Let’s Talk: The Importance of Diversity in Children’s Literature

Recently there was a lot of angry talk on Twitter about something an author said about diversity in children’s literature and how she basically said that anything written about a queer black kid belongs in a pamphlet, not a book.

Um, sorry, what?

Edi from Crazy QuiltEdi did a post about the whole talk on Facebook that occurred over the weekend and I thought that it was a great to read about her perspective on it. The whole topic of conversation was sparked over a self-published children’s book about a black boy who loves the color pink, but you know, boys aren’t supposed to like pink… right? So it’s a story about fear and how this child wants to escape to Mars to be accepted by others.

I think that sounds like a great story! Regardless if the child is black, white, Asian, polka-dotted, whatever, it’s a story that should be shared with any and all children that go through much the same thing.

But for a white female author to go on and say that this kind of material should be in a pamphlet, not a book, because (according to her) books should have a “philosophical, spiritual, intellectual agenda that speaks to many many people – not just gay black boys” is really, well, absurd. Children need this kind of material to not only understand more about themselves, but to be able to grow compassion and empathize with those that go through the same kinds of problems.

Yes, authors of color have been trying to get published more and more, and stories about people of color have been trying to get published more and more, but there’s still not enough out there. The story and journey of a white boy or girl is fine and all, but we need more diversity. More Native Americans and traditional cultures and values; more Latinos and how they grow up in the U.S. or elsewhere; more queer black kids just wanting to be accepted and loved by others; more positive spins on Muslims, Buddhists, and other religious minorities, and heck, even majorities; more about bisexual white females and males, or really more about anyone, regardless of race, who is LGBTQIA+. We need these stories for our kids, and if people don’t begin seeing that, then where do we stand?

It’s sad to think that in the publishing world there is still such a stigma for POC authors and characters.

“It won’t sell.”

“It won’t be a best seller.”

“No one will relate.”

I beg to differ.

We want more, crave more, and need more. As a white female I, too, want to read these stories and be able to understand the mindsets, the cultures, the worlds in which these kids – and adults – live in.

Let me know your thoughts on diversity of kid’s literature. Is there enough of it? Do we need more? What kinds of topics do you want to see written about?

My Heart and Other Black Holes Book Review

myheartandotherblackholes

Title: My Heart and Other Black Holes
Author: Jasmine Warga
Publisher: Balzer + Bray – an imprint of HarperCollins
Publication Date: February 10, 2015
Genres: Young Adult – Contemporary
Pages: 302
Format: Purchased Hardcover

This book has a trigger warning for suicide. If this topic makes you uncomfortable, step lightly into reading this review or book.

“My Heart and Other Black Holes” by Jasmine Warga is a book about sixteen-year-old Aysel (pronounced Uh-zell) who is extremely depressed after the murder her father committed three years prior. She has lost all of her friends and she feels outcast by her family. She goes on this website called Smooth Passages and finds an ad for a “suicide partner” and says she’ll do it with this guy on the specific day that he requested, about six weeks later from that point.

But as she keeps on thinking about how much her death from the world will help her, she realizes that maybe there is more to the world.

I started reading this with a lot of sensitivity brewing in me because of my personal past (and present) and how much I can relate to Aysel’s feelings of depression and suicide.

That being said, that is not why I rated this 5/5 stars.

The writing was fantastic and kept the plot moving forward. Yes, at times I thought it was a bit slow and dragged out, but I also understood the importance of those scenes when they made a reappearance later in the book.

The plot itself was something I’ve never read about – or have chosen to read about. As it’s such a personal topic for me, I have a very sensitive heart when it comes to it. But the story itself was gripping and I wanted to cheer for the characters to get better and to realize it wasn’t their fault and that it does get better. But I understand how depression works and how that black slug that Aysel kept on referring to just squirms around in your heart and your whole being to now allow you to see the light behind the darkness that’s enveloping you.

The plot consisted of a concept I wish also didn’t exist: suicide partners. They were planning the day in which they would do it, they found a spot where they wanted to it, and they made some conditions in which they would used to keep themselves on track. But I think that Aysel and Roman slowly developed that friendship and kinship and chemistry over their short time together because of their common bond in depression. Roman felt he was to blame for his sister’s death; Aysel was afraid of how others would think of her if she turned out exactly like her murderous father. As they developed the kinship and really got serious about everything, and slow buds started to open Aysel’s heart and shine in that light, I loved it when it became a turning point.

I thought there was great character development. I saw the transformation in Aysel and was so glad when I saw it. Roman was the tough one and the stubborn one, but I completely understood where he came from and why he blamed himself so heavily for what happened.

Yes, there were some parts that could have been explained more or actually happened (I really wanted her to confront her father) and maybe some things should have been different, but for the subject matter of the book, this was beautifully written.

As I stated, I rated this book 5/5 stars.

And please. If you or someone you know is in a situation like this, please have them (or you) talk to someone who can help and be a positive bright light in that darkness. You have no clue how much that light will be of value to that person one day.

These resources can be found at the back of Warga’s book:

Suicide is and never will be a joking matter. Don’t make light of it. Not all stories end like Aysel’s and Roman’s, so please, just reach out for help if it’s needed.

Accompanying video: My Heart and Other Black Holes Book Review