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Blog Roll Call: Diversity in YA Literature, a list of resources to help librarians diversify their shelves


When I talk about doing a diversity audit, one of the first questions I get asked is how I know whether or not a book is diverse. There is no easy answer that does not involve doing a small amount of research. Though over time, because I tend to deal exclusively with YA, I gain a pretty good knowledge of the literature. I also make sure that I spend time visiting blogs that focus on diversity and following diverse authors, librarians and hashtags on social media. Here are a few of the ones that I follow.

Blogs That Promote Diversity and Inclusion

American Indians in Children’s Lit

Librarian Debbie Reese talks specifically about American Indians in Children’s Literature and challenges librarians to think about Native American representation in the books that we place on our shelves. Reese will give very specific discussions about titles and share why the representation concerns her and gives enthusiastic recommendations of titles that she feels represents Native American life well.

The Brown Bookshelf

The Brown Bookshelf has one primary goal: to raise awareness of the various black voices that are writing for young readers.

CBC Diversity

The CBC Diversity initiative was founded in 2012, as part of the Children’s Book Council’s commitment to promoting diverse voices in literature for young people. They discuss specific titles.

Crazy Quilt Edi

This former school librarian works tirelessly to advocate for promoting literacy in teens of color. I follow her on Twitter as well as reading her blog and have learned a lot.

Cynthia Leitich-Smith

Leitich-Smith is a Native American author who promotes the works of other Native American authors.

Diversity in YA

Provides a variety of book lists and reviews.

Latinos in KidLit

Focuses on Latinos in children’s and YA literature.


Shares reviews and book lists of LGBTQAI+ books.

Read Diverse Books

Focuses on reading and reviewing books about and by people from marginalized groups.

Rich in Color

A plethora of resources that talk about diversity in children’s and YA lit. They also have a great blog roll here that you should check out.


We Need Diverse Books

This initiative works hard to diversify publishing and is a great resource for book reviews and book lists.

YA Pride

Originally called Gay YA, this blog changed their name recently to be more inclusive of the entire LGBTQIA+ spectrum. It’s a great place to visit for book lists and reviews.

Diversity and Inclusions Hashtags



Publishers That Focus on Diversity

Just Us Books


Lee & Low Books

Little Pickle Press


Move Books

Reflection Press

Tamarind Books

TU Books

Some Additional Sources

9 Publishing Organizations that Promote Diversity Within the Industry

Equity in the Library Resource List

Previous TLT Diversity Audit Resource List

This is by no means an exhaustive list. For example, you will notice that it lacks any type of religious diversity, which is a gap that I hope to fill. So please share your recommendations with me in the comments.

Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: The How To (Part 2)


So yesterday I began telling you about doing my diversity audit. I began in a place that many people wouldn’t suspect, by doing a local community needs and assessment evaluation. I thought if I wanted to understand why I was building a diverse/inclusive collection, I also wanted to understand who I was doing it for. Also, this was part of my process on researching target goals. The question I asked myself is this: what does an inclusive YA collection look like? And to do that I thought I needed to better understand what my local community and the world at large actually looks like. No guessing, no anecdotes, but facts.


After looking at my local community demographics, I then researched what the U.S. population looks like, keeping in mind that U.S. Census data comes out every ten years and involves a lot of margin for error because respondents must use per-detetermined categories to respond and many people identify in more than one way. (Note: please see uploaded outline below for a more complete look at stats and diversity categories to investigate.)

2010 census data

Serving Teens in Libraries Infographic


Then I dived deep into what diversity in children’s publishing looks like (spoiler alert: it’s not good). I used resources like the Lee and Low Diversity Baseline Survey to get a better understanding of what diversity in children’s publishing looks like. A realistic diversity goal has to include an understanding of what is being published. We can’t buy diverse titles that don’t exist, which is why we must continue to ask the publishing world to work towards better inclusion at all levels of publishing.

Childrens Books Infographic 18 24 V3

“This year, the number jumped to 28% . . . ” – http://blog.leeandlow.com/2017/03/30/the-diversity-gap-in-childrens-book-publishing-2017/

Checklist: 8 Steps to Creating a Diverse Book Collection | Lee & Low



Another worksheet example can be found here: http://sfpsmom.com/black-history-month-12-diversify-bookshelves/

With a better understanding of what the world looks like and some real investigation into my own personal biases and privilege (which is an ongoing process), I then began looking at my collection in depth. This was a painstaking process that involved a lot of research. I researched each title and author in my collection to the extent that was reasonably possible. Reasonably meaning given an appropriate use of my time, skills, and what information is available. For example, not all authors are publicly out and they deserve to make that decision for themselves, but it can affect a count of Own Voices GLBTQAI+ titles. Please note: you can make your headings and count whatever it is you wish to audit.


My excel worksheet, created by importing a shelf list, looks like this

At one point my fellow TLTer Robin Willis came out for a week long visit and we went title by title through my shelf list discussing whether or not a title had a main or supporting character that was something other than white, male, cisgender. We had a lot of quality discussions about individual titles, authors and the idea of diversity and inclusion as a whole. And yes, public librarians do indeed end up taking weird vacations, so thank you Robin for taking your time to come spend with me and help me with this project.



