Let’s Talk Bookish: Diverse Books

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Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly series hosted by Rukky at Eternity Books and Danie at Literary Lion. The full list of October topics can be found here.

This week’s topic is Diverse Books.

Although a few conversational questions were included with the prompt this week, I’m only going to focus on the first one and expand upon that as the follow-up questions were a bit convoluted.

We talk a lot about diverse books and reads, but what really makes a book diverse?

During my Master’s in Library and Information Science program at University of Arizona, I had the opportunity to take a course on multicultural children’s and YA literature. I would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to take a class on this subject. It enhanced my understanding of literature and introduced me to new titles and authors I may not have otherwise encountered. I learned so much in this course!

Now to the topic at hand. According to Jamie Campbell Naidoo and Sarah Park Dahlen, authors of Diversity in Youth Literature: Opening Doors Through Reading

“Diversity generally highlights a set of traits or characteristics a person possesses that is different in some way from the mainstream population. Race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, religious preference, immigration status, level of English-fluency, and socioeconomic status are just some of the many traits that can be highlighted under the umbrella of diversity in the United States…Diverse population of youth can include homeless children, transnationally adopted young adults, transgender teens, multiracial pre-schoolers, or Islamic preteens.”

from Diversity in Youth Literature: Opening Doors Through Reading

I read Diversity in Youth Literature, which includes “chapters on the representations of culture groups that are often ignored in examinations of diverse youth literature” during my course and learned so much about how marginalized and under/misrepresented communities are portrayed in youth literature.

Most importantly, I learned how to determine what constitutes a diverse book.

For librarians and educators, it is vital to have a sense of what makes a book diverse.

From the library perspective, which is the only one I can speak to, it’s important to build a collection of diverse literature so that children and young adults who come to the library can see themselves represented in stories. It builds confidence in young readers, which is so important for literacy. The presence of diverse books within a library’s collection communicates to all members of the community, but especially those that are underrepresented, that they matter, they have value, and that they are seen.

During this course we evaluated children’s and young adult literature based on rubrics we created.

So, what makes a diverse book?

Here’s some of the criteria we used…

  • Are diverse characters central to the story?
  • Are stereotypes present among diverse characters?
  • Do the illustrations (if present) help the intended audience better understand the story?
  • Are the characters relatable to the intended audience both culturally and/or on a universal level?
  • Is there a clear appreciation for the culture depicted?
  • Was the book published in the last ten years?
  • Is the author part of the culture depicted?

Those are some of the questions you can ask yourself when deciding whether or not the book you are reading can be considered diverse. I would say the last two criteria are especially important to take into consideration.

I think that the lack of diverse books in the publishing industry is why this phrase has become such a buzzword in the last few years. Publishing has a responsibility to not only publish diverse books but to work with diverse authors. You can read more about this at We Need Diverse Books which is a nonprofit focused on this mission.

The concept of diverse books is not a complicated one once you take the time to understand what it means. Publishing has a history of being very much a white-dominated industry, and this ultimately negatively impacts all readers. It needs to change.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to have taken this course because it introduced me to so many authors that I now consider favorites. Here are some especially memorable titles I read for my assignments and projects, that I would recommend to any reader…

  • Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
  • Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
  • American Panda by Gloria Chao
  • Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl

Finally, I would recommend reading Diversity in Youth Literature: Opening Doors Through Reading if you want to learn more about this subject and why diverse books are so incredibly important.

What are some of your favorite diverse books and authors? Tell me in the comments!

5 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Bookish: Diverse Books

  1. Love this perspective on diversity and the acknowledgement that diversity expands beyond skin tone and into context. I feel like I’ve read a lot of YA that’s marketed as “diverse” but all that’s been done to it is mentioning a character has dark skin and put a POC on the cover. It feels like a truly diverse book needs more than visual/topical diversity but actually needs to live in a diverse world.

    Liked by 1 person

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