Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Amplifying the voices of diverse multiracial authors and illustrators, a guest post by Sailaja Joshi

 Photo credit: BLIP Photography

As a book lover, sociologist and someone who understood the power of books, I knew I wanted literature to be part of my daughter’s upbringing, and to have her learn about her heritage through the lens of other cultural experiences. As excited as I was to build my daughter’s library, I found myself extremely frustrated at what I saw. The small selection of books featuring Indian or South Asian characters on the market were developmentally inappropriate, culturally inaccurate or insensitive, and not what I wanted on my daughter’s bookshelf. It was in this moment I realized I must do something about this. This is how Mango & Marigold Press came to be.

The work we do at Mango & Marigold Press helps to amplify the voices of diverse multiracial authors and illustrators. With our #1001DiverseBooks initiative, Mango & Marigold Press funds 1,001 new copies of each of their books for literacy nonprofits to bridge the accessibility gap and provide children with a wider range of representation in the characters and experiences they’re reading about. Recently, we celebrated our sixth anniversary and 20th published book, yet despite the strides we’ve made and the impact we’ve had on the publishing industry (along with many other amazing organizations and initiatives), it’s clear that substantial improvement is still very much needed.

Representation matters in children’s literature. Children need to see themselves in literature. A lot of people might dismiss the importance that children’s books have on the state of the world, but I’d strongly disagree. Kids are born open-minded. By creating a more diverse landscape of literature, we open up the world for them, encourage wonder and awe, and prompt conversations about culture, race, and experiences. At a young age, children’s minds are like sponges — quickly absorbing everything they see and hear. Incorporating diverse literature at these early stages makes it easier for a child to absorb and form a sense of acceptance.

As parents, we have an amazing ability to mold and shape our children’s young minds and create lifelong morals and values that will help them better themselves and the world through the literature we read to them and provide them with. Teaching kids about diversity and acceptance is a large part of our responsibilities, and an easy and organic way to do that is through literature. Here are some ways to diversify your child’s at home libraries, along with a handful of recommended titles to add to your child’s collection.

Photo credit: Emily Tirella

Three Ways to Diversify Your Children’s Book Collection

Audit Your Current Library

In order to best fill in the gaps, you need to understand what your collection is lacking. Therefore, look through your current assortment of books before heading to the library or bookstore so you have a plan and know exactly what you’re looking for.

Authors Matter – Check the author

Representation matters in literature, but so does who’s writing it. Oftentimes, cultural experiences are misrepresented in literature because they are being written by authors writing outside their experiences, therefore, do your own research and make sure the author is writing from personal experience.

Make it a recurring to-do and not a one-time checklist

The world is constantly changing, and so should you. Your libraries should evolve and change throughout the years and diversifying shouldn’t be viewed as one-time to do. One of the best ways we can support diversity is by making it a part of the conversation every day, so keep at it!

Recommended Titles

Finding Om (written by Rashmi Bismark, Illustrated by Morgan Huff)

Finding Om is an illustrated children’s book that shares the story of Anu, an Indian African girl who explores the mantra Om with her beloved grandfather, Appuppa. Through this story, she begins to uncover techniques of mindfulness that readers can explore along with her. This wonderful multicultural, intergenerational story is sure to become a staple in classrooms and homes across the world.

Super Satya Saves the Day (written by Raakhee Mirchandani, Illustrated by Tim Palin)

Super Satya, a Sikh American girl, is ready to have a super day, including finally conquering the tallest slide in Hoboken. But her day takes a not-so-super turn when she realizes her superhero cape is stuck at the dry cleaner. Will she be able to face her fears, help her friends and be the true hero everyone knows she is? Super Satya Saves The Day introduces Satya, a precocious Indian-American superhero.

Always Anjali (written by Sheetal Sheth, illustrated by Jessica Blank)

When Anjali finally gets the bike of her dreams on her birthday, she and her two best friends are excited to get matching license plates with their names on it. But Anjali can’t find her name. There’s Amy, Betsy, Chris, and many more, but no Anjali. To make matters worse, she gets bullied for her different name, and is so upset she demands to change it. When her parents refuse and she is forced to take matters into her own hands, she winds up learning to celebrate who she is and carry her name with pride. A timeless story about appreciating what makes us special and honoring our differences. Grand prize winner in 2019 for the Purple Dragonfly Award.

Bindiya in India (written by Monique Kamaria Chheda, MD, Illustrated by Debasmita Dasgupta)

Bindiya in India is the story of a young Indian American girl’s first trip to India for an Indian wedding. Weaving together Hindi and English, the children’s illustrated book takes place in the 1990s. It follows Bindiya as she meets her extended family for the first time, celebrates Indian wedding traditions, and creates memories and bonds to last a lifetime.


Meet the author

Photo credit: Emily Tirella

Sailaja Joshi is the founder of Mango & Marigold Press, an award-winning independent publishing house that shares the sweet and savory stories of the South Asian experience. Mango & Marigold Press’s mission has expanded to not only bridge the diversity gap in literature for children and teens but also improve the accessibility of diverse books in underserved communities through their #1001DiverseBooks initiative, with a goal to close the literacy and achievement gap. Sailaja has also been a passionate volunteer in the Hindu Youth community for over twenty years.