After doing the inventory several times and determining that I had the best knowledge that I could have, I then went and did the math that told me which percentage of my collection was diverse, Own Voices, GLBTQAI+ or featured a teen with a disability. I assumed I was doing a good job of building diverse, inclusive collections. It “felt” like I was doing a good job. I was trying to do a good job. Spoiler alert: I was not. Even when I was being intentional in building inclusive collections, I was not doing as well as I thought I was. For example, the percentage of titles featuring a teen with a disability were dismal at only 2.2%. However, after some targeted ordering, my GLBTQAI+ percentage went from around 3% up to 6.5%. This is part of why this type of collection audit is informative: I thought I was doing a good job of buying diverse titles, but an audit revealed that I wasn’t doing as good of a job as I thought I was and helped me make more informed and purposeful purchasing decisions. I thought I was doing a good job, I learned that I wasn’t, now I am doing better and have the data to back that statement up.


As a tangential note, I will also admit that this in depth collection analysis has also led me on a quest to investigate subject headings in our catalog. For example, we had books with the heading of transvestite, transsexual and transgender, and since transgender is the term that teen readers will be most familiar with and is the currently preferred term, we added a subject heading of transgender (transgender people – fiction) to all titles. Similarly, we looked at titles like Tash Hearts Tolstoy to make sure that teens looking for asexual representation could find that title using our card catalog without having to ask an adult. Teens looking for GLBTQAI+ materials in particular don’t always want or feel comfortable asking an adult for help so we are working on making these titles accessible in multiple ways for teens who want to read but don’t necessarily want to ask for help in locating titles.


This work is ongoing for me. As I mentioned above, it helps inform my monthly book ordering. Now when I do a book order, I do a sort of mini audit of each book order to make sure that I am doing the work of building an inclusive collection each and every order. I will also do occasional targeted audits, like this summer when I went through each and every letter of the GLBTQAI+ umbrella and made sure I had quality titles that represented each letter. A yearly or every few years audit combined with monthly book order audits and targeted audits makes my collection development more intentional. It’s not enough to think I’m doing the work, I now do the work. And having concrete facts and figures in front of me helps me to stop assuming while confronting my purchasing biases head on. And since I just took over this collection 3 years ago (new library), it has helped me better know and understand this collection as well as what is offered, making for some amazing RA to be honest. It also helped me fill in title holes and re-order missing or lost books that I think every collection should have.

The benefits of doing a diversity collection audit are plentiful and I highly recommend it, with a few caveats. First, it’s important that we remember that not all representation is good representation. There are a lot of tropes, stereotypes, and controversial titles out there that you should be aware of. You’ll also want to take the time to make yourself more familiar with Own Voices authors and titles. Remember that even when we talk about diversity, we should have diverse titles within that diverse representation. For example, not all GLBTQAI+ titles should be coming out stories, and not all coming out stories are the same. And, finally, we should remember and value the importance of intersectionality: most people identify as more than one thing, and that should be represented in our literature as well. For example, a black woman may identify as having a disability and being bisexual, because we are all complex human beings who are more than one thing and all more than our labels. Those stories deserve to be told and read.

With all that said, here is an in depth outline of this project: Diversity Audit Outline 2017 with Sources

Complete YA Collection Diversity Audit Series

Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: Understanding Your Local Community (Part 1)

Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: The How To (Part 2)

Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: Resources and Sources (Part 3)

Edited to Add: Someone asked about measuring intersectionality. You could simply add a column heading for intersectionality and any book that has more than one tally mark in a column would also have a tally mark for intersectionality. Then you would do the math and have an idea of how many intersectional titles are in your collection.

Also, after you do your original collection audit, you can then just do an audit of all the titles added since the date of your last audit and combine the information. If you do book order audits, that information could also be added to your original audit to keep your figures current.

Sunday Reflections: That’s Me in the Corner, Losing My Confidence (as a Reviewer)

darkenergyI like Science Fiction. Like, a lot.

I especially like Science Fiction that has alien invasions. Remember the moment in Independence Day when Will Smith walks out of the house to get the paper and he looks to the left, then he looks to the right, and then he finally looks up and realizes that a giant spaceship is hanging right there over his head? I love that moment.

In the past few years, Science Fiction has been saturated with dystopian and post apocalyptic novels. Don’t get me wrong, I like those too. But I eat up every alien invasion I can get my hands on.

Which brings me to Dark Energy by Robison Wells. Which I really loved. I think.

It’s complicated.

Dark Energy takes place almost immediately after alien invasion has occurred. It’s what happens after Will Smith and the rest of the world looks up and realizes that yes, aliens exist and they are most definitely here. In this case we know this because they have just crash landed. They may be here, but they don’t seem to be very good drivers.

