Wednesday, July 8, 2015


For all the talking, tweeting, conferencing and tumbling about children needing diverse books, and they really do, let's not overlook the importance of diversity for adults.  On the kids site, I make it a point to search for and highlight books featuring children of colour.  It's fairly easy to find books featuring African, Caribbean, Asian, Latino and Native American kids.  But I've noticed that as the reader's age creeps up, books that look like them fade out.  While it's important that children see characters that look like them, it's just as important that teens/young adults and adults do as well.   I wholeheartedly support the We Need Diverse Books movement, but it focuses solely on children's lit and YA.

What I'm looking for, and don't see a lot of discussion about, is literary fiction. There are a limited number of authors whose work makes it onto shelves and is promoted, but there's no push from publishers or the land of Tumblr to propel those books forward into the hands of people that don't necessarily look like the characters those books are about. What I have witnessed is an interesting cross-section of authors of colour reading, loving and promoting each others books, which seems like a win-win situation to me. Not only are they, as readers, stepping outside of their norm, they're sharing those books with their own readers, giving visibility to books that audience might not know about otherwise.

Interestingly enough, the group that often complains about the saturation of white male authors in the  New York Times review section are white female authors.  But rarely do I see them promoting other authors that aren't white females.  That's not to say that they never do, but I follow a lot of the more popular authors and they're more likely to promote an unheard of author that looks like them before an Asian, Latino, African American or Native American author.  The closest they come to talking about books with characters that don't look like them is when someone that looks like them has written them (e.g., The Help, The Secret Lives of Bees, etc.).  These aren't women that are scrambling to make it to the top, they're big dollar authors that see New York Times Bestseller stamped on their books, but reaching out to authors that look like them and trying to help them get there?  Apparently that goes beyond the call of duty.

I don't know about you, but I want to read books that introduce me to another culture, other customs, new traditions.  I already know what white America looks like, I've seen it every day of my life.  I'm more interested in stories about San Francisco's Chinatown in WWII, Afghani women living as bacha posh, African American teens finding themselves living in Barbados, etc.  Isn't the world a more interesting place when you realize it's not all about you and your culture?  I encourage you to spread the word about good books featuring characters of colour, whether you do it by posting a review on Amazon or Goodreads, talking about it on social media, or just telling friends about them in conversation.   If you belong to a book club, suggest books to fellow club members.  Often, authors are willing to Skype with your club or even attend the meeting if they're in your area.  Remember, kids need diverse books, but so do we.

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