Diverse Books in the Spotlight

The movement around diverse books is gaining momentum.

In the small—but growing—world of diverse children’s and young adult literature, 2015 is off to a great start! Just last week, the American Library Association announced this year’s Youth Media Awards. Among the awardees and honorees are a number of diverse books, including The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, El Deafo by Cece Bell and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

While looking at the list of 2015 Youth Media Awards, I thought back to my childhood. I really disliked reading—and it troubled me that many of my peers loved to read. I would lie and tell them that I loved to read, too, but was always stumped when asked to share my favorite book. I didn’t have one.

But there was a turning point. One afternoon at home, I picked up my sister’s copy of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and ran my fingers across the silver John Newbery Honor Medal on its front cover. I thought, “Wow, this book has a shiny medal!” The medal made Charlotte’s Web special to me, almost as though this medal was my very own. I ending up reading Charlotte’s Web—loving it—and finding and reading other children’s books with medals on them. Without my knowing the critical weight attached to them, these medals fostered my love for stories and, eventually, reading.

Today, seeing several diverse books among the recipients and honorees of the Youth Media Awards, including the Newbery Medal, is exciting. The Crossover, El Deafo and Brown Girl Dreaming, each with its own shiny medal, will make their way into libraries and schools across the country. Students will be drawn to their covers, immerse themselves in their stories and share them with others.

While every outstanding book does not receive a literary award or national recognition, there is tremendous value in having diverse books among the ranks of what is deemed “the very best” by librarians and literature and other media experts. It sends an important, impactful message: This story is excellent and deserves to be seen and heard by you. It’s affirming.

Supporting and celebrating diverse authors, narratives and literature also helps surround all students with crucial “mirrors” and “windows,” texts in which they see themselves reflected and through which they see into the lives, identities and experiences of others.

But as the grassroots organization We Need Diverse Books points out, the work is far from done. There remains a critical shortage of diverse, non-majority narratives in literature for children and young adults, a void that stands in stark contrast to the diversity that makes up and surrounds our youngest generations. This discrepancy deserves our collective attention and action, which, of course, need to extend far beyond literary awards.

Lindberg is a writer/associate editor for Teaching Tolerance.