Alice’s father is the head of a special unit that is responsible for investigating what’s happening. So they pack up and move to the Midwest where Alice is stuck in a boarding school with strangers while the world tries to figure out who these visitors are and what they want.

As far as alien invasions go, this is a very entertaining one. Wells puts some very interesting twists on the story. Our original invaders may not be who we think they are. They may not be the only invaders. There are twists, turns, and action packed road trips that take your typical alien invasion story to the next level. Add that to a strong, interesting, and incredibly competent female main character who gets to be a type of hero in her own story and I’m sold.

But . . .

(Isn’t there always a but . . . ?)

Alice is part Native American. This is referenced often. In fact, at one point she flees for safety to a reservation where her grandmother lives. And this is where things get complicated for me as a reviewer.

You are probably aware that earlier this month, author J. K. Rowling began releasing a variety of information about the wizarding world in North America. You are probably also aware that some of this information involves stories about Native Americans. And you are also probably aware that this didn’t go well for her. There were strong reactions about cultural appropriation and misrepresentation, which you can read about here, which were followed in the online community by conversations about how we talk about book criticism/critiques online to the author and to one another.

For me, it was a very interesting discussion. You see, when I read Dark Energy by Robison Wells I then reached out to one of my fellow TLTers. “I really liked this book,” I said, “but I’m kind of scared to review it because I don’t know what to make of the Native American content. It feels like he is being very respectful, but what if I’m wrong?”

And it does. It feels like Robison Wells has been very respectful of Native Americans in this book. He references the history of Native Americans in ways that draw meaningful and appropriate parallels to what is happening in the book; it was, in my opinion, such a subtle but effective way to remind readers that the American people did horrible things to Native Americans under the guise of being the more knowledgeable and helpful people group. And he includes an afterwards where he discusses his own history, research and beta reading process. In fact, he mentions how those he consulted asked him to take out parts of a sacred ceremony that he includes, dialing it back until it was at a place that those readers were comfortable with. He obviously tries very hard to get it right.

But does he?

I don’t know. Because I have no point of reference to make that observation. I am not Native American. This is not my culture. These are not my stories to share and I have no right to say if he gets it right.

So what do I, as a white reviewer, do? This is a question I have been wrestling with. And I wrestled with even more when another fellow TLTer texted me the other day and said, “I read this book that has a mixed race mc with a disability and I think the author does a good job, but I’m kind of afraid to review it. What if I missed something?”

What if I missed something?

That’s the question I have been wrestling with as a reader and a reviewer.

When I review, I think about several things.

1.) Will my teens want to read this book? I’m spending other people’s money and I want to make sure that I am buying books that my teens want to read. Books that just sit on the shelf are of no value to me because if my circulation goes down, then so does my budget. I believe in serving teens, which requires money, so I work hard to build collections that circulate. I want teens to read so I tend to buy the books they want.

2.) Do my teens need to read this book? Not all books have to be world opening and have teachable moments, I buy plenty of fun, entertaining reads. But I also want to make sure my collection is peppered with books that stir the soul, make readers think, and can possibly change their world view. Sometimes you read a book and when you are done you think, everyone needs to read this book.

3.) Will reading this book harm my teens? This is something newer I have been thinking about. And I’m not talking here about sex, drugs and violence. I’m talking about representation. I’m talking, more specifically, about bad representation. I’m talking about fat shaming, slut shaming, harmful stereotypes, and blatant misrepresentation that reinforces cultural norms that make life difficult or dangerous for my teens. This is where a lot of the conversation lately has been online in the kid/ya lit world.

And as a librarian, this is where it gets tricky. You see, librarianship is in many ways supposed to be a neutral profession. I am not supposed to impose my personal views or opinions on others. But what does this mean when we come across fiction titles that have bad or even outright harmful representation? THIS is I think the question that many of us in youth librarianship are wrestling with. Because it puts two of our professional values in direct conflict with one another: serving teens, which I believe means valuing and advocating for them, and professional neutrality. It’s even more complicated by the fact that librarianship is still a predominately white, female profession. I, as a reader, a reviewer and a librarian, sometimes miss things.

killtheboybandAnd teens can miss even more. So now let’s discuss Kill the Boy Band, shall we? We shall.

Kill the Boy Band is a recent release in which a group of girls kidnap a boy that is the member of a popular boy band, think One Direction. It is billed as a fun, darkly humorous read. And one of my teen reviewers agreed very much with this billing. She loved the book. So I was surprised when I started hearing people online complain about fat shaming in this book. My teen reviewer, age 13, never mentioned this at all. And to be fair, 13 is young, she is not yet a sophisticated reader and she doesn’t have a lot of life experience or frame of reference to pick apart all the subtle nuances of a book. Heck, a lot of adult readers don’t.

