New Releases – October 2014

Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews (Simon & Schuster)

“In a plainspoken and sometimes-humorous memoir, transgender teenager Andrews discusses his life so far. Andrews received national recognition when he was profiled on television’s Inside Edition as one half of a transgender teen couple (the other half, Katie Rain Hill, has written her own memoir, Rethinking Normal). In a conversational tone, the author describes events from his childhood and teen years. … Friendly and informative.” — Kirkus

The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

“In this provocative thriller, Bacigalupi (The Drowned Cities) traces the awakening of a smart, compassionate, and privileged girl named Alix Banks to ugly realities of contemporary life, while seeking to open readers’ eyes, as well. Alix’s life is thrown into disarray when an activist group targets her family, its eyes on her father’s powerful public relations business. Moses is a charismatic black teen living off the money from a settlement with a pharmaceutical company after one of its medications killed his parents. Along with four other brilliant teens who have lost family to this sort of legal/medical maleficence, Moses hopes to enlist Alix’s help to release incriminating data from her father’s files, à la Edward Snowden.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Boy Trouble by ReShonda Tate Billingsley (K-Teen)

Book Description: Maya’s best friend Kennedi has flipped head over heels for her new boo, Kendrick. But when Maya learns Kennedi and Kendrick’s relationship is full of violence—and Kennedi is the aggressor—will she get her best friend to see love shouldn’t hurt? Meanwhile, Sheridan has found love too, but her Prince Charming isn’t all that he seems, and Sheridan won’t listen to anything her friends try to tell her. Maya is trying to navigate all of that while dealing with her own family drama as her parents go through a nasty divorce. How is a diva supposed to stay sane when everything around her is falling apart?

Double Exposure by Bridget Birdsall (Sky Pony Press)

“Alyx, an intersex teen, leaves California for Milwaukee to live as a girl for the first time. … Tall and a lover of basketball, Alyx becomes quick friends with her school’s varsity team, including pushy and dangerously hot-tempered Patti ”Pepper“ Pitmani. Background information about intersex conditions and Alyx’s own experience of her body are woven easily into the text, informative without being either dry or sensationalistic.” — Kirkus

Night Sky by Suzanne Brockmann and Melanie Brockmann (Sourcebooks Fire)

“Best known for her romantic thrillers, Suzanne Brockmann teams up with her daughter Melanie for a YA adventure set in her Fighting Destiny world. Sixteen-year-old Skylar Reid is shocked to discover that she’s a Greater-Than, born with superhuman powers. … Skylar joins her wheelchair-bound friend Calvin, motorcycle-riding bad girl Dana, and mysterious hottie Milo to rescue a missing child and bring down those who would exploit people like her.” — Publishers Weekly

Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw (Roaring Brook Press)

“In this no-holds-barred autobiography, 21-year-old Burcaw sheds light on what it has been like to grow up with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a deadly disease that has left him confined to a wheelchair and dependent on others. … His honesty, tempered by mordant humor and a defiant acceptance, is refreshing, even as he thumbs his nose at the disease that is slowly stripping him of the basics.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

The Sorcerer Heir (The Heir Chronicles, Book 5) by Cinda Williams Chima (Disney-Hyperion)

Book Description: The delicate peace between Wizards and the underguilds (Warriors, Seers, Enchanters, and Sorcerers) still holds by the thinnest of threads, but powerful forces inside and outside the guilds threaten to sever it completely.

Emma and Jonah are at the center of it all. Brought together by their shared history, mutual attraction, and a belief in the magic of music, they now stand to be torn apart by new wounds and old betrayals. As they struggle to rebuild their trust in each other, Emma and Jonah must also find a way to clear their names as the prime suspects in a series of vicious murders. It seems more and more likely that the answers they need lie buried in the tragedies of the past. The question is whether they can survive long enough to unearth them.

Old friends and foes return as new threats arise in this stunning and revelatory conclusion to the beloved and bestselling Heir Chronicles series.

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe (Pulp/Zest)

“The year was 1892, and 19-year-old Alice Mitchell was in love with Freda Ward, 17. She determined that if she couldn’t marry Freda, nobody else would, either. … This is a captivating account, and readers will quickly become absorbed in the suspense surrounding Freda’s murder. Additionally, the book provides a foundation for discussion of sociocultural themes, such as how LGBT relationships have historically been viewed by society, gender and femininity, and even journalism.” — School Library Journal, starred review

Earth and Sky by Megan Crewe (Skyscape)

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Skylar has been haunted for as long as she can remember by fleeting yet powerful sensations that something is horribly wrong. But despite the visions of disaster that torment her, nothing ever happens, and Sky’s beginning to think she’s crazy. Then she meets a mysterious, otherworldly boy named Win and discovers the shocking truth her premonitions have tapped into: that our world no longer belongs to us. For thousands of years, life on Earth has been at the mercy of alien scientists who care nothing for humans and are using us as the unwitting subjects of their time-manipulating experiments. Win belongs to a rebel faction seeking to put a stop to it, and he needs Skylar’s help to save the world and keep the very fabric of reality together. Megan Crewe’s latest tale takes readers on a mind-bending journey through time with a cast of unforgettable characters.

Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios (Balzer + Bray)

“Nalia lives in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills, a glittering world of parties and fast cars. She can have anything she wants—except her freedom. Nalia is ”just another jinni on the dark caravan“ of the slave trade, forced to spend her days granting wishes on behalf of her human master, Malek, in order to advance his wealth and power. … The story unfolds at a swift, even pace, and the worldbuilding is superb; the jinn inhabit an intoxicating, richly realized realm of magic, politics, spirituality and history. Readers will wish they had a jinni to grant them the next book in the series.” — Kirkus, starred review

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince (Knopf)

“A compelling narrative of the journey of an African orphan whose hard work, emotional strength, and supportive adoptive American parents helped her build a life as a professional dancer, 19-year-old Michaela DePrince’s memoir, coauthored by her mother, holds many stories. … There is plenty of ballet detail for dance lovers to revel in, and the authors achieve a believable, distinctive teenage voice with a nice touch of lyrical description.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang (First Second)

“Online gaming and real life collide when a teen discovers the hidden economies and injustices that hide among seemingly innocent pixels … Through Wong’s captivating illustrations and Doctorow’s heady prose, readers are left with a story that’s both wholly satisfying as a work of fiction and series food for thought about the real-life ramifications of playing in an intangible world. Thought-provoking, as always from Doctorow.” — Kirkus

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan (Algonquin)

