by Meredith Flory

Readers: I am writing this column to you from a library in El Paso, Texas as my family waits for the moving truck with all of our household goods to arrive.  As a military family, we move every few years and one of the things I love most about moving is getting to see the different landscapes, diversity of culture and varying character of cities and regions across our country.

Children’s books are a wonderful way for children to travel and explore our country and world without ever leaving their bedroom. In addition, children get to experience the shared humanity we have.

Unfortunately, the publishing world does not always offer characters and stories that are as diverse and nuanced as the world that we actually live in, and it has been historically difficult for authors of color or those that present  marginalized perspectives to get books into print.

I spoke with Aliana Leary, a staff member at the non-profit We Need Diverse Books, about the importance of representation of all Americans in children’s and young adult literature and how WNDB is working to help all readers see themselves in the pages of storybooks.

WNDB is a great resource, if you are looking for books for your children that better reflect your family, or if you want to help your child increase in empathy and an understanding of our diverse world,

As parents, you can start with the WNDB OurStory App. While Leary and I relate as readers who tend towards a more traditional way of selecting books in stores and libraries, we understand that for young people and many families, apps can help connect and encourage reading and writing. Leary explains, “When I hear librarians, teachers and parents talk about how using OurStory has helped them find a book for a kid or teen, that’s really fantastic to me.”

With a growing awareness and participation in social justice movements, books can be a great resource for talking about racism, sexism and other historical and current injustices that are important topics for children from all backgrounds.

Leary encourages parents to look towards activists and authors from the community of interest. For example, she says, “If you’re looking for a guide to introducing ableism to someone in kindergarten, you should talk to disabled people and disability activists… OurStory is a way for those who “want to read diversely, but don’t know where to start”.

Leary is on the social media team for WNDB and is helping to judge the middle grade short essay contest this year.  She works to make WNDB’s online presence a great resource for readers and their parents, organizing Twitter chats with authors and illustrators and publicizing the work of WNDB on social media. 

Leary is proud of the internship grant WNDB offers which helps diverse applicants afford to intern at a publishing house in a paid internship. Leary explains that while it’s important to have diverse authors and illustrators, it’s easy to forget the importance of “publishing house staff to be diverse as well” as they are the  gatekeepers for the stories advertised and printed. Leary hopes the internships and mentoring opportunities that WNDB provides will help more young people from marginalized communities enter publishing as a career.  In addition to this internship, WNDB pairs young creatives with mentors and often hold contests where young writers can submit their work, leading to prizes and publication opportunities.  They also have the annual Walter Award for a published diverse author and the Bookseller of the Year award for a bookseller who demonstrates an interest in promoting diverse books. If you know a college student or recent graduate from a diverse background, they can find information at: www. weneeddiversebooks.org.

If having more diverse books in your community is something you would like to help with, then in addition to the Our Story app and following WNDB’s social media pages, Leary suggests that once you’ve started to locate these books for your own family, “talk to your librarians and teachers about stocking these books and local booksellers as well.”  I might add, with the holidays, consider gifting these books to children in your life who would be delighted to see a positive representation of characters who look like them in the pages of storybooks. 

This article appears in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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