But this very different reading of the same work got me thinking even more about reading, reviewing and representation. It got me thinking even more about teen readers. My teen reviewer read and loved this book and didn’t blink once at this content that many adults found to be not just problematic, but dangerous. And as a former (?) anorexic, I take body image representation very seriously. I live in fear of my daughters developing the same body image issues that I have struggled with my entire life. And I know that they take in subtle digs every day that help build this often subconscious idea that how you look – especially as a woman – matters more than anything. It really bothered me as someone who cares about teens that my teen reviewer didn’t seem to bat an eye at what others considered to be such problematic content. So much so that out of curiosity, I asked an older teen reviewer to review the book as well to see what she says and her review will go up tomorrow.

This is not a post where I come to you with answers. I have none. This is a post where I come to you discussing the many ways in which I am wrestling with what it means to be a teen librarian in a diverse world that is having important discussions about representation in YA literature and how it impacts readers. I don’t even have a good way to wrap this post up. This is stream of consciousness. It’s complicated. It’s messy. It’s real life.

I’m listening.

I’m wrestling.

I’m reading.

I’m thinking.

I’m talking.

And I hope at the end of the day, I am mostly getting it right. For my teens.

Because at the end of the day, to me, that’s what matters. The teens that I serve. And the ones I’m raising.

PS: Props to REM for the great post title inspiration. And a great song.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Panel at Irving Public Library 5/13/15

Last night I attended the We Need Diverse Books panel at the Irving Public Library. It featured I. W. Gregorio, author of None of the Above, Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton, authors of Tiny Pretty Things, Marieke Nijkamp, author of This is Where it Ends, and Natalie C. Parker, author of Beware the Wild. I live tweeted the event and have Storified it here for you.

About the Books:

None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

A groundbreaking story about a teenage girl who discovers she was born intersex… and what happens when her secret is revealed to the entire school. Incredibly compelling and sensitively told, None of the Above is a thought-provoking novel that explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between.

What if everything you knew about yourself changed in an instant?

When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She’s a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she’s madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she’s decided that she’s ready to take things to the next level with him.

But Kristin’s first time isn’t the perfect moment she’s planned—something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy “parts.”

Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin’s entire identity is thrown into question. As her world unravels, can she come to terms with her new self?

Karen’s Note: In her earlier review Amanda MacGregor said, “This is an essential purchase for all libraries. Gregorio’s book is a very welcome addition to the small field of books depicting intersex teens.”

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars in this soapy, drama-packed novel featuring diverse characters who will do anything to be the prima at their elite ballet school.

Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette’s desire to escape the shadow of her ballet star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever. When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.

Karen’s Note: Coming May 26th from HarperTeen. I read an EArc on Edelweiss and I really liked this book. In addition to the diversity, it includes a number of important elements that you see in the dance world including eating disorders, drug use, intense rivalries, romance, and more. I thought it was an authentic portrait of the world of competitive anything, even though its focus is dance anyone involved in a competitive activity will be able to identify. Plus it captures those moments of who am I, parental relationships and pressure to succeed, friendships, and more. It has a lot of appeal factors and should be popular with teen readers.

This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

The auditorium doors won’t open.

Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

Karen’s Note: This book will be released in January 2016 from Sourcebooks Fire and I wants it bad.

Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

It’s an oppressively hot and sticky morning in June when Sterling and her brother, Phin, have an argument that compels him to run into the town swamp—the one that strikes fear in all the residents of Sticks, Louisiana. Phin doesn’t return. Instead, a girl named Lenora May climbs out, and now Sterling is the only person in Sticks who remembers her brother ever existed.

Sterling needs to figure out what the swamp’s done with her beloved brother and how Lenora May is connected to his disappearance—and loner boy Heath Durham might be the only one who can help her.

This debut novel is full of atmosphere, twists and turns, and a swoon-worthy romance.

Karen’s Note: I read half of this last night and it was fantastically creepy. Ally Watkins says, “Beware the Wild is more unsettling than scary, in that it plays with the rules and fears that you’ve carried with you since childhood. What if things you knew to be true suddenly weren’t?”

All book descriptions are the publisher’s descriptions.


Sunday Reflections: What a few minutes searching Google Images for “Prom Dresses” taught me

Friday night, The Tween had friends spend the night. Like her, these are all girls on the verge of 13. Between the 3 of them they consumed 2 pizzas, 24 chocolate chip cookies (or the equivalent in cookie dough), 12 sodas, ice cream floats, cheese sticks, and in the morning, 9 donuts. They did crafts, they played truth or dare, they stayed up far too late getting punchy – and they looked at Prom dresses.

That’s right, at one point in the evening one of them busted out the iPad and did a Google Image search for prom dresses. “Hate it.” “Love it, but not in this color,” they said. Sometimes they oohed and aahed.

But soon a disturbing trend became clear.

This is an image that came up labeled www.ultimatepromdresses.com

As they flipped through picture after picture of prom dress ads, it became evident that most of the models where white girls. Usually they had long, silky, flowing hair. They were almost always thin and reasonably endowed in the chest area – enough to hold up a strapless dress, which were very prolific, but not so much that you would question whether or not they were taking a huge safety risk by forgoing any straps or support.

