanish, eating Dominican food, dancing merengue, learning to live without running water or electricity, sleeping under a mosquito net, etc. (Me at my grandfather's home in the Dominican Republic)
No matter where you live, the reality is that our country is unique because we have so many people of different cultures and languages represented. The sad part is, though, that I don't think we do enough to embrace that. Not just when it comes to books but also in schools. Countries in Europe have children learn two or three languages from the beginning of their schooling. Yet in the U.S, foreign language study is optional, and in few places do people promote bilingualism and biliteracy as a benefit to education. Many schools want to push non-English speaking children to learn and speak only English, to ignore their roots and culture while in school and "mainstream" into American culture - whatever they consider that to be.
But with our country being so diverse,
shouldn't we say that our American culture is really diverse, too?
Some people might think that the term "diverse books" only means "multi-cultural books," meaning books about cultural events, like Nochebuena or Kwaanza or Passover, or books with plots and characters based on particular cultural practices, beliefs, or even stereotypes. But diverse books can also involve characters of color in every day situations, or children of mixed races.
Think about Don Freeman's character of Lisa in "Corduroy" or Ezra Jack Keats character of Peter in "The Snowy Day," "Pet Show," and "Peter's Chair," to name a few. These were books written in the '60's - a decade at the height of segregation and racism - with characters of color in every day situations.
Diversity can be brought out in the character's background, socio-economic status or family life as well. Or diverse books can also deal with characters that have disabilities. Joey Pigza, for instance, is a character with ADHD.
Books addressing LGBT issues or involving characters who are LGBT also fit in the diversity category, such as "The Culling" and "The Sowing," two amazing YA novels written by my good friend Steven dos Santos.
Why don't we see more characters like these?
We keep hearing that children need to relate to characters in books, to feel as though they can "see themselves" in the character.
So shouldn't the books that kids read also reflect that diversity?
Shouldn't kids see white children as well as kids of color on the cover of books,
and characters that look like and act like them in the stories?
The answer should be a clear YES. But just how many books out there really showcase this reality?
Certain companies, like Lee and Low Books, are all about diversity. They market themselves as "an independent book publisher focusing on diversity." And other publishers have imprints or are working towards diversifying their book lists.
Though I believe the trend to more diverse books is moving, it's still moving quite slowly. I know I'm doing my part - I love to create illustrations with children of all types - that's actually how I was able to get my two book deals in 2014 and a more recent job illustrating a story for Click Magazine.
When it comes to diversity, here's the advice I've heard from editors and agents:
~ don't rely on stereotypes
~ if you want to write or illustrate about characters of a different race or culture other than the one you're familiar with, do your research to get the facts and details right
~ your story should use the culture/language/race/disability to move the story OR it can just be an element within the story but with a purpose. In other words, don't force it or choose to add diversity for the sake of adding diversity.
~ your story should be one that every reader can enjoy, regardless of race or culture
However you view diversity, it's important to think about it when writing or illustrating a story, or when you're choosing a story from the library for your kids or students. And take some time out to observe and absorb the diversity around you - it truly is great!
For more information about diversity in books, here are some links to check out:
SCBWI 2014 Los Angeles conference official blog - diversity panel discussion
We Need Diverse Books Campaign
American Booksellers Association article on promoting diversity in books
The Hub - Publishers Speak Out About Diversity
The Children's Book Council Diversity Committee
Disability Studies Quarterly - Children's Literature That Includes Characters With Disabilities or Illnesses
Chat about cultures with Mitali Perkins
Diverse Book Reading List - NPR
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.
Holiday Relaxation with the Energizer Cat, Katya, & the Lost. Found. Book Trailer by Marsha Diane Arnold
For my December blog, I was going to wish you all a happy holiday, tell you to relax your mind and body and eat lots of holiday cookies, and leave it at that. But this month I had such a wonderful experience working with Katya Szewczuk on my first book trailer that I have to share.
My experience on the book trailer reflects my writing of Lost. Found._. In the manuscript, I wrote the text of two repeating words with lots of art notes. Matthew Cordell created the wondrous illustrations, adding some fun actions and a bit of animal language in the illustrations. Perfection.
It was similar with Katya. I provided the text and shared which image I envisioned with which phrase and away she went, bringing the animals to life with motion, music, and more fun. Perfection once again. I was so impressed with Katya's work that I wanted to know more. So I asked.
Moi: I know you wear many hats...I mean, cat ears. :) One of those is working at Kidlit TV as producer, writer, editor, and host. Please tell us a bit about your work there.
Katya: I want to start off by thanking you for this interview! The cat ears are part of my ensemble because I am the "cat" of KidLit TV.That's how my YouTube Channel KidLitKat was created. Here is one of my most recent episodes.
I became a team member in March of 2015 and ever since then my life has been magical. Our diverse team is made up of parents, educators, librarians, kid lit creators, and award winning filmmakers all working together to bring great books to kids! Our mission is to create fun new ways to reinforce an appreciation of reading that children will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
And if you were to meet us all in person, you'd see that we are one, big happy family.