“With self-deprecating wit and a keen eye for interpersonal dynamics, Iranian-American narrator Leila Azadi details the dramas taking place in the intersecting circles of her elite New England private school and high-achieving Persian community. When a family friend comes out, his parents’ obnoxious bragging turns to silence, causing Leila to fear being disowned for her “lady-loving inclinations.” … Farizan exceeds the high expectations she set with her debut, If You Could Be Mine, in this fresh, humorous, and poignant exploration of friendship and love, a welcome addition to the coming-out/coming-of-age genre.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill (Simon & Schuster)

“Katie knew she was a girl on the inside, even when she was a suicidal kid named Luke growing up in a disjointed family in Oklahoma. Bullied relentlessly at school and unsupported by administrators, other students’ parents, and even her own father, Katie finds an ally in her mother, who stands by her child as she starts dressing like a girl, legally changes her name, and travels to get genital reconstruction surgery the day after turning 18. … Being so open—and openly imperfect—makes Katie relatable on a human level, not just as a spokesperson.” — Publishers Weekly

Love Is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Arthur A. Levine Books)

“Lost memories, a deadly pandemic flu and the children of D.C.’s elite come together in this sophisticated bio-thriller. … Johnson, who astounded with her cyberpunk teen debut, The Summer Prince (2013), immerses readers in the complexities of Bird’s world, especially her fraught relationship with her parents and the intersections of race and class at her elite prep school. The often lyrical third-person, present-tense narration, the compelling romance and the richly developed cast of characters elevate this novel far above more formulaic suspense fare. Utterly absorbing.” — Kirkus, starred review

Martyr by A.R. Kahler (Spencer Hill Press)

Book Description: Three years have passed since magic destroyed the world.

Those who remain struggle to survive the monsters roaming the streets, fighting back with steel and magic–the very weapons that birthed the Howls in the first place.

Tenn is one such Hunter, a boy with the ability to harness the elements through ancient runes. For years, the Hunters have used this magic to keep the monsters at bay, but it’s never been enough to truly win the war. Humans are losing.

When Tenn falls prey to an incubus named Tomás and his terrifying Kin, Tenn learns there’s more to this than a fight for survival. He’s a pawn in a bigger game, one with devastating consequences. If he doesn’t play his part, it could cost him his life, his lover and his world.

The Family by Marissa Kennerson (Full Fathom Five)

Book Description: Just like any average seventeen year old, Twig loves her family. She has a caring mother and a controlling father. Her brothers and sisters are committed to her family’s prosperity…

All one hundred and eighty three of them.

Twig lives in the Family, a collective society located in the rainforest of Costa Rica. The Family members coexist with the values of complete openness and honesty, and a shared fear of contagious infection in the outside world.

So when Adam, their Father, prophet, and savior, announces that Twig will be his new bride, she is overjoyed and honored. But when an injury forces her to leave the grounds, Twig finds that the world outside is not necessarily as toxic as she was made to believe. When she meets Leo, an American boy with a killer smile, she begins to question everything about her life within the Family, and the cult to which she belongs.

But when it comes to your Family, you don’t always get a choice.

The Young Elites by Marie Lu (Putnam)

“A new series—fantasy, this time—from the author of the best-selling Legend dystopia. … In a gorgeously constructed world that somewhat resembles Renaissance Italy but with its own pantheon, geography and fauna, the multiethnic and multisexual Young Elites offer a cinematically perfect ensemble of gorgeous-but-unusual illusionists, animal speakers, fire summoners and wind callers. A must for fans of Kristin Cashore’s Fire (2009) and other totally immersive fantasies.” — Kirkus, starred review

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon (Henry Holt and Co.)

“A racially charged shooting reveals the complicated relationships that surround a popular teen and the neighborhood that nurtured and challenged him. Instead of a gangster after retribution, 16-year-old African-American Tariq Johnson’s killer is a white man claiming to have acted in self-defense. Despite their failure to find a weapon on the black teen, the police release the shooter, rocking the community. … Magoon skillfully tells the story in multiple, sometimes conflicting, voices. This sobering yet satisfying novel leaves readers to ponder the complex questions it raises.” — Kirkus, starred review

Pig Park by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez (Cinco Puntos)

“Residents of a declining neighborhood band together to turn their economy around by building a tourist attraction. Masi spent her life working in her family’s bakery in Pig Park, so named for the lard company that, until outsourcing, provided most of the area’s jobs. The multiethnic Chicago neighborhood agrees to the outlandish scheme of building a ‘Gran Pirámide’ in their park, as a famous community developer suggests. … The story of a community working together is uplifting.” — Kirkus

Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez (Katherine Tegen Books)

“After discovering that her father and boyfriend are killers, 17-year-old Valentina Cruz runs away to Montreal. Penniless, she lives in a rented closet, works as an artist’s model, and practices her stolen mandolin by night in an empty cafe. She thinks the music will sustain her good memories of her boyfriend, Emilio, who taught her to play. … Valentina’s decision making is sometimes opaque, but her strong voice, full of sensory imagery, and her exquisitely drawn relationships with Emilio, Marcel, and her father make this a memorable thriller.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Beau, Lee, the Bomb & Me by Mary McKinley (K-Teen)

“When 16-year-old Rusty sees new boy Beau appear at her school, she’s relieved—he’ll be ”fresh meat“ for the bullies who torment Rusty for being fat. She’s right; they paint ”Die Fag“ on Beau’s locker and beat him up. Desperate, he decides to run away in search of his gay uncle in San Francisco. Rusty goes with him, as does Lee, a girl who’s sex-shamed at school and happens to be sleeping with a teacher. … Pair this love letter to the West Coast and to the victims and survivors of the gay American AIDS crisis with David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing (2013).” — Kirkus

Bottled Up Secret by Brian McNamara (Bold Strokes Books)

Book Description: Brendan Madden is in the midst of his senior year of high school and couldn’t be happier. He has a great group of friends, his pick of colleges, and he has recently come to terms with his sexuality. One night, he meets Mark Galovic, a gorgeous, younger classmate of his. In a matter of minutes, Brendan is hooked. As the friendship between them grows, Brendan reaches his breaking point when he spontaneously confesses his feelings to him. Brendan is shocked and elated to find out that Mark feels the same way about him. The two begin to date, but because Mark is not out, it must remain a secret. As their friends and family become suspicious, openly gay Brendan becomes increasingly frustrated with their discreet relationship, while Mark becomes more and more paranoid that they’re going to be found out.

Maxine Wore Black by Nora Olsen (Bold Strokes Books)

Maxine is the girl of Jayla’s dreams: she’s charming, magnetic, and loves Jayla for her transgender self. There’s only one problem with Maxine—she already has a girlfriend, perfect Becky. Jayla quickly falls under Maxine’s spell, and she’s willing to do anything to win her. But when Becky turns up dead, Jayla is pulled into a tangle of deceit, lies, and murder. Now Jayla is forced to choose between love and the truth. Jayla will need all the strength she has to escape the darkness that threatens to take her very life.

Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)

“Told in first-person free verse, Crazy is a beautifully written and emotionally impactful novel about growing up around bipolar disorder in a time period when even doctors didn’t truly understand the ramifications of such a disease. Laura’s shame about her family and her guilt for hating her mother for something she cannot control are heartrending. Phillips’s poetry coupled with her personal experiences truly make this a poignant read. It should be in the hands of anyone—teen and adult—who has ever felt powerless at the hands of mental illness.” — School Library Journal

The Gospel Truth by Caroline Pignat (Red Deer Press)

Book Description: Award-winning author Caroline Pignat’s new historical novel recreates the world of a Virginia tobacco plantation in 1858. Through the different points of view of slaves, their masters and a visiting bird-watcher the world of the plantation comes to live in this verse novel. Phoebe belongs to Master Duncan and works in the plantation kitchen. She sees how the other slaves are treated — the beatings and whippings, the disappearances. She hasn’t seen her mother since Master Duncan sold her ten years ago. But Pheobe is trying to learn words and how to read and when she is asked to show the master’s Canadian visitor, Doctor Bergman, where he can find warblers and chickadees she starts to see things differently. And Doctor Bergman has more in mind that just drawing the local birds. Pheobe’s friend Shad works on the plantation as well — but mostly he worries about his brother Will. His brother is the last member of his family and he is determined to escape from the master and the tobacco plantation. He has already been caught and beaten more than once. And the stories about life in Canada can’t be true, can they? How does a man survive without the master there taking care of everything?

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (Cinco Puntos)

“Struggles with body image, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, rape, coming out, first love and death are all experiences that touch Gabi’s life in some way during her senior year, and she processes her raw and honest feelings in her journal as these events unfold. … Readers won’t soon forget Gabi, a young woman coming into her own in the face of intense pressure from her family, culture and society to fit someone else’s idea of what it means to be a ”good“ girl. A fresh, authentic and honest exploration of contemporary Latina identity.” — Kirkus, starred review

The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond (Scholastic)

“That 20th-century speculative-fiction staple, the what-if-Hitler-won-the-war alternate history, meets 21st-century special-girl dystopia. It’s been almost a century since the Axis powers divided a conquered North America among them: Japan in the west, Germany in the east, and Italy in the Dakotas. In the Nazi-controlled Shenandoah Valley, 16-year-old half-Japanese Zara is an Untermensch, a half-breed fit only for scut work. Though she works all hours as both a janitor and a farm girl, Zara desperately wants Uncle Red to allow her to join the Revolutionary Alliance, the anti-Nazi underground. … Overall, a satisfying and appropriately hectic action adventure.” — Kirkus

Schizo: A novel by Nic Sheff (Philomel)

“Sheff’s novel reveals the painful and confusing world of teenage schizophrenia through the experience of Miles, a junior at a small San Francisco private school. … Readers fascinated by the dark side of the human mind in realistic fiction will enjoy this deft portrayal of a brain and a life spiraling out of control. Miles is an endearing character whose difficult journey will generate compassion and hope.” — School Library Journal

UnDivided by Neal Shusterman (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

“In the final book of the ”Unwind Dystology,“ everything comes full circle. Shusterman expertly reminds readers about the characters and their current situations without distracting from the current plot. Teens gain information on all of the key players, and each well-crafted narrative moves at a refreshing pace. … Characters old and new are integrated into the story line, providing insight and closure. Shusterman generates a lot of thought-provoking topics for discussion. The story is intriguing: a wonderful end to a unique and noteworthy series.” — School Library Journal

Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before by Karelia Stetz-Waters (Ooligan Press)

Book Description: Shy, intellectual, and living in rural Oregon, Triinu Hoffman just doesn’t fit in. She does her best to hide behind her dyed hair and black wardrobe, but it’s hard to ignore the bullying of Pip Weston and Principal Pinn. It’s even harder to ignore the allure of other girls. As Triinu tumbles headlong into first love and teenage independence, she realizes that the differences that make her a target are also the differences that can set her free. With everyone in town taking sides in the battle for equal rights in Oregon, Triinu must stand up for herself, learn what it is to love and have her heart broken, and become her own woman.

Shadowboxer by Tricia Sullivan (Ravenstone)

“In this adrenaline-fueled supernatural adventure, a young woman channels her anger into fighting, only to risk losing everything due to her lack of control. Jade Barrera, 17, is a rising star in the mixed martial arts (MMA) circuit, but after she snaps and hurts the wrong person, she’s sent to regain her focus by training in Thailand, where she’s exposed to new ways of thinking and living. … SF author Sullivan (Lightborn) spins a kinetic, violent, and magical tale that makes excellent use of Jade’s hard-edged voice. Sullivan brings to life the beauty of Thailand and the sweat and blood of the gym, infusing them with magic and danger.” — Publishers Weekly

Stray by Elissa Sussman (Greenwillow)

“Fairy-tale tropes are turned on their heads in this exploration of class and ideology. Aislynn is a princess who has always intended to follow the Path. However, her wicked heart is often at odds with her desperation to obey the rules that state she must resist the curse of her innate magic. … The creative use of the role of fairy godmother is fascinating, as is the fantasy world.” — Kirkus

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley (Harlequin Teen)

“Sarah Dunbar, a black high school senior in the graduating class of 1959, is nervous about entering the formerly all-white Jefferson High School with nine of her black classmates. … The big issues of school desegregation in the 1950s, interracial dating, and same-sex couples have the potential to be too much for one novel, but the author handles all with aplomb. What makes it even better is that both Linda’s and Sarah’s points of view are revealed as the novel unfolds, giving meaning to their indoctrinated views. Educators looking for materials to support the civil rights movement will find a gem in this novel, and librarians seeking titles for their LGBT displays should have this novel on hand.” — VOYA

Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters (Simon Pulse)

“Mara Stonebrook knows she does not belong; she is ”different.“ Her small town is conservative and strictly religious. … Mara has managed to escape her father’s abuse for 15 years, but she knows that if anyone finds out her deepest secret, that she is a lesbian, she will be punished as an abomination in the eyes of their conservative church. If her father finds out, she will be lucky to live. Keeping her secret is easy until Xylia comes to town. … Emotionally wrenching, this novel will resonate with students struggling with their own sexual orientation.” — School Library Journal

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer (Dutton)

“When 10th grader Jam Gallahue meets British exchange student Reeve Maxfield, she fees like she finally understands love, and when she loses him, she can’t get over it. Her grief eventually lands her at the Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent” teenagers. … Making her YA debut, acclaimed author Wolitzer writes crisply and sometimes humorously about sadness, guilt, and anger.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Increasing the Odds

By Coe Booth

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Two years ago, I visited a class at a school not too far from where I live in the Bronx. The students had read my novel Tyrell, and it was nice to be invited to speak to them about it. The kids were great, and we had a lively discussion. But what makes this visit so memorable was the age of the kids.