We occasionally saw a model who might have been Latina, though it was hard to say for certain. We stumbled upon two models who were people of color, though they were light skinned and had straightened hair that mirrored those of all the models that came before.

And then they clicked upon this picture . . . .

How it ended up in this search is an example of the pitfalls of keyword searching. The image itself is tagged under “worst prom dresses.” It stands out among all the shiny ads for a variety of reasons, but there is no escaping the horrific stereotypes when presented with this image. It’s especially horrible when you consider that we had scanned pages and pages of prom dress ads and one of the very few diversity representations these 12 year old girls came across was this, a biased representation that seemed to perpetuate negative stereotypes of black girls. Of course the black girl in high school is pregnant, and we should probably assume she is on welfare if the stereotypes are to believed. But they’re not true by any means, so why, when less then 5% of the dresses we saw featured a person of color was this one of them? The answer, of course, is that we are still doing a horrible job of representing people who don’t fit our pretty, thin, white girl dynamic that dominates our culture. Even better if she’s blonde.

I had been growing increasingly disturbed as I took stock of the images they passed by in their search. There was almost no body diversity. If any of these girls in my home were struggling with body image, and statistics tell us that they probably were, this was not the way to help assuage their fears.

Now this seemingly simple and fun search had several strikes against it. These girls were subconsciously being inundated with a variety of negative messages and I needed to intervene.

So I gently told them that they needed to find a different activity to do. I mentioned that I thought it was wrong that there wasn’t more diversity in the models that they used, and we talked about how those images didn’t represent the people that they saw in their schools. We talked about real people and respect and being comfortable with who you are. And I thought about how so many preteen and teenage girls are sitting in their rooms alone doing these very types of searches, with no adult to ask them what they think about what they are seeing, challenging them to put these prom dresses pictures into the context of the real world.

My daughter and her friends aren’t always going to have a thoughtful adult looking over their shoulders asking them to question what they see on the Internet, but maybe if we ask them every time we can, it will become a part of their daily routine. I want the teens in my life, whether they be the one I gave birth to or the ones that come see me in the library, to question the world that they live in and to work to make it better. I want them to come to expect diversity so routinely that it’s absence would seem unquestionably offensive. I want them to reject narratives and marketing that suggest girls should all be and look and think a certain way. I want them to feel free to embrace not only themselves, but the various people they will meet in the course of life who will be radically different than them.

It was a simple search, “Prom dresses”. But it ended up telling me so much about the world that my daughters are growing up in. The results weren’t representative of any type of reality that our teens are navigating, which means we are failing them all. We have to do better. We have to be better. Diverse books are a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. There are so many elements out there shaping how our teens view themselves and the people around them. Let’s all be better consumers of culture.

Diversity Discussions: Diversity is the New Black – by Jayla P.

Diversity discussions have been picking up steam lately. These discussions aren’t just limited to libraries and books. Television shows, technology industries, and more are picking up on why it’s important to include people of color into the mix. My Twitter feed is abuzz with hashtags such as #weneeddiversebooks and #diveristyinYA.
Check out the Official Site of the We Need Diverse Books campaign here:
No doubt you have all heard of the recent backlash BookCon received after featuring an all-white, all-male author line up for one of the conference panels. The conference has since added more diverse authors to the mix, and even included a diversity discussion panel on their schedule, but why did it take all this publicity to do so?

It’s really exciting that such a crucial topic is being discussed. It means we are making progress, albeit it’s a slow process. Maybe it’s the pessimist in me but I can’t help to think that all this diversity talk will soon die down. That may take years, but I like that we are at least talking about these things now.
School Library Journal dedicated their May issue to the topic of diversity. If you haven’t read it yet you need to stop reading this and go pick up a copy! There are a ton of killer arguments supporting diversity in libraries. Kathleen Honnings article titled “Still an All White World” provides a solid base for what I want to discuss in this month’s diversity discussions post. I’d like to share two points from the article that made me stop and think.
“We need people to write diverse books” – – Kathleen Honning hit the nail on the head when she made the comment that publishers can’t make diverse books pop out of thin air. People write books. That’s a fact.  The lack of people of color writing books is one of the things killing diversity in publishing. How can we, as librarians, fix this? There are always the good ol’ fashioned writing clubs. Possibly even a diversity book club? Has anyone has experiences with these? Do you think it’s possible to manage?
“We need to buy, read, and share diverse books” – – Taking to Twitter and using the hashtag #weneeddiversebooks is one thing, but we also need to act on this and pick up books that feature characters and writers of all backgrounds. Make it a point to start reading at least one diverse book a month, if you can. Create amazing diversity displays to feature authors of all types of diverse backgrounds.
Finally, there is the issue of diversity as a word. When I opened my copy of SLJ, I was hoping to find a few articles going beyond the racial spectrum of diversity. Lauren Barack wrote a fabulous piece about LGBTQ support for teens in this months School Library Journal. However, it was the only piece that branched away from the typical racial diversity everyone is talking about. Is it too soon to open up the diversity discussion to include not only race, but also religion and sexual orientation? Maybe it’s time we think about adding these topics to our diversity discussions as well. What do you think?
Jayla P. is a new librarian who got her start in libraries as a work study student in college. It wasn’t until one of the reference librarians told me about library school that I began to toy with the idea of becoming a librarian. She currently holds a part-time position as a YS librarian in South Carolina. You can find her talking about books and book related things over at LadyBlueJay.com and blogging periodically here as part of her new Diversity Discussions column.

