It’s a fact that ableism, homophobia, and racism influence countless aspects of people’s everyday lives. Micro-aggressions, stereotypes, internalized prejudice, flagrant bigotry, institutionalised discrimination… There are also other matters to consider: accessibility, hair or skin care, limited dating pools, communities, culture, etc.

When none of these elements are acknowledged in realistic fiction, I notice. When the absence of those elements is praised, I notice especially.

And I wonder — perhaps uncharitably — are diverse characters only OK as long as they’re not too diverse?

Great article by YA author Corinne Duyvis on “incidental diversity” in books and the decline of the issues book. Lots worth thinking about.  (via leeandlow)

Nothing Just Happens to Be

By Kell Andrews

Diversity and being culturally generic

Deadwood, my middle-grade mystery, takes place is a diverse town, like communities I based it on and where I’ve always lived. Culture is not central to the story, which is about two seventh graders who must lift a curse on a tree to save their town from growing disaster, but I wanted to include diverse characters to reflect the reality I pictured.

Still, I was intimidated about writing someone from another culture, so I decided to hedge a little. When I began the novel, the main character of Martin had a Puerto Rican dad but was raised by his white mother and grandmother. I thought if he was raised in my own culture, I had the right to write him.

The story is not about the ethnic background, and it’s been said that Martin “just happens to be” Puerto Rican. But it didn’t just happen to him, just as my other main character, Hannah, doesn’t “just happen to be” white. I decided that these would be the characters, and I grew their voices, personalities, and backgrounds. It didn’t just happen.

As I wrote the story, my understanding of the character changed. Although Martin’s ethnic background isn’t central to the progression of the plot, I realized it IS central to Martin himself. He asserted himself and his identity as I wrote, so I changed his heritage to fit. His mother, grandmother, and aunt became Puerto Rican too, and that changed the threads of the story and his character. Martin holds his cultural identity very close, reflective of his feelings for his mother and abuelita.

There’s no such thing as culturally generic books, but we need them.

On May 1, 2014 right as #weneeddiversebooks was officially kicking off, SLJ published a list of Culturally Diverse Books Selected by SLJ’s Review Editors. SLJ wrote, “These books are those in which the main character(s) ‘just happen’ to be a member of a non-white, non-mainstream cultural group. These stories, rather than informing readers about individual cultures, emphasize cultural common ground.”

While culturally generic is not a term I love, but it is established in literacy and education. Rudine Sims Bishop coined the term as part of a framework of multicultural literature for librarians and educators in Shadow and Substance: Afro-American Experience in Contemporary Children’s Literature (NCTE, 1982). The now-ubiquitious metphor of “windows and mirrors” is hers. She defined the categories of “culturally specific” — containing details that define the characters as members of a particular cultural group and “culturally generic” — representing a specific cultural group, but with little culturally specific information. (Companion Website for Elementary Children’s Literature: The Basics for Teachers and Parents, 2/e , Nancy A. Anderson)

But is The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata or Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina — two of SLJ’s listed titles — really culturally generic? Could these stories happen to any child, of any race? I don’t think so. If you put Summer in Medina’s book and Piddy in Kadohata’s, the stories would not be the same.  Summer and Piddy don’t “just happen to be” Japanese-American or Puerto Rican — it’s an essential part of their identity and the story. Good stories and characters are always specific.

But yes, as the “culturally generic” label indicates, these stories are supremely relatable for young readers. Readers of all kinds need diverse books because they are not windows or mirrors, but both at the same time. As KT Horning wrote in response to the SLJ list, characters by Kwame Alexander and Varian Johnson are viewed as culturally generic because they are writing from the inside: “more Us than Other.  They have invited readers to stand on their own bit of cultural common ground for a while.”

Much of the time, culture is the framework we live inside — we don’t always see it, but it doesn’t “just happen” to characters of color — or to white characters either. White is the default in the United States. It is almost always seen as culturally generic, but it isn’t. It’s the culture that many writers write and readers read within seeing it because it’s ground they’re standing on.