This was a sixth-grade class.

Needless to say, Tyrell was not written with sixth graders in mind, and anyone who has even read the first sentence would know why. But this teacher had read Tyrell aloud to her class, editing it as she read, trying to make what is clearly a book for teenagers something that could be appropriate for 11 and 12 year olds.

When I spoke to the teacher after the visit, she said she had run out of books she thought her students would like, books they could relate to. She knew they would connect with my character, Tyrell, because he looked like them and lived the way they did. She just had to adapt the book for their age.

Creative? Yes.

Depressing? Definitely.

imageThe truth is, I was just like those kids when I was growing up. I went to a Bronx middle school just like theirs, and I had a hard time finding books about kids like me, too. Things have gotten better since I was their age, but not that much better.

When my brother was in fifth or sixth grade, he stopped reading altogether, and he never started again, not for fun. Not unless he had to read something for school. His son is at that age now, and like father, like son.

My nephew and that sixth-grade class are what motivated me to write Kinda Like Brothers. I had always wanted to write a middle-grade novel, and I didn’t want to wait any longer. There are so many inner-city kids, especially boys, who don’t have a whole lot of options when they walk through a library or bookstore. Books appear to be about — and for — other people. Not them.

I recently visited another sixth-grade class, this time for Kinda Like Brothers. The students were primarily African American, and they lived in a community much like my main character, Jarrett. It felt good being able to write a book that could be a mirror for these kids, one where they knew I had them in mind when I wrote it.

Middle-grade books are so important. This is the age where kids can begin to excel at reading and start to explore more and more genres, more and more interests. This is the age where they can become real readers. Or they can begin to think of themselves as non-readers, see books as boring, and then turn away from them. And then it’s so hard to get them back.

Diverse books increase the odds. They give all kids that chance to fall into the habit of reading — and hopefully fall in love with reading — before it’s too late.


Coe Booth was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology, and she has worked as a counselor for teenagers and families in crisis situations. She also has an MFA in creative writing from The New School in New York City. Coe’s first novel Tyrell was published in 2006, and it won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature. Her novels Kendra and Bronxwood followed, and both were selected by the American Library Association as Best Books for Young Adults. Her first novel for middle-school readers, Kinda Like Brothers, was released earlier this fall. For more information, visit www.coebooth.com.

You can purchase a copy of Kinda Like Brothers here

Diversity Digest – October 2014

Welcome to another installment of our Diversity Digest! October has been jam-packed with diversity news, posts, and a zillion awesome book cover reveals, but I want to start off by giving a tip of the hat to DiYA co-founder Cindy Pon who orchestrated our first-ever theme month, focusing on middle grade books.

Diversity in YA obviously focuses on YA, but many librarians and readers have asked us for recommendations for books for younger readers, too. If you missed any of our guest posts from wonderful MG authors such as Jacqueline Woodson, Cece Bell, Sharon G. Flake, or Ami Polonsky, you can catch up on all of them here. And while DiYA readers might not read too much MG, please pass the links on to your friends, colleagues, and kids who do!

Diversity in the News

woodson-browngirlThe National Book Award finalists in Young People’s Literature have been announced, and the books are a very diverse bunch: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, Noggin by John Corey Whaley, The Port Chicago 40: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin, Revolution by Deborah Wiles, and Threatened by Eliot Schrefer. Congratulations to all the NBA finalists!

The Guardian reports on modern fairy tale retellings that reinvent tradition, including Neil Gaiman’s new The Sleeper and the Spindle which includes an illustration of a same-sex kiss, and my lesbian retelling of Cinderella, Ash.

CNN takes a stab at what teens will be reading next, and our own Cindy Pon provides some answers, including one that we really hope is true: diversity!

Meanwhile, YA Highway take stock of The Landscape of YA Lit: A State of the Union, and also concludes: diversity!

Think About It

Awards season is now fully upon us, and We Need Diverse Books issued a request for awards judges to remember that some books about minorities contain problematic story lines or representations.

Here’s a long, thoughtful, and detailed interview with Alaya Dawn Johnson (Love Is the Drug, The Summer Prince) at Gay YA.

Corinne Duyvis (Otherbound) asks if diverse characters are only OK as long as they’re not “too diverse” (The Guardian).

Claudia Guadalupe Martinez writes about Pig Park and the Cosmic Race: Diversity and Identity in My New YA Novel at Latin@s in Kid Lit.

Over at YA Highway in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Samantha Mabry writes that “Books help tell us who we are.”

At the end of Banned Books Week, I blogged about a question I get all the time: Have your books been banned? The answer isn’t as simple as you might think.

Two Girls Kissing & Other Covers I Never Thought I’d See

October brought two cover reveals that take lesbian representation to a new level (finally!) in YA. Coming June 30, 2015, is Dahlia Adler’s Under the Lights (Spencer Hill), a contemporary romance about actors in a teen TV show:

adler-underthelights

And coming July 14, 2015 is Sarah McCarry’s About a Girl (St. Martin’s Griffin), a genre-bending twist on Medea and two girls (who are not white!) falling in love:

mccarry-aboutagirl

Read more about the cover for About a Girl at MTV News.

October also brought a fresh new interpretation on representing gender via the cover for I.W. Gregorio’s None of the Above (Balzer + Bray), coming April 28, 2015:

gregorio-noneoftheabove

Read a Q&A with the book’s art director and designer at The Book Smugglers.

Here are a few more covers for upcoming diverse books to keep your eye on:

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What To Read Next

Just in time for Halloween, Lee & Low offers a list of Thirteen Scary YA Books: Diverse Edition.

canales-tequilawormThe Day of the Dead, or El Día de Muertos, is observed in Mexican communities this weekend, and YALSA has some suggestions for YA books that incorporate this holiday.

Stacked put together a YA reading list for Hispanic Heritage Month (it was Sept. 15-Oct. 15) featuring books written by Hispanic authors or featuring Hispanic characters.

Teen Librarian Toolbox rounds up a list of new LGBT YA books released this fall.

Book Riot serves up 5 South Asian YA titles to read as well as a list for Coming Out and Coming of Age: YA LGBTQ Books.

Looking for the best books by or about American Indians? Check out the lists on American Indians in Children’s Literature.

The Guardian offers a UK-focused list of their 50 best culturally diverse children’s books.

Flow charts more your speed than lists? We Need Diverse Books has created a diverse YA flow chart, and here’s one at YALSA’s The Hub focusing on contemporary diverse YA.