Take 5: Upcoming Middle Grade Titles with Diverse Protagonists

In the spirit of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, here are 5 upcoming middle grade titles that fit the bill: 

I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin

An eleven-year-old’s world is upended by political turmoil in this searing novel from an award-winning poet, based on true events in Chile.

Celeste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile—until the time comes when even Celeste, with her head in the clouds, can’t deny the political unrest that is sweeping through the country. Warships are spotted in the harbor and schoolmates disappear from class without a word. Celeste doesn’t quite know what is happening, but one thing is clear: no one is safe, not anymore.

The country has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protestors, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So Celeste’s parents—her educated, generous, kind parents—must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” To protect their daughter, they send her to America.

As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile. But even after democracy is restored to her home country, questions remain: Will her parents reemerge from hiding? Will she ever be truly safe again?

Accented with interior artwork, steeped in the history of Pinochet’s catastrophic takeover of Chile, and based on many true events, this multicultural ode to the power of revolution, words, and love is both indelibly brave and heartwrenchingly graceful. 

An eleven-year-old’s world is upended by political turmoil in this searing novel from an award-winning poet, based on true events in Chile.

Celeste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile—until the time comes when even Celeste, with her head in the clouds, can’t deny the political unrest that is sweeping through the country. Warships are spotted in the harbor and schoolmates disappear from class without a word. Celeste doesn’t quite know what is happening, but one thing is clear: no one is safe, not anymore.
The country has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protestors, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So Celeste’s parents—her educated, generous, kind parents—must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” To protect their daughter, they send her to America.

As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile. But even after democracy is restored to her home country, questions remain: Will her parents reemerge from hiding? Will she ever be truly safe again?

Accented with interior artwork, steeped in the history of Pinochet’s catastrophic takeover of Chile, and based on many true events, this multicultural ode to the power of revolution, words, and love is both indelibly brave and heartwrenchingly graceful. – See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/I-Lived-on-Butterfly-Hill/Marjorie-Agosin/9781416953449#sthash.HUiKxlYs.dpuf

An eleven-year-old’s world is upended by political turmoil in this searing novel from an award-winning poet, based on true events in Chile.

Celeste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile—until the time comes when even Celeste, with her head in the clouds, can’t deny the political unrest that is sweeping through the country. Warships are spotted in the harbor and schoolmates disappear from class without a word. Celeste doesn’t quite know what is happening, but one thing is clear: no one is safe, not anymore.
The country has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protestors, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So Celeste’s parents—her educated, generous, kind parents—must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” To protect their daughter, they send her to America.

As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile. But even after democracy is restored to her home country, questions remain: Will her parents reemerge from hiding? Will she ever be truly safe again?

Accented with interior artwork, steeped in the history of Pinochet’s catastrophic takeover of Chile, and based on many true events, this multicultural ode to the power of revolution, words, and love is both indelibly brave and heartwrenchingly graceful. – See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/I-Lived-on-Butterfly-Hill/Marjorie-Agosin/9781416953449#sthash.HUiKxlYs.dpuf

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj

What’s the one thing you want most in your life? Abby Spencer wants a life of excitement!

Well, sort of. Actually, that’s a lie. All Abby really wants is to meet her father. It’s not that she’s ungrateful for what she has – nice mom, adorable grandparents, great friends – but she feels like something’s missing. And she’d never tell anyone that.

Abby knows her dad lives in India, but she’s never met him and doesn’t know much else about him. But Abby’s mom realizes it’s time to have the big talk. It’s time for Abby to finally meet her father.

But does he want to meet her? Is Abby ready for the truth? Abby’s about to find out that her dad lives a very different life in a very different country and she’s going to experience it all, for better or worse. This is what happens when all your wishes come true…

Dust of Eden by Mariko Nagai

Imagine your country is at war. Now imagine everyone around you thinks you’re the enemy. 

Mina Tagawa is just like any other American girl in middle school, sharing secrets with her best friend. But all that changes in December 1941 when Pearl Harbor is attacked. Suddenly her classmates are calling her a Jap, her father is arrested by the FBI, and newspaper headlines in Seattle and throughout the West Coast warn people not to trust Japanese Americans. Within weeks, Mina’s family is forced to leave their home and sent hundreds of miles away to an internment camp. For the next three years they live under armed guard – Americans treated as enemies. This powerful novel in verse visits a little-known moment in our country’s history with honesty that is both thought provoking and inspirational. 

Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

Saving the school–one con at a time.

