“As a kid, I assumed everyone around me was Mexican. I lived less than a mile from the Texas-Mexico border, so we pretty much were Mexican. This neighborhood inspired my first novel, The Smell of Old Lady Perfume–a world vastly different from the one that surrounds my protagonist, Masi Burciaga, in my new novel Pig Park. Masi’s cast of neighbors runs the gamut from the Nowaks to the Wongs.”
Although Diversity in YA focuses on young adult books, we couldn’t help but notice the great diverse middle grade titles out this year, so we decided to spend a full month focused on these books! October 2014 is Middle Grade Month here at DiYA and to kick it off we’re giving away 15 books from middle grade authors, each of whom will be doing a guest post this month.
Here are the books you could win:
- I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín (Atheneum)
- The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
- Deadwood by Kell Andrews (Spencer Hill Press)
- Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj (Albert Whitman & Company)
- El Deafo by Cece Bell (Harry N. Abrams)
- Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth (Scholastic)
- The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda (Arthur A. Levine Books)
- The City of Death by Sarwat Chadda (Arthur A. Levine Books)
- Ash Mistry and the World of Darkness by Sarwat Chadda (HarperCollins)
- Bird by Crystal Chan (Atheneum)
- Tracy Tam: Santa Command by Krystalyn Drown (Month9Books)
- Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon Flake (Scholastic)
- Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky (Disney-Hyperion)
- Saving Kabul Corner by N. H. Senzai (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books)
- Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books)
Here are the entry rules:
- Five lucky winners will receive three middle grade books of our choosing! (Don’t worry, series books will be kept together.)
- Because of the cost of international shipping, we are only able to ship to U.S. mailing addresses. International folks may enter as long as they have a U.S. mailing address.
- Teachers and librarians get an extra entry for free!
- The deadline to enter is the end of the day, Oct. 31, 2014.
(If you can’t see the Rafflecopter entry form in your dash, click here to enter.)
Happy reading, and please signal boost and spread the love!
In reaction to the removal of The Miseducation of Cameron Post from the Cape Henlopen High School summer reading list, the National Coalition Against Censorship asked students in Delaware to submit essays explaining to the Cape Henlopen School Board the importance of having books like Cameron Post on school reading lists.
Read the winners of the essay contest at the link!
By Robin Talley
Here’s me: A 35-year-old white cisgender openly gay woman who lives in a major U.S. city in 2014.
Here’s the protagonist of my first book: A 17-year-old black cisgender closeted gay (or maybe bisexual or maybe questioning) girl who lives in a small southern town in the U.S. in 1959.
In many ways, identity is everything. Being a 35-year-old white woman is very different from being a 17-year-old black girl.
Context is also everything. It’s very different to be a woman who’s attracted to other women in 2014 than it was to be a girl who was attracted to other girls in 1959.
My book, Lies We Tell Ourselves, is set during the school desegregation movement in Virginia. My protagonist, Sarah, is one of the first black students to integrate a previously all-white high school. In the middle of all the turmoil she endures there, she also forms a cautious friendship with a white girl who’s a staunch segregationist. Slowly, their relationship develops into something more.
To write this book, I had to do a ton of research about the people who served on the front lines of the school integration battles. I took fervent notes as I pored over every memoir I could get my hands on, trying to read between the lines and pick up on what might’ve not been spelled out in the text. I watched video interviews, hanging on every word, every breath, trying to understand what those students must’ve felt as they crossed that line.
But there was another layer of work beyond the research: trying to imagine myself in their positions. Thinking through how I would’ve felt if I were them, going through what they did.
Which, of course, is impossible. I’ve never been them. I never could be them. I’ve never suffered anything close to what they’ve suffered.
Nor was I raised the way they were ― with the post-World War II, mid-twentieth-century values that were instilled in American children growing up in the 1940s and 1950s.