Let’s Make a Deal

Here are this month’s new deals for diverse books. If you have sold a diverse book recently (or in the future!) and want to tell us about it, please email us at diversityinya@gmail.com.

charlottehuangGoing Geek by debut author Charlotte Huang has been acquired by Wendy Loggia at Delacorte, for publication in 2016. According to Publishers Weekly, “In the story, a girl is forced to stand up for who she really is – if she even knows – when her friends dump her and she is forced to hang out with the fringe crowd at school.”

Anything Could Happen by debut author Will Walton has been acquired by David Levithan for Scholastic’s PUSH imprint, to be published in summer 2015. According to Publishers Weekly, “The novel follows a gay teen’s coming-of-age in the South, where he must navigate new friendships, small-town traditions, and family history – all while being hopelessly in love with his best friend.”

saenz-benjaminThe Inexplicable Logic of My Heart by Printz Honor author Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe), “a YA novel set in El Paso about family and friendship, life and death,” has been acquired by Anne Hoppe at Clarion Books, for publication in spring 2016 (Publishers Weekly).

Free Diverse Short Fiction Online! No $ Required, Seriously

Inscription Magazine, a free online magazine for teens that focuses on short fantasy and science fiction, is now live. Check out their stories “Lord of Time” by Livia Blackburne and “Anjali” by Rati Mehrotra.

The Book Smugglers have also launched their new online short fiction publishing company, and while their stories aren’t always specifically YA, they are YA-friendly. Check out their first story, part of a series of fairy tale retellings, “Hunting Monsters” by S. L. Huang.

The Advice Roundup: Thoughts on How to Write Diversity

Corinne Duyvis reminds science fiction and fantasy writers to mind their metaphors with regard to disabled people and stereotypes (SF Signal).

kohler-nosurrenderChristine Kohler describes the detailed research she undertook while writing her historical novel No Surrender Soldier, about a Chamorro teen boy, set on Guam in 1972 (Cynsations).

Transgender teens Katie Rain Hill and Arin Andrews talk to Stylite about writing their memoirs.

Here’s a wide-ranging interview with author Annameekee Hesik about writing, publishing, and lesbian YA at Gay YA.

Debut author Adam Silvera offers some advice on how to write gay YA books at CBC Diversity.

The NaNoWriMo blog has been featuring posts all month on how to write diverse books. Check them all out here.

Inside the Publishing Business

The Horn Book hosted a Mind the Gaps Colloquium at Simmons College on Oct. 11, 2014, which focused on diversity and the lack thereof in children’s books. Read the recap from Lee & Low here.

Publishers Weekly held a panel about diversity in children’s publishing at Penguin Random House, featuring Alvina Ling (exeducive editorial director of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), Stacey Barney (senior editor at Penguin/Putnam), and Jason Low (publisher of Lee & Low). Read the (somewhat depressing) report about the panel at PW.

Publishers Weekly also has a pretty thorough roundup of mainstream publishing’s perspectives on diversity in the science fiction and fantasy genres, focusing primarily on adult SFF but also including quite a bit of commentary from children’s and YA publishers: Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014: How Multicultural Is Your Multiverse?.

Last But Not Least

#WeNeedDiverseBooksWe Need Diverse Books has really upped the ante this past month. Not only did it announce a collaboration with School Library Journal and the creation of the Walter Dean Myers Award and Grants for diverse literature, it also launched a $100,000 IndieGogo campaign to fund these and other advocacy efforts.

At only one week into the monthlong fundraising campaign, WNDB has already raised almost half its total goal! Among the perks you could get for donating to WNDB are original holiday notecards, T-shirts, tote bags, agent critiques, and original art by Grace Lin and DiYA’s own Cindy Pon.

If you haven’t donated yet, please consider joining us in supporting WNDB and diversity in YA and children’s literature. Go to IndieGogo to find out more and see all the perks, and #supportWNDB!

Aisha Saeed Gives Us the Inside Track on the We Need Diverse Books IndieGogo Campaign

By Cindy Pon

Last Thursday, We Need Diverse Books™ kicked off their IndieGogo campaign to raise $100,000 to fund their advocacy efforts. Aisha Saeed, WNDB’s Vice President of Strategy, dropped by DiYA to fill us in on the campaign and WNDB’s future goals.

Full disclosure: DiYA is not officially affiliated with WNDB, but I (Cindy) am a member of the WNDB Advisory Board.

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We Need Diverse Books Panel at BookCon in May 2014. Front row from left: Lamar Giles, Mike Jung, Matt de la Peña, Grace Lin, and Jacqueline Woodson. Back row from from left: Ellen Oh, Marieke Nijkamp, Aisha Saeed, and I. W. Gregorio.

Cindy Pon: Hi Aisha, thanks for stopping by DiYA! Could you tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved with the We Need Diverse Books™ team?

Aisha Saeed: Hi Cindy, thanks for having me here! I am an author, mama, lawyer, teacher, and maker and drinker of chai (lots and lots of chai). My debut novel Written in the Stars, follows seventeen-year old Naila who didn’t realize just how far-reaching the consequences could be when she disobeyed her parents one rule: not to fall in love.

L: Written in the Stars; R: Aisha Saeed

L: Written in the Stars; R: Aisha Saeed

I am also the Vice President of Strategy for We Need Diverse Books™. It’s hard to believe we started only earlier this year, but being part of WNDB is one of the things I’m most proud to be a part of.

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The Oakland Public Library shows its support!

Cindy: This fundraising campaign looks amazing! Could you highlight some of the WNDB initiatives contributors will help fund through their donations?

Aisha: We are so grateful to each and every backer of our project. Every single dollar donated is not only tax-deductible, all funds go towards launching our initiatives. While you can read more about them here, some of our initiatives include Diversity in the Classroom aimed at bringing diverse authors and diverse books to classrooms. We also seek to support diverse authors and writers with the Walter Dean Myers Awards and Grants program to honor authors with commendable diverse books and to help support diverse writers and illustrators seeking publication. We are also putting together educational kits for classrooms, bookstores, and libraries, and promoting the conversation on diversity at conferences. And last but certainly not least, we are launching our first ever kidlit diversity festival in 2016.

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Mabith shares during the WNDB twitter campaign: #WeNeedDiverseBooks because disabiilty is not life-ending, an aberration, or a side story. In the US, nearly one in every five people have a disability.

Cindy: Can you tell us about some of the incentives available for those who donate? And what we can look forward to for the rest of the campaign?