Jackson Greene has reformed. No, really he has. He became famous for the Shakedown at Shimmering Hills, and everyone still talks about the Blitz at the Fitz…. But after the disaster of the Mid-Day PDA, he swore off scheming and conning for good.

Then Keith Sinclair–loser of the Blitz–announces he’s running for school president, against Jackson’s former best friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby hasn’t talked to Jackson since the PDA, and he knows she won’t welcome his involvement. But he also knows Keith has “connections” to the principal, which could win him the election whatever the vote count.

So Jackson assembles a crack team to ensure the election is done right: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess and cheerleader. Charlie de la Cruz, point man. Together they devise a plan that will bring Keith down once and for all. Yet as Jackson draws closer to Gaby again, he realizes the election isn’t the only thing he wants to win.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

One of today’s finest writers tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse
In vivid poems, award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South. Raised in South Carolina and later New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place, and describes the reality of living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.

Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories—something she’s always loved to do, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Readers will delight in witnessing this gifted author discover her love of stories and storytelling and seeing the first sparks of the writer she was to become.

All book descriptions are provided by the publisher

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign

It’s a sad truth that the hardest part of my job – and the most time consuming – is going through every resource I can to try and find books with diverse characters or written by diverse authors. As a woman, I know how empowering it is for me to see positive depictions of women in the media, so I want those for my tweens and teens as well. I want them to read about and see on the covers a diverse population that looks more like the real world we live in.

As I mentioned the other day, the Tween and I have been doing a rewatch of Buffy. I never noticed how the cast really lacked diversity, especially in the beginning seasons. In fact, the first recurring POC character wasn’t introduced until season 3 – and he’s a bad guy named Trick. It is possible that some of the other main characters identify as nonwhite, I don’t know, but that’s not what you see on the screen. In later seasons Principal Wood was added to the cast, but if I was being honest about this show I love, it gets an F in diversity. And a lot of people feel that Middle Grade and Young Adult books get an F in diversity as well.

To understand the magnitude of the issue, School Library Journal looked at 2013 titles and found that there were five – yes, 5 – middle grade titles released in 2013 that featured a black boy as a main character.

Do be sure an check out the SLJ article because there are some interesting comments. For example, Kate Messner discusses her Silver Jaguar Society books, which include Capture the Flag and Hide and Seek, which have a diverse cast of three main characters. They are fun mysteries, sort of in the vein of National Treasure for middle grade readers.

Diversity matters because we life in a diverse world. There are 7 billion people on this planet. There are 313.9 million people living in America. Only 63% of those Americans identify as White, Non Hispanic. That means that 37% of the U.S. population identifies as something other than Caucasian. But do 37% of our books feature Tweens and Teens that identify as POC? The answer is no.  There is a lot of really good information about this at Diversity in YA and I suggest you spend some quality time there.  They really take a look at the bestseller lists, break down what is happening and share upcoming titles that you’ll want to add to your collection.

Diversity is about more than just representation for POC. It is about better representation for woman, for GLBTQ teens, and for characters with disabilities. So when things recently reached a tipping point, a campaign was put together: #WeNeedDiverseBooks. This campaign is really important and I hope that everyone will participate.

What can you do?*

RIGHT NOW (or sometime before May 1), take a photograph that in some way states why you think we need books that represent all of us. The photo can capture whatever it is you want to highlight. The planners suggest holding a sign that says “We need diverse books because _____.” Send your photo to weneeddiversebooks@yahoo.com or submit it via the Tumblr page. Starting at 1:00 PM EST on May 1, 2014 people will be using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks to share the photos.

On May 2, 2014 there will be a Twitter chat–again using that hashtag–at 2:00 PM EST. Share your thoughts on existing problems with the lack of diversity in children’s and young adult literature, and share the positives, too.

On May 3, 2014 at 2:00 EST there will be book giveaways and a “put your money where your mouth is” component to the campaign. 

Visit the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Tumblr, often

*I totally lifted the What Can You Do section of this post off of Debbie Reese’s American Indians in Children’s Literature blog.  Visit it here for some great discussion on the representation of American Indians in children’s and YA lit.

What’s In a Name? Diversity and Discrimination in YA Lit

An interesting thing happened at TLA. I was waiting in line when a fellow librarian walked into the Simon and Schuster booth and was reading the backs of books to learn more about them. This person picked up the book PANIC by Sharon Draper. She started to read the back which begins, “Diamond and Mercedes . . . “

This librarian made what can only be described as an ick face and put the book down. She then went on a little rant about people naming book characters ridiculous names and why couldn’t they just be named Mary or something.

Here’s the thing- Sharon Draper is an amazing author. She also happens to be an African American author who writes about black characters. And in Panic, those characters happen to be named Mercedes and Diamond.

Several months ago, there was a segment on NPR where they were talking about names in the black community. One mother called in and said that she had purposely given her son the whitest name she could think of because although their heritage was important to her, she wanted to make sure that her son wasn’t being pre-judged unfairly on college admittance and job applications based solely on his name. As much as we as a society don’t like to admit it, the truth is, when some people see a name and judge it to be “ethnic”, it can and will cause discrimination to happen.

