Diversity in YA and Children’s Lit

I read two really interesting articles recently that I thought would be a good follow-up to my last post on reading authors of color and this month’s (soon-to-be-completed) post about LGBT books.

School Library Journal devoted their February issue to diversity, and the featured article, “Straight Talk on Race:Challenging the Stereotypes in Kids’ Books” is by YA author Mitali Perkins.

The more novels about a diversity of characters written by a diversity of authors and consumed by a diversity of readers, the better. All I’m asking is that we pay attention to how and why the race of characters is conveyed in a story, because implicit messages matter.

She offers five questions for librarians and educators who want to start a discussion about race with their students. I think these questions, like “how and why does the author define race”, are good for readers of any age to consider. The article also features some wonderful illustrations from Gene Luen Yang.

Another YA author, Andrew Smith, recently wrote about the “boxes” we place books in and about his book Grasshopper Jungle. He is not a fan of boxes.

In the past ten years or so of my writing career, I have been frustrated by all the boxes people hold up to categorize the canon of Young Adult literature. Here are the worst ones, the boxes I’d like to set fire to:

  • Boy books/ Girl books
  • Age level (This book is for grades 10 and up! Squee!)
  • Male author/ Female author
  • LGBTQ books/ Straight (“normal” kid) books

I know, I know… Boxes make things easy for people. They are soothing. Boxing makes peoples’ minds not so electrified with wonder and perplexity. But boxes make things difficult for people, too.

He makes a good point. (The girl book/boy book dichotomy is awful.) However, I can appreciate why labeling LGBT books might be useful. The majority of books published are still about straight, cis-gendered characters. If you’re a teen who identifies with some part of the LGBT spectrum, find books with relatable protagonists can be challenging. A display at the library or a sticker on the spine of a novel might make it a bit easier. At the same time, I agree with Smith that labeling sets those books apart rather than showing younger readers that both straight and queer characters are normal.

Are there any articles on diversity that you’d recommend? Share them in the comments.


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