Aisha: We are very proud of our perks, and so thankful to all the amazing authors, artists, and community members who have donated so many amazing things!  In addition to tote bags, T-shirts, swag packs, posters, and holiday notecards, we also have agent-donated perks tailored to writers, signed prints by illustrator Dav Pilkey (of Captain Underpants fame), and dinner dates with celebrated authors Matt de la Peña  and Jacqueline Woodson. Due to the generosity of so many people we still have many other prizes coming down the pipeline including original art created for the WNDB fundraiser by Grace Lin! (And FYI, we also have a fabulous piece by you, Cindy Pon!)

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“Here Comes the Dragon” signed print from Grace Lin’s book Bringing in the New Year.

 

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“Nestled Chick” an original Chinese brush painting by Cindy Pon.

We are so very grateful to everyone who has been supporting us, but we still need your help to reach our goal. Please check out our campaign page and our amazing video featuring authors Matt de la Peña, Jacqueline Woodson, Cindy Pon, Marie Lu, John Green, and Tim Federle, and consider helping to take us one step closer to fulfilling our dream to make the world of literature infinitely more diverse!

 


Aisha Saeed is a YA novelist, her book Written in the Stars, will be released in March 2015 by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin. She is represented by Taylor Martindale at Full Circle Literary. You can follow her on twitter here or tumblr here.

Behind the Words

In Tracy Tam: Santa Command, 10-year-old Tracy Tam tries to uncover the scientific truth behind Santa.

By Krystalyn Drown

I’ve always enjoyed discovering Easter eggs in movies, you know those fun little bits that the filmmakers put in as a nod to something else. An example would be A113 in Disney and Pixar movies. You’ll find it everywhere from doors to license plates to cereal boxes. The number references a classroom number from California Institute of the Arts where many of the animators got their start.

When I write, I like to put in my own Easter eggs. My friends will get some of them. Some only my family will understand. Some can be discovered by anyone. I’d like to share a few of those tidbits with you today.

Tracy’s mouth dried out as she gaped at the picture of her and Pim taken on the night before Pim’s accident. It was Christmas Eve. The two girls had their arms around each other, and they were wearing the footie pajamas they had been given – red for Tracy, blue for Pim.

When I was little, I would always head to my grandparent’s house on Christmas night. My cousin Jennie would be there, and we would open our presents. One year, I remember her urging me to open a certain one. Inside were the footie pjs mentioned in the passage above. The picture that Tracy finds is a direct reference to a picture of Jennie and I wearing our matching footies and giving bright snaggle toothed smiles. It’s one of my favorite pictures ever, and the reference was put in there specifically for Jennie.

Tracy had been to Sea World. She knew what the seal and dolphin tanks smelled like.

This, among mentions of polar bears and the Aurora Borealis, are references to when I worked at Sea World. I spent a summer there working in the zoology department. I stood at the exhibits and answered questions about the animals. My favorite place to work was the Wild Arctic. There were belugas, walruses, and polar bears. If you were there at night, you got to see the Aurora Borealis play across the ceiling. I loved bundling up and pretending like I had traveled to the North Pole. In a book about Santa, Tracy naturally had to have that same experience.

Chris tossed his belongings into the hallway as he searched. There were coats, of course, and a vacuum cleaner, some boxes of Kleenex, a few board games, a Jello mold, a hamster cage, a painting of a seal on a beach, a ball of string, a vase, a kite.

Most of this list is made up of random things I thought he might have in his closet. One, however, is a nod to the first book I published. In LEGASEA, the main character Aileen lives in a small fishing town where the tourists are awed by the seals that line the beaches. Aileen loves to paint and she sells the seal paintings to the tourists by the truckload. I like to think about the day Chris wandered into her shop. What made him buy the painting? I think maybe he sensed that Aileen needed the money. Unfortunately, Chris’ wife keeps her house just so and never allowed Chris to hang it up. The painting, like many other things, got tossed in the closet.

Phil glanced at the hallway to make sure no one was coming, then typed in the password. Tracy watched his fingers very carefully as he entered Nicholas343.

I did quite a bit of research on the origins of Santa for this book. There is a lengthy passage in the book where Santa describes how he came to be Santa. However, Phil’s password is simply a nod to Saint Nicholas, who passed away on December 6, 343. Saint Nicholas was the original Santa, who secretly put coins in shoes that had been left out for him.

There are some other Easter eggs sprinkled throughout TRACY TAM: SANTA COMMAND, but I’ve left a few for readers to discover on their own.


Krystalyn Drown spent thirteen years working at Walt Disney World in a variety of roles: entertainer, talent coordinator, and character captain. Her degree in theatre as well as many, many hours spent in a dance studio, helped with her job there. She lives near Orlando, Florida with her husband, son, a were cat, and a Yorkie with a Napoleon complex.

You can purchase a copy of Tracy Tam: Santa Command here

Gay Without the Gay Angst: 12 Books About Gay/Bi/Queer Boys

By Malinda Lo

Last week when I visited a high school in Seattle, a student asked me for recommendations of YA books about gay boys who didn’t have to struggle with a lot of coming-out angst. While coming out can certainly be a struggle (mine was!), I completely understand and sympathize with those who want to read books about gay main characters where they can simply be the main characters without facing a ton of homophobia. For a gay reader especially, encountering a large amount of homophobia in a novel might feel realistic and it might make them feel less alone in the world, but it can also feel like an assault on your own identity.

That’s why I’ve put together this list of a dozen YA books in which the main character is a gay, bisexual, or queer boy, but the story is not necessarily about their sexual orientation. Six are fantasy/science fiction, and six are contemporary realistic fiction. If you’re looking for a complete lack of coming-out angst, it’s better to stick to the fantasy and science fiction; the realistic titles listed below do address coming out, though with much less angst than in some older titles.

Fantasy & Science Fiction

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  • The Bane Chronicles by Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson, and Sarah Rees Brennan — Coming Nov. 11, 2014 in hardcover; features Magnus Bane from Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters series
  • Proxy and Guardian by Alex London — a science fiction/dystopian duology available now
  • Masks: Rise of Heroes by Hayden Thorne — a superhero trilogy available now
  • The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater — the second book in the Raven Cycle, available now
  • Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey — an urban fantasy trilogy available now
  • Coda by Emma Trevayne — available now; has a companion novel, Chorus

Realistic Fiction

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  • One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva — now available
  • Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg — now available
  • Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan — now available; Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy is also a classic of the no-gay-angst type
  • M or F? by Lisa Papademetriou and Chris Tebbetts — now available
  • Boyfriends With Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez — now available; Sanchez’s Rainbow Boys trilogy begins with some coming-out issues, but subsequent books move past that aspect of being gay
  • Fan Art by Sarah Tregay — now available

Thanks to everyone on Twitter who helped me out with recommendations! I’ll post a similar list about lesbian, bisexual, and queer teen girls in the near future.