“Culturally generic” books — as problematic as the term is — do the same. They are the fantasies, mysteries, romances, coming of age, and science fiction books where readers can see diverse characters like and unlike themselves doing more than explore culture.  They expands the cultural common ground.

I wrote Martin as a skinny, wild-haired, Puerto Rican kid and Hannah as a tall, blonde, white one. Neither is culturally generic. Diversity in children’s books requires a decision by writers, readers, publishers, booksellers, and librarians to create and share books on that expanded common ground. Whether writers and readers experience diverse characters or only a homogenous world, it doesn’t “just happen.” It’s a decision.

Kell Andrews writes fiction for children and nonfiction for adults.. Her first novel, Deadwood (Spencer Hill Press), was published in 2014, and her short fiction will appear in an upcoming issue of Spider Magazine. A member of SCBWI, Kell holds a humanities degree from Johns Hopkins University and a master of liberal arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she now lives in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. You can contact Kell here, or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

You can buy a copy of Deadwood here.

Diversity Group Announces Walter Dean Myers Award and Grants →


We are thrilled to announce that we are launching a new award/grant initiative named after the late, great Walter Dean Myers: 

The Walter Dean Myers Award, which WNDB representatives have already nicknamed The Walter, will recognize published authors from diverse backgrounds who celebrate diversity in their writing and “[allow] children to see themselves reflected back” in those works

Read more about the initiative and check out our snazzy new logo in our exclusive to PW!

Fantastic news from the WNDB team! 


Two more days to win an ARC of my YA debut None of the Above - pitched as Middlesex meets Mean Girls! Find out what newly minted 3x National Book Award finalist Jacqueline Woodson has to say about my book, and enter the giveaway at thebooksmugglers:

Check out this fantastic cover for NONE OF THE ABOVE and click over to The Book Smugglers for a chance to win the ARC! 

Inspiration From Unexpected Places

By Sharon G. Flake


When you are drowning in a novel—writing yourself into a hole—it is best to have one or two distractions.  Something to lure your mind away from writer’s block, deadlines you know you’ll never meet, or the thought that you may never be published again.

Besides chocolate, HBO’s hit series True Blood became my distraction of choice. The show is set in a small town where some really good-looking vampires are misunderstood and discriminated against, when they aren’t sucking everyone’s blood in town, that is.

I was writing Pinned at the time of my drowning—a novel which went on to receive tremendous praise and to be named one of the top ten books of the year by Kirkus Review;  a Junior Library Guild Selection; an NAACP Award Nominee, and the Best Book of the Year by the Detroit Free Library.

Like millions of viewers, I became a huge fan of True Blood.  Sometime during the first season I began to write my own vampire tale.  It was to be for my eyes only.  Another distraction. But a writer makes lots of promises to themselves that they never keep.

Initially the book was about crazed vampire children; complete with coffins, damp basements and plenty of blood.  Years and many rewritings later, it turned into something much more significant and compelling.  As a result, my first historical mystery novel, Unstoppable Octobia May, was born. 

Octobia May is a girl sleuth who has been given what we say we want for all children—the freedom to explore, examine and critique the world around them while learning to think for themselves.  Qualities our nation did not readily encourage or expect from girls or blacks during the 1950’s when the story takes place.

It is no easy feat to write a book for children that explores issues of gender, race, and the politics of the day, all the while attempting to answer the question ten year old Octobia May poses—is Mr. Davenport really a vampire living in her Aunt Shuma’s boarding house? Although Unstoppable Octobia May is set in the ‘50’s, the novel also reaches back in time when many of the book’s characters reflect on their holocaust and World War II experiences.