And yet, whether it’s possible or not, it’s necessary. That’s how writing works. You have to envision what it would be like to do what your characters are doing. Whether they’re sneaking through Mordor, or gazing at the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, or integrating an all-white school in 1959.
Last week, my wife and I were waiting to meet a friend at the mall. We were leaning against a wall by the entrance, and I had my arm around my wife. Lots of people walked past us on their way in or out of the mall. Half of them ignored us and kept walking. The other half stared at us openly as they passed.
This was in Bethesda, Maryland, a fancy suburb of Washington, D.C., where we live. It was a reminder that even in fancy suburbs in 2014, there are still people who feel totally comfortable staring at people who are different. It was also a reminder that the vast majority of the time, I don’t have to worry about this. I’m not a visible minority. Unless I have my arm around my wife or am wearing my “I <3 Pro-Choice Girls” T-shirt, people usually aren’t going to assume I’m gay at a glance.
Writing a book from the point of view of a character of color ― a character who is relentlessly persecuted due to her race ― meant I had take what I know, what it feels like to get stared at by strangers, and try to imagine what it would feel like if that happened every single day, everywhere I went. I had to imagine what it would be like to know that next time, staring might not be the only thing I had to worry about. Next time, the strangers staring at me might say something. Or shout something. Or throw something. Or worse.
All that and more happens to my character, Sarah, when she enters a previously all-white high school in the first chapter of Lies We Tell Ourselves. Her race has made her a target her entire life, but it’s magnified a thousandfold when she dares to cross the line that her society has declared uncrossable.
The courage it takes for her to take that stand is something I can only imagine, too. But Sarah isn’t willing to cross what was then an even more rigid boundary: she can’t let anyone to find out she’s interested in girls. If that ever happened, she’d be a target on two fronts.
Writing Lies We Tell Ourselves forced me to think about race and sexual orientation in ways I never had before. Just as writing my next book, which centers on a genderqueer character, forced me to think about gender identity in new ways. Similarly, writing about a character who uses crutches and suffers from chronic pain in another story I’m working on made me think about disabilities much more deeply than I had before I began writing from that character’s point of view.
It’s become one of my favorite things about writing. None of us can ever truly experience what it’s like to be someone else, but if you’re writing from a character’s point of view, you have to climb inside their head and try to see the world through their eyes. You have no choice but to think deeply, very deeply, about how your character’s experiences have shaped who they are and how they see the world. I’ve learned so much through writing all of these stories ― both from the research and from the mental work that goes into imagining each character’s inner life.
And through all of it, I’ve also learned that it’s essential to stay humble through the process. To accept the possibility that something you’ve always believed might very well not be the truth. There are some things you can only learn from someone who’s actually had the experience you’re trying to depict, and those are the most fascinating lessons of all.
It’s not that I think anyone’s obligated to teach me anything, of course. It’s that writing is about empathy. Writing a story forces you to think in ways we don’t typically do in everyday life. When you have no choice but to empathize with someone who’s different from you day in and day out, when writing your story requires that kind of thinking, you can’t help but learn along the way.
Writing hasn’t just made me understand books better. It’s made me understand people better. Writing different kinds of characters has made me more compassionate, more interested in exploring the depths of individuals’ experiences, more interested in the wider world around me.
It’s taught me that writing isn’t just about what you produce. It’s about what you learn along the way.
And it’s reminded me that it isn’t polite to stare.
* * *
Robin Talley grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, writing terrible teen poetry and riding a desegregation bus to the school across town. A Lambda Literary Fellow, Robin lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife, plus an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. When Robin’s not writing, she’s often planning communication strategies at organizations fighting for equal rights and social justice. You can find her on the web at www.robintalley.com or on Twitter at @robin_talley.
Lies We Tell Ourselves is available 9/30/14. Order it here.
One of my favorite people in the world is Claudia Kishi. Maybe you’ve heard of her?
She has a killer fashion sense.
She’s super talented at art.
And oh … she’s not exactly real.