A Brother’s Love

By N. H. Senzai

One of my favorite books while growing up was Sport by Louise Fitzhugh, who also wrote the iconic Harriet the Spy. Within its pages, Louise dropped me into the kaleidoscope of multicultural, 1970s New York City where I met Sport and his friends: Harriet, Seymour, Chi-Chi, and Harry, who crossed religious, cultural and gender lines. I was able to crawl into their skin — relishing our similarities and appreciating our differences, but when I reached page 19, I stopped dead in my tracks …

“Like the Black Muslims,” yelled Sport.

“Don’t laugh, man,” said Harry, suddenly serious. “Not funny.”

“Hey,” Seymour was laughing — “you a Muslim, Harry?”

“I am for me,” said Harry. “I am with nobody.”

I re-read these lines, heart pounding. It was the first time I’d seen a Muslim character in the pages of a contemporary American novel. Like a majority of minority children growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, I almost never came across characters that resembled me. So finding Harry, an American Muslim, as part of Sport’s social landscape gave me the warm fuzzies.

Years later, when I started writing, I single-mindedly followed the expert’s advice — write the best book you possibly can. A plot-driven writer, I wrote what I hoped was a “mainstream,” exciting, fantastical adventure story — my character’s culture and religious background were secondary layers. I signed with my agent based on that book, which eventually did not sell. As I contemplated my next project, my husband joked I that should write about him since he was the “most interesting person I knew.” After I stopped laughing it struck me that he might be right, and my agent agreed, since my husband was from Afghanistan and had escaped the country when the Soviets invaded in 1979.

Although an intriguing idea, I was leery. It was 2008, seven years since the devastating attack of 9/11. And let’s be frank, Islam and Muslims were not viewed in the most positive light in the media, in politics, the boardroom or the living room. Hate crimes against Muslims had skyrocketed, and sadly, these feelings had trickled down to the schoolyard where children who appeared Arab or Muslim (i.e. brown) bore the brunt of bullying. So the idea came with a Pandora’s box worth of challenges — did I really want to write about 9/11, Osama bin Laden, the war on terror, the Taliban, Islam, Afghan culture and politics, coupled with my husband’s family personal history? It was a heavy burden — to convey that Islam was not a violent religion, that not all Muslims were terrorists, and that not all Muslim women and girls were oppressed.

Though I resisted, the story kept niggling the back of my mind and I realized that if I didn’t write it, no one else would. So, Shooting Kabul came to life, weaving in the complexities of the issues in the box. The story begins with the protagonist, Fadi, fleeing Kabul with his family, and accidently leaves behind his 6-year-old sister, Mariam. They end up refugees in Fremont, California, and adjusting to life in the United States isn’t easy for them as the events of September 11th unfold. As the prospect of locating Mariam in a war-torn Afghanistan diminish, Fadi tries every hare-brained scheme he can think of to find his sister. When a photography competition with a grand prize trip to India is announced, he sees a chance to return to Afghanistan and find her. Disclaimer. Shooting refers to photography not guns.

For me, the main theme of the novel crossed cultural and religious boundaries — it’s about a brother’s love for his sister and his perseverance in finding her. Culture and religion were still secondary threads. In the way I’d vicariously experienced the lives of Sport and his friends, my goal was to have readers walk in Fadi’s shoes, finding similarities and appreciating their differences. I also wanted to illustrate that the world was not made up of “good guys” and “bad guys”; nor was it black or white, but shades of gray; that life is a result of choices governments, groups and individuals made. The Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union contributed to the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. America provided arms to the Afghans (freedom fighters) who were working with Osama bin Laden (who was a “good guy” then, but we knew what happened later…). When the Soviets left, the power vacuum was filled by the Taliban who brought stability and peace (good guys). But then they chose corruption and oppression (bad guys). The boys who harass Fadi also have their own demons, but it is their choice to bully the kids at school.

Since Shooting Kabul debuted, I have not regretted my decision in writing it, and the thing I’m most proud of are the emails I’ve received from kids. First, they’ve enjoyed the story (most important). Second, they’ve empathized with Fadi even though they do not share the same culture or religion. Since Harry’s proclamation of being Muslim in 1979, the current landscape for multicultural literature has improved, but there is still a lot to be done. It should be our goal to bring to life characters that kids encounter and get the warm fuzzies of self-recognition and affirmation.


N. H. Senzai is the author of award winning SHOOTING KABUL, chosen by the Asian Pacific Librarians Association as their Young Adult Literature winner and an NPR’s Backseat Book Club pick, and its companion novel SAVING KABUL CORNER.  She spent her childhood in San Francisco, Jubail, Saudi Arabia and attended high school in London, England where she was voted “most likely to read a literary revolution” due to her ability to get away with reading comic books in class. Today Ms. Senzai lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and their son. Her upcoming novel is PARTITION JUNCTION (Fall 2015). Visit her online www.nhsenzai.com.

You can purchase Shooting Kabul and Saving Kabul Corner here.

Realizing Differences in Our Disability

By Cece Bell

Believe it or not, sometimes people who have a certain disability might have misconceptions about their own disability, and about others who share that disability. Case in point: me.

For forty years now, my main methods of communication with others have been speaking and reading lips. I don’t know or use sign language, and I’ve still not yet learned how to communicate that way. There’s a chapter in my graphic novel/memoir El Deafo that attempts to show what lip reading is, and how one learns to do it. Even though I’m an experienced lip-reader, I realized while writing the book that I needed to do a little research for this particular chapter.

Before I did my research, I completely understood that someone who is born deaf might really struggle with lip-reading, because not being able to hear what people are saying from the very beginning of one’s life is going to make that kind of communication difficult. But what about people like me, who lose their hearing after acquiring speech? What I found out astonished me: not every person who experiences later-onset hearing loss can learn to read lips, or to read lips well. There are apparently lots of reasons for this, and I don’t really need to go into them…but what an eye-opener. This discovery that not every deaf person was “taking” to lip-reading like I had was an important one. It clarified for me just how important sign language is for so many; it opened my eyes to the idea that maybe I could benefit from sign language too (you can miss a lot as a lip-reader!); most importantly, it reminded me that each person with a disability experiences that disability in his or her own way.

Discovering how little I knew about deaf communication made me realize that we really do need diverse books! Not to disparage researchers and the valuable work they do, but I can’t quite imagine people rushing to the library to read lists of facts and figures about various disabilities. On the other hand, I can imagine people wanting to read novels, YA fiction, or colorful graphic novels about specific people who have their own unique experiences with disabilities. Literature speaks to hearts and minds in a way that research never could. And we can change hearts and minds for the better if we have more diverse books.