Writing a novel that includes a suspected vampire, the contributions of Thurgood Marshall and the plight of Negro soldiers during WWII, is a tall challenge, to say the least.  Especially given that African-American history has so often been belittled, dismissed or ignored.  So I spent a great deal of time in the library in an effort to get the historical aspect of the novel correct.  But the more I researched, the more frightened I became, especially when it came to War World ll.  With all of his shananigans and secrets, could Mr. Davenport be a former Tuskegee Airman?  No it would be unfair to those Negro soldiers who fought so valiantly against all odds, I thought.  What about a member of the Red Ball Express?  Nope.  It went on and on this way for a while—asking myself questions, researching and fretting. Until one day a light went off.  These soldiers where human beings, who were fighting for the right for all Americans to be treated equality and humanly.  And humanity is some messy, complicated business. So how could I make them less than human, by holding them to standards of perfection that did not exist in any other person on the planet?

This revelation helped me come to terms with a few characters in the book, and the choices that people make when they want to be unstoppable (i.e.: to accomplish any dream they desire) in a society that has placed limits on their ability to do so.

Like humanity, writing can be some messy business. Sometimes a writer has to step away from their novel for an hour, day, or year to gain perspective.  Or as in my case for one hour a week over the course of a few years.  I am thankful now for Pinned and the opportunity it afforded me to seek out distractions.  If not for that book, perhaps Octobia May would never have been birthed.  And a novel filled with adventure, mystery and one unstoppable girl, may not have been written.  


Sharon G. Flake is an internationally recognized author whose break out novel The Skin I’m In earned her the reputation of having one of the most authentic voices in children’s literature.  She is the author of nine middle grade and young adult novels and the winner of multiple Coretta Scott King Honors.  Her novels have been translated into Korean, French and Italian.  Readers may reach flake via twitter @sharonflake, or

You can purchase a copy of Unstoppable Octobia May here.

Thirteen Scary YA Books: Diverse Edition →


Thirteen Scary YA Books (diverse edition)

Halloween is right around the corner. There’s no better way to celebrate than by reading books that will scare you to pieces! Here’s a lucky thirteen list of our favorites (all featuring diverse characters or by diverse authors):

  1. Half WorldHalf World by Hiromi Goto – Melanie Tamaki lives with her mother in abject poverty. Then, her mother disappears. Melanie must journey to the mysterious Half World to save her.
  2. Vodnik by Bryce Moore – Sixteen-year-old Tomas moves back to Slovakia with his family and discovers the folktales of his childhood were more than just stories.
  3. The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa – Allie Sekemoto survives by scavenging for food by day. She hates the vampires who keep humans like cattle for their food. Until the day she dies and wakes up as a vampire.
  4. Liar by Justine Larbalestier – Micah is a liar; it’s the only thing she’ll tell you the truth about. But when her boyfriend Zach is murdered, the whole truth has to come out.
  5. Battle Royale by Koushan Takami – A group of junior high school students are sent to an island and forced to fight to the death until only one of them survives.
  6. Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall – Odilia and her sisters discover aWolf Mark coverdead man’s body while swimming in the Rio Grande. They journey across Mexico to return his body in this Odyssey-inspired tale.
  7. Devil’s Kiss by Sarwat Chadda – Zombies, ghouls, and vampires all make appearances in the story of Bilquis SanGreal, the youngest and only female member of the Knights Templar.
  8. Panic by Sharon Draper – Diamond knows better than to get into a car with a stranger. But when the stranger offers her the chance to dance in a movie, Diamond makes a very wrong decision.
  9. Ten by Gretchen McNeil – Ten teens head to a secluded island for an exclusive party…until people start to die. A modern YA retelling of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.
  10. Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac – Inspired by the Abenaki skinwalker legend, this YA thriller is Burn Notice with werewolves.
  11. The Girl From The WellThe Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco – A dead girl roams the streets, hunting murders. A strange tattooed boy moves to the neighborhood with a deadly secret.
  12. 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad –  Three teenagers win the vacation of a lifetime: a week-long trip to the moon. But something sinister is waiting for them in the black vacuum of space.
  13. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake – Cas Lowood is a ghost hunter, called to Thunder Bay, Ontario to get rid of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, who has killed every person who has stepped foot in the house she haunts.

What else would you add to the list?

Just in time for Halloween!