And I felt like that was what I was seeing as I saw this librarian reject a book based solely on the character’s names.

See also, What is the Effect of a “Black” Name in America

“A 2004 study showed that resumes with recognizably African-American names were twice as likely to be ignored as other resumes. Black job seekers with advanced degrees have reported removing any indication of race from their resume just to get a shot at job.” – Black Job-Seekers Hide Race for Corporate America, NPR

Madeleine L’Engle devotes entire chapters of her book WALKING ON WATER, REFLECTIONS ON FAITH AND ART about the power of naming. Families choose names for a variety of reasons, but they often choose names based on personal family history or because the name has some meaning to parents. People come into the library every day to scour through baby name books to look up meanings.  I imagine that authors choose character names for some of the same reasons, because that name is somehow right for the character.

I was really disheartened by what I saw in this moment at TLA because I felt like I was seeing a moment of discrimination in action. This librarian had pre-judged everything about this book based solely on character names, but taking it further, what would have happened had teens with these names come into her library? Would  people bearing the named Diamond and Mercedes walking into her library elicited the same contempt? I happen to work in a library where 80% of my patrons are African American and they have glorious names like Sparkle and Passion and yes, even Diamond and Mercedes. I work with very few Marys or Mikes. It makes me sad to think that someone would put down a book and refuse to read their story based on nothing but a reaction to their name. But I saw this moment and thought yes, yes we do need to talk more about diversity in YA lit. And we need to be doing it now. Because my kids, they want to know that their stories matter too.

Christie’s note: I currently work with predominately Latino/Hispanic teens, and have worked in other libraries where it’s been a mix of African American & Hispanic. We as a society like to think that discrimination is a place of the past, and that we are beyond the actions and thoughts of the Civil Rights Movement. We’re not. When teens and adults have to worry about DWB (driving while black/brown), when the feminist movement cannot encompass all women, when panels of “power YA authors” are all white male authors, we know there is still a lot of work to be done. As teen specialists, it is our job to be on the offensive for all tweens and teens. 

See Also: Book Riot – We Need Bigger Megaphones for Diversity in KidLit

About Panic: This gripping and chillingly realistic novel from New York Times bestselling author Sharon Draper shows that all it takes is one bad decision for everything to change.

Diamond knows not to get into a car with a stranger.

But what if the stranger is well-dressed and handsome? On his way to meet his wife and daughter? And casting a movie that very night—a movie in need of a star dancer? What then?

Then Diamond might make the wrong decision.

It’s a nightmare come true: Diamond Landers has been kidnapped. She was at the mall with a friend, alone for only a few brief minutes—and now she’s being held captive, forced to endure horrors beyond what she ever could have dreamed, while her family and friends experience their own torments and wait desperately for any bit of news.

From New York Times bestselling author Sharon Draper, this is a riveting exploration of power: how quickly we can lose it—and how we can take it back. (from Goodreads) 

Middle Grade Monday – I May Never Be Warm Again

It is both cold and wet at my house today – the kind of day that makes me feel as if I will never be warm again. As an added pleasure, this weather makes my almost healed arm ache. Bonus. Thanks for listening to me complain. Stay with me while I complain some more.

Recently, both Christopher Myers and his father, Walter Dean Myers, wrote insightful articles for the New York Times about the appalling lack of progress we’ve made in publishing books for children with non-white protagonists. As someone who purchases titles for a school with over 50% minority students, I can only agree.

One of my friends forwarded the senior Myers’ article to myself and several others in an email yesterday. For a little background, I have several friends who have adopted, or are in the process of adopting, children who are either black or multiracial. As I’ve purchased books as presents for their children, I’ve done my best to buy ones with characters who look like them. I’ve also done my best to express the need for children to see themselves in the books they read. I have to say that my local book store does an extremely good job of stocking titles that fit these needs – what few there are.

So, a discussion sprang up amongst the recipients of the email, and the need for Middle Grade titles with characters of color came up. As a librarian, I saw this as my favorite kind of puzzle, so I began to research. I began, of course, with the Coretta Scott King awards titles. My heart sank as I looked through them. Please understand me – they are all brilliant books, and well deserving of the awards they’ve been given. They are also vastly historical in nature. Especially the titles that fall within the Middle Grades designation. Yes, there are a good number of picture books with contemporary settings, as well as a strong showing of YA, but where are the contemporary Middle Grades titles? Where is my Christopher Paul Curtis or Rita Williams Garcia who writes in a contemporary setting? Or, alternately, where is my Rebecca Stead or Anne Ursu who write characters of color? I choose these authors specifically for their excellent understanding of and ability to write middle grades characters. Ms. Ursu is, in fact, a great champion of the Middle Grade reader.

This is in no way the fault of the CSK Awards Committee. These books are simply not out there. I dream of a publishing atmosphere in which these books are so abundant that I have to choose which to purchase for our collection rather than automatically buying multiple copies of everything that comes out. One day.