#SJYALit: If You Don’t Get It, You Won’t Get It Right, a guest post by Shaun David Hutchinson

sjyalitI tell stories because the real world sucked for me when I was a teen.  No.  Sucked doesn’t even begin to cover it.  The real world nearly killed me.  The real world told me that I was going to hell because I was gay.  It told me I would die of AIDS or have the crap kicked out of me or spend my life as an unfulfilled sex addict or as someone’s campy gay best friend without a real life of my own.  I tried to escape the real world by reaching out to books and movies and television, but found only the same poison that infected reality.

 

More and more I’m seeing members of the YA community (led primarily by women of color) standing against and calling out books that feature harmful representation of race or gender or sexuality or disability.  Rather than allowing these books to continue to be published unchallenged, they’re taking a stand and shining a light on these problematic books and the system that continues to publish them.  At the same time, within minutes of someone calling out a book, someone else will come along and say, “What’s the big deal? It’s only fiction.”  You can set your watch by it. I promise.

 

It’s only fiction, right?  I can’t harm anyone, right?  Wrong.  We live in a big world, but as we’re growing up we often see only a small part of it.  That small part becomes our entire world.  We look to the people around us, the friends and family and schoolmates that inhabit our worlds, to catch glimpses of our possible futures.  And we use literature and movies and television as telescopes to view life outside of our worlds.  For many people, the future looks limitless.  They see they can be doctors or computer engineers or painters or world travelers.  Books and other artistic mediums help expand their worlds and show them infinite possibilities.

 

For kids from marginalized groups, their worlds begin much smaller.  When I came out, I knew exactly two gay people.  One was the best friend of my mother who had died of AIDS.  The other was my brother and, at the time, he wasn’t a particularly great example of what growing up gay could look like.  Matthew Shepard had been brutally tortured and murdered; Bill Clinton had signed the Defense Against Marriage Act, declaring I did not have the right to marry a member of the same sex; the U.S. military was actively discharging homosexual soldiers despite the heinous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule.  The real world was sending me a message, and I heard it loud and clear.  My world was small.  It was claustrophobic. So I retreated to books and movies and television and found more of the same.  Stories of shame.  Stories of death and depression.  If the gay character wasn’t killed as an object lesson, they were the butt of every joke.  I’d looked to books to escape from the real world, but there was no escape.

 

I did not fit the stereotype of gay men that so many writers at the time leaned heavily on.  Instead of finding positive stories that showed me a future where I could be myself and be happy, I found the opposite.  I found a handful of possible futures, and they were all grim.  So I tried to kill myself and nearly succeeded.  I didn’t attempt suicide because my parents rejected me or because I couldn’t accept that I was gay.  I attempted suicide because there was so much bad representation of gay life out there that I was no longer able to see the possibility of ever living a happy life.

 

Don’t tell me it’s only fiction.  Don’t tell me bad representation can’t harm anyone.  It can. It does.  It nearly killed me.

 

we are the antsI’ve gotten comments from readers that the acceptance the queer characters in my books receive from everyone around them is unrealistic.  They might be right.  I don’t think they are, but they could be.  And I don’t care.  I don’t write for those people.  I write books so that queer teens can see themselves, so that they can see a possible future for themselves.  Marginalized teens deserve the same opportunity to see themselves represented accurately and positively in the books they read as everyone else.  I’ve heard the argument that queer teens only make up a small percentage of the population, so it shouldn’t be important.  Well, screw that.  None of us should be willing to write off marginalized groups, no matter how many or few of us there are.  If you’re a writer and you think it’s not important enough to get it right, you shouldn’t be writing it.  Actual lives of actual people depend on getting it right.  If you think otherwise then you haven’t been paying attention.

 

We should all be speaking out about books with harmful representation.  Writers need to know that doing the bare minimum isn’t enough.  They need to get it right or write something else.  Publishers need to know that there are real consequences to publishing books with harmful representation and they need to promote diversity at every level of their operations to ensure harmful books aren’t being published, while at the same time promoting own voices books that are getting it right.  Publishers need to do more than simply pay lip service to the notion of diversity.  Teachers and librarians need to speak up about books that are harmful to the teens they serve, and actively seek out books that get it right so that they can put the right books into the hands of the teens who need them.

 

This isn’t a game.  This isn’t just fiction.  These are real lives, and if we’re not working to make those lives better, what the hell are we doing?

 

Meet Shaun David Hutchinson

shaunShaun David Hutchinson is the author of numerous books for young adults, including The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, which won the Florida Book Awards’ Gold Medal in the Young Adult category and was named to the ALA’s 2015 Rainbow Book List; the anthology Violent Ends, which received a starred review from VOYA; and We Are the Ants, which received five starred reviews and was named a best book of January 2016 by Amazon.com, Kobo.com, Publishers Weekly, and iBooks, and At the Edge of the Universe. He lives in South Florida with his adorably chubby dog, and enjoys Doctor Who, comic books, and yelling at the TV. Visit him at ShaunDavidHutchinson.com.