Disability in Kidlit seeks reviewers →


Thanks to our wonderful contributors, new and old, Disability in Kidlit has been able to post several reviews of MG and YA novels featuring disabled characters this year. This includes reviews of Shannon Hale’s Dangerous, which features a protagonist born missing an arm, and Cammie McGovern’s…

Diverse voices: the 50 best culturally diverse children's books →

Scroll down for the teen recommendations! Note: UK-specific!

(Source: weneeddiversebooks)

This week’s diverse new releases are:

The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

“In this provocative thriller, Bacigalupi (The Drowned Cities) traces the awakening of a smart, compassionate, and privileged girl named Alix Banks to ugly realities of contemporary life, while seeking to open readers’ eyes, as well. Alix’s life is thrown into disarray when an activist group targets her family, its eyes on her father’s powerful public relations business. Moses is a charismatic black teen living off the money from a settlement with a pharmaceutical company after one of its medications killed his parents. Along with four other brilliant teens who have lost family to this sort of legal/medical maleficence, Moses hopes to enlist Alix’s help to release incriminating data from her father’s files, à la Edward Snowden.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw (Roaring Brook Press)

“In this no-holds-barred autobiography, 21-year-old Burcaw sheds light on what it has been like to grow up with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a deadly disease that has left him confined to a wheelchair and dependent on others. … His honesty, tempered by mordant humor and a defiant acceptance, is refreshing, even as he thumbs his nose at the disease that is slowly stripping him of the basics.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince (Knopf)

“A compelling narrative of the journey of an African orphan whose hard work, emotional strength, and supportive adoptive American parents helped her build a life as a professional dancer, 19-year-old Michaela DePrince’s memoir, coauthored by her mother, holds many stories. … There is plenty of ballet detail for dance lovers to revel in, and the authors achieve a believable, distinctive teenage voice with a nice touch of lyrical description.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang (First Second)

“Online gaming and real life collide when a teen discovers the hidden economies and injustices that hide among seemingly innocent pixels … Through Wong’s captivating illustrations and Doctorow’s heady prose, readers are left with a story that’s both wholly satisfying as a work of fiction and series food for thought about the real-life ramifications of playing in an intangible world. Thought-provoking, as always from Doctorow.” — Kirkus

Bottled Up Secret by Brian McNamara (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: Brendan Madden is in the midst of his senior year of high school and couldn’t be happier. He has a great group of friends, his pick of colleges, and he has recently come to terms with his sexuality. One night, he meets Mark Galovic, a gorgeous, younger classmate of his. In a matter of minutes, Brendan is hooked. As the friendship between them grows, Brendan reaches his breaking point when he spontaneously confesses his feelings to him. Brendan is shocked and elated to find out that Mark feels the same way about him. The two begin to date, but because Mark is not out, it must remain a secret. As their friends and family become suspicious, openly gay Brendan becomes increasingly frustrated with their discreet relationship, while Mark becomes more and more paranoid that they’re going to be found out.

Maxine Wore Black by Nora Olsen (Bold Strokes Books)

Maxine is the girl of Jayla’s dreams: she’s charming, magnetic, and loves Jayla for her transgender self. There’s only one problem with Maxine—she already has a girlfriend, perfect Becky. Jayla quickly falls under Maxine’s spell, and she’s willing to do anything to win her. But when Becky turns up dead, Jayla is pulled into a tangle of deceit, lies, and murder. Now Jayla is forced to choose between love and the truth. Jayla will need all the strength she has to escape the darkness that threatens to take her very life.

The Gospel Truth by Caroline Pignat (Red Deer Press)

Book Description: Award-winning author Caroline Pignat’s new historical novel recreates the world of a Virginia tobacco plantation in 1858. Through the different points of view of slaves, their masters and a visiting bird-watcher the world of the plantation comes to live in this verse novel. Phoebe belongs to Master Duncan and works in the plantation kitchen. She sees how the other slaves are treated — the beatings and whippings, the disappearances. She hasn’t seen her mother since Master Duncan sold her ten years ago. But Pheobe is trying to learn words and how to read and when she is asked to show the master’s Canadian visitor, Doctor Bergman, where he can find warblers and chickadees she starts to see things differently. And Doctor Bergman has more in mind that just drawing the local birds. Pheobe’s friend Shad works on the plantation as well — but mostly he worries about his brother Will. His brother is the last member of his family and he is determined to escape from the master and the tobacco plantation. He has already been caught and beaten more than once. And the stories about life in Canada can’t be true, can they? How does a man survive without the master there taking care of everything?