Claudia happens to be a character from The Babysitter’s Club series, which I devoured like Snickers bars when I was elementary school. (And I can eat a lot of Snickers bars!) But do you know what’s funny? I actually don’t have very much in common with Claudia. She has a real gift for art whereas I struggle to mix paint. She doesn’t like studying for school whereas I was that annoying kid who hyperventilated over getting a B in biology. But none of that mattered to my childhood self. What mattered to me was that I saw myself in Claudia.
She was Asian-American.
I was Asian-American.
Here was a girl who looked like me! In a book that I loved!
When I read my very first BSC novel, my 9-year-old mind was honestly blown. I had never come across an Asian American character in a novel before. It felt as if Ann M. Martin had pointed a finger at my nose and said, “Hey, you! Yeah, you, I see you. And you matter.”
Over twenty years later, I hope that my own book might have the same impact on a young reader. And maybe it’ll impact a biracial reader in particular because the main character of my novel The Only Thing to Fear is half-Japanese and half-Caucasian. I can’t seem to find very many children’s novels with biracial protagonists, which makes me sad because the multiracial population has increased 50 percent — that’s right, 50! — since the year 2000 in America. These children are craving to find faces like their own in the books that they read. They’re yearning to find their own Claudias.
That’s one of the reasons why I created Zara St. James, the main character of my debut. She lives in a world very different from our own — one where the Nazis won WWII and colonized the United States — but she’s up against many of the same issues that multiracial people face in our society. For instance, Zara battles racism and bullying in her homogenous town in the Shenandoah valley because her face sticks out from the crowd. And she feels split between her two halves because she’s deemed not “white enough” or “Asian enough” to fit in with anyone else. She’s biracial and she has no problem with this fact, but some people make her feel like an outsider anyway. But Zara refuses to let these people get to her and, as the novel progresses, she’s ready to show everyone in her town and all of the Nazis in the US — even the Führer himself— that she won’t be underestimated.
It’s my humble hope that one day we won’t have to pore over the shelves at the bookstore and library to find books that feature diverse characters. I really want to read these books — and I want my biracial daughter to read them too. After all, doesn’t she deserve her own Claudia Kishi?
I think so.
And together, we’re going to find her.
* * *
Caroline Tung Richmond is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Highlights for Children, and USAToday.com, among other publications. The Only Thing to Fear is her debut novel and will be published by Scholastic Press on 9/30/14. A self-proclaimed history nerd, Caroline lives in the Washington, DC area with her husband; their daughter; and the family dog Otto von Bismarck.
The Only Thing to Fear is available 9/30/14. Order it here.
Here are all of September’s diverse new releases rounded up in one giant post, including a couple we missed during their release weeks here on tumblr.
Contributed to CBC Diversity by Adam Silvera
When writing diverse books, we’re writing about choices—and the things we can’t choose. Harry Potter could have chosen not to go to Hogwarts, but spending the rest of his youth with the incorrigible Dursleys would’ve sucked for all involved—Harry, the Dursleys, and the readers who became readers because of the boy wizard. Katniss Everdeen didn’t have to volunteer as tribute in The Hunger Games in place of Prim, but life in District 12 was bleak enough without watching someone act like her younger sister’s name wasn’t announced for a battle to the death. There are choices characters—and people—make because the alternative is simply unspeakable. But then there are the ones who don’t have a choice at all. They don’t choose to be Latino, they don’t choose mental illness, they don’t choose their sexual orientation. Who gives them a voice? I, along with many others, volunteer as tribute.
Looking back, it’s easy for me to pinpoint why I couldn’t accept how I looked — I wasn’t seeing relatable characters in any of my favorite books or movies. Now, I’m an adult who is very proud to be part Mexican, and while writing my debut novel Hollywood Witch Hunter, I made it a point to include diverse characters from various ethnic backgrounds. But most importantly, I wanted the topic of race in my book to be normalized — not made into some big discussion, because growing up, that’s exactly what I personally needed to read.