Writer: As an aspiring author, writing for KidLit TV is an honor. My first few articles started out as a video editing/animation series, teaching authors, illustrators and kids how to use professional software.Then Julie Gribble, founder of KidLit TV decided that I would create the original content on our website and write articles that related more to parents, educators and kids. My article The Top 10 Reading and Literacy Apps for Summer_ was even featured on the Children's Book Council website!
Editor:Whenever we have guest bloggers on KidLit TV or interview our Featured Members and Experts each month, I make sure their writing is polished and at its best quality. We always make sure our guests and community members shine whenever they are featured on our website because we believe that through support all of us can grow and reach our goals
Host: My biggest fear when I was young was being in front of a camera. But with the help and guidance of Julie Gribble, co-founder Rocco Staino who is a contributing editor for School Library Journal & Director of Empire State Center for the Book and is also a contributor to the Huffington Post, and team member Kassia Graham, I was able to let go of that fear. I suddenly realized that the camera was soon going to be a gateway to success.
I host two shows on KidLit TV: Field Trip! and Inside Scoop:
On Field Trip! I interview authors, illustrators and industry experts when the KidLit TV team ventures into the kid lit world. I have interviewed well-renowned authors and illustrators at the Eric Carle Honors, such as Helen Oxenbury (We're Going on a Bear Hunt) and Nick Bruel (Bad Kitty) and have gone to many children's book festivals and conferences to interview the up and coming personalities in the kid lit world.
Here's our Red Carpet Coverage of the _10th Anniversary of the Eric Carle Honors _.
For Inside Scoop I get the inside information about an author's new book before it's released or when that author has a special announcement to make about the book!I interview authors ranging from picture books to young adult novels and chat with them over Google Hangouts, Skype or via email.
Producer: The role of producer is one that I most recently play. After hearing many requests to create a KidLit TV podcast, Julie Gribble assigned me to repackage all of our StoryMakers, Field Trip!, Inside Scoop, StoryMakers On Location and Read Out Loud shows. Thus, KidLit RADIO was born! I will also be the host of KidLit RADIO's parent/educator segment. On this segment I will talk with parents and teachers about why literacy and art are important in every school.
Moi: What do you enjoy most about working on book trailers and what did you like about working on Lost. Found.?
Katya: What I enjoy most about every book trailer project is "bringing the illustrations to life" and acting like the puppet master for each character. And I say puppet master because there is a tool in Adobe After Effects that allows you to control each character as if they were real life puppets. As an aspiring illustrator it's always a joy to see the different forms of illustrations. The greatest joy of making book trailers is being able to animate an illustrator's work and learn to appreciate their line work, tinting and shading and overall design.
What I loved most about working on Lost. Found. was animating Matthew Cordell's whimsical illustrations and telling the story through your wonderful critters' eyes. What people don't understand is that book trailers serve as a visual synopsis of a book. Just like in a story you need to show the action and not tell it.
I always choose one character to animate and capture the emotion through their eyes. When I read Lost.Found. I fell in love with the story's lesson and knew I had to capture the emotion through not Bear's eyes, but Scarf's. In my opinion Scarf is the most important character in the story because it is the character that causes the problem, but also fixes it in the end by bringing all the critters together. So in the book trailer, Scarf became the main character.
Moi: I love your answer, Katya, because to me, Red Scarf is also the main character. Please share any suggestions for those who’d like to be more involved in the children’s literature world?
Katya: There are many suggestions I can give, but my favorite suggestion of all is "If you show support for others, that support will be returned to you". My career started by supporting my favorite shows and literature and supporting my fellow kid lit experts. A few other suggestions are to do many writing prompts like the ones I wrote about for Tara Lazar's Picture Book Idea Month_ this year, get involved with conferences and conventions, post something to social media every day and don't be afraid to ask for help. And remember always be a kid at heart.
Moi: I’ve heard a rumor you’ll be teaching an upcoming class on book trailers at Children’s Book Academy. Please tell us about that and how we might take advantage of it.
Katya: As a graduate of the Children's Book Academy, Mira Reisberg has been super supportive of my work and career and gave me the wonderful opportunity to be a "blogette" for the academy. I will be writing about the process and art of book trailers and teaching readers that book trailers aren't only about technicalities, but it's about having an eye of appreciation for an illustrator's work. I have 10+ years of experience and am excited to start sharing it with everyone!
Thank you so much for this opportunity! I want to thank Roaring Brook Press, Matthew Cordell, Neal Porter and you for creating Lost.Found. and many other books that teach children and adults important life lessons. Until next time, be on the look out for the cat ears!
Moi: Thanks to you, Katya, for your expertise and sharing ways. And now, the result of lots of teamwork, the Lost. Found. book trailer.
Marsha Diane Arnold is the award-winning author of twelve books, her newest being Lost. Found. You can find Marsha online at her website, www.marshadianearnold.com, Facebook, or Twitter.
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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