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (Cinco Puntos)

“Struggles with body image, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, rape, coming out, first love and death are all experiences that touch Gabi’s life in some way during her senior year, and she processes her raw and honest feelings in her journal as these events unfold. … Readers won’t soon forget Gabi, a young woman coming into her own in the face of intense pressure from her family, culture and society to fit someone else’s idea of what it means to be a ”good“ girl. A fresh, authentic and honest exploration of contemporary Latina identity.” — Kirkus, starred review

UnDivided by Neal Shusterman (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

“In the final book of the ”Unwind Dystology,“ everything comes full circle. Shusterman expertly reminds readers about the characters and their current situations without distracting from the current plot. Teens gain information on all of the key players, and each well-crafted narrative moves at a refreshing pace. … Characters old and new are integrated into the story line, providing insight and closure. Shusterman generates a lot of thought-provoking topics for discussion. The story is intriguing: a wonderful end to a unique and noteworthy series.” — School Library Journal




#WeNeedDiverseBooks YA Flow Chart!
Like thrillers? Contemporary? Romance? Graphic Novels? Humor? We’ve got recommendations for you!

For anyone who may be unable to read the graphic or just wants easy links of the books, here’s a transcription.
Looking for a diverse YA book? Just follow the arrows to what you love for a perfect read!
Sports?Hoops by Walter Dean MyersBall Don’t Lie by Matt de la Peña
Romance?To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny HanTwo Boys Kissing by David LevithanIf You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
Action or Psychological Thriller?Fake ID by Lamar GilesPanic by Sharon M. DraperPointe by Brandy ColbertGirl Stolen by April Henry
Funny?Openly Straight by Bill KonigsbergSince You Asked by Maurene GooSoul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill
Adventure & Vicarious Travels?Flygirl by Sherri L. SmithHuntress by Malinda LoSummer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Fantasy?City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam ForsterDevil’s Kiss by Sarwat ChaddaOtherbound by Corinne DuyvisAkata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Graphic Novels?The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny LiewPersepolis by Marjane SatrapiYummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri and Randy DuBurkeThe Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica NovgorodoffTrickster: Native American Tales by Matt Dembicki
Dystopian & Science Fiction?Proxy by Alex LondonControl by Lydia KangThe Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn JohnsonKiller of Enemies by Joseph BruchacDiverse Energies edited by Tobias S. Buckell and Joe Monti
OtherTasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam BarakatBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline WoodsonYaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg MedinaAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saénz

Thank you Corinne!!




#WeNeedDiverseBooks YA Flow Chart!

Like thrillers? Contemporary? Romance? Graphic Novels? Humor? We’ve got recommendations for you!

For anyone who may be unable to read the graphic or just wants easy links of the books, here’s a transcription.

Looking for a diverse YA book? Just follow the arrows to what you love for a perfect read!

Hoops by Walter Dean Myers
Ball Don’t Lie by Matt de la Peña

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Action or Psychological Thriller?
Fake ID by Lamar Giles
Panic by Sharon M. Draper
Pointe by Brandy Colbert
Girl Stolen by April Henry

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg
Since You Asked by Maurene Goo
Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill

Adventure & Vicarious Travels?
Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
Huntress by Malinda Lo
Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster
Devil’s Kiss by Sarwat Chadda
Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Graphic Novels?
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri and Randy DuBurke
The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff
Trickster: Native American Tales by Matt Dembicki

Dystopian & Science Fiction?
Proxy by Alex London
Control by Lydia Kang
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac
Diverse Energies edited by Tobias S. Buckell and Joe Monti

Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saénz

Thank you Corinne!!

(via cindypon)