Cece Bell is an author and illustrator of books for children. She lives in an old church with her husband, author Tom Angleberger, and she works right next door in a new-ish barn. El Deafo, her first graphic novel, is a slightly fictionalized memoir about her childhood, her hearing loss, her first crush, and her quest for a true friend. She has written and illustrated other books for children, including the Geisel Honor book Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover; Itty Bitty; Bee-Wigged; and the Sock Monkey series. You can read more about her at www.cecebell.com.

You can purchase a copy of El Deafo here

Nothing Just Happens to Be

By Kell Andrews

Diversity and being culturally generic

Deadwood, my middle-grade mystery, takes place in a diverse town, like communities I based it on and where I’ve always lived. Culture is not central to the story, which is about two seventh graders who must lift a curse on a tree to save their town from growing disaster, but I wanted to include diverse characters to reflect the reality I pictured.

Still, I was intimidated about writing someone from another culture, so I decided to hedge a little. When I began the novel, the main character of Martin had a Puerto Rican dad but was raised by his white mother and grandmother. I thought if he was raised in my own culture, I had the right to write him.

The story is not about the ethnic background, and it’s been said that Martin “just happens to be” Puerto Rican. But it didn’t just happen to him, just as my other main character, Hannah, doesn’t “just happen to be” white. I decided that these would be the characters, and I grew their voices, personalities, and backgrounds. It didn’t just happen.

As I wrote the story, my understanding of the character changed. Although Martin’s ethnic background isn’t central to the progression of the plot, I realized it IS central to Martin himself. He asserted himself and his identity as I wrote, so I changed his heritage to fit. His mother, grandmother, and aunt became Puerto Rican too, and that changed the threads of the story and his character. Martin holds his cultural identity very close, reflective of his feelings for his mother and abuelita.

There’s no such thing as culturally generic books, but we need them.

On May 1, 2014 right as #weneeddiversebooks was officially kicking off, SLJ published a list of Culturally Diverse Books Selected by SLJ’s Review Editors. SLJ wrote, “These books are those in which the main character(s) ‘just happen’ to be a member of a non-white, non-mainstream cultural group. These stories, rather than informing readers about individual cultures, emphasize cultural common ground.”

While culturally generic is not a term I love, it is established in literacy and education. Rudine Sims Bishop coined the term as part of a framework of multicultural literature for librarians and educators in Shadow and Substance: Afro-American Experience in Contemporary Children’s Literature (NCTE, 1982). The now-ubiquitious metphor of “windows and mirrors” is hers. She defined the categories of “culturally specific” — containing details that define the characters as members of a particular cultural group and “culturally generic” — representing a specific cultural group, but with little culturally specific information. (Companion Website for Elementary Children’s Literature: The Basics for Teachers and Parents, 2/e , Nancy A. Anderson)

But is The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata or Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina — two of SLJ’s listed titles — really culturally generic? Could these stories happen to any child, of any race? I don’t think so. If you put Summer in Medina’s book and Piddy in Kadohata’s, the stories would not be the same.  Summer and Piddy don’t “just happen to be” Japanese-American or Puerto Rican — it’s an essential part of their identity and the story. Good stories and characters are always specific.

But yes, as the “culturally generic” label indicates, these stories are supremely relatable for young readers. Readers of all kinds need diverse books because they are not windows or mirrors, but both at the same time. As KT Horning wrote in response to the SLJ list, characters by Kwame Alexander and Varian Johnson are viewed as culturally generic because they are writing from the inside: “more Us than Other.  They have invited readers to stand on their own bit of cultural common ground for a while.”

Much of the time, culture is the framework we live inside — we don’t always see it, but it doesn’t “just happen” to characters of color — or to white characters either. White is the default in the United States. It is almost always seen as culturally generic, but it isn’t. It’s the culture that many writers write and readers read within seeing it because it’s ground they’re standing on.

“Culturally generic” books — as problematic as the term is — do the same. They are the fantasies, mysteries, romances, coming of age, and science fiction books where readers can see diverse characters like and unlike themselves doing more than explore culture.  They expand the cultural common ground.

I wrote Martin as a skinny, wild-haired, Puerto Rican kid and Hannah as a tall, blonde, white one. Neither is culturally generic. Diversity in children’s books requires a decision by writers, readers, publishers, booksellers, and librarians to create and share books on that expanded common ground. Whether writers and readers experience diverse characters or only a homogenous world, it doesn’t “just happen.” It’s a decision.


Kell Andrews writes fiction for children and nonfiction for adults.. Her first novel, Deadwood (Spencer Hill Press), was published in 2014, and her short fiction will appear in an upcoming issue of Spider Magazine. A member of SCBWI, Kell holds a humanities degree from Johns Hopkins University and a master of liberal arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she now lives in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. You can contact Kell here, or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

You can buy a copy of Deadwood here.

Inspiration From Unexpected Places

By Sharon G. Flake

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When you are drowning in a novel—writing yourself into a hole—it is best to have one or two distractions.  Something to lure your mind away from writer’s block, deadlines you know you’ll never meet, or the thought that you may never be published again.

Besides chocolate, HBO’s hit series True Blood became my distraction of choice. The show is set in a small town where some really good-looking vampires are misunderstood and discriminated against, when they aren’t sucking everyone’s blood in town, that is.

I was writing Pinned at the time of my drowning—a novel which went on to receive tremendous praise and to be named one of the top ten books of the year by Kirkus Review;  a Junior Library Guild Selection; an NAACP Award Nominee, and the Best Book of the Year by the Detroit Free Library.

Like millions of viewers, I became a huge fan of True Blood.  Sometime during the first season I began to write my own vampire tale.  It was to be for my eyes only.  Another distraction. But a writer makes lots of promises to themselves that they never keep.

Initially the book was about crazed vampire children; complete with coffins, damp basements and plenty of blood.  Years and many rewritings later, it turned into something much more significant and compelling.  As a result, my first historical mystery novel, Unstoppable Octobia May, was born.

Octobia May is a girl sleuth who has been given what we say we want for all children—the freedom to explore, examine and critique the world around them while learning to think for themselves.  Qualities our nation did not readily encourage or expect from girls or blacks during the 1950s when the story takes place.

It is no easy feat to write a book for children that explores issues of gender, race, and the politics of the day, all the while attempting to answer the question 10-year-old Octobia May poses—is Mr. Davenport really a vampire living in her Aunt Shuma’s boarding house? Although Unstoppable Octobia May is set in the ’50s, the novel also reaches back in time when many of the book’s characters reflect on their Holocaust and World War II experiences.

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Sharon G. Flake

Writing a novel that includes a suspected vampire, the contributions of Thurgood Marshall and the plight of Negro soldiers during WWII, is a tall challenge, to say the least.  Especially given that African-American history has so often been belittled, dismissed or ignored.  So I spent a great deal of time in the library in an effort to get the historical aspect of the novel correct.  But the more I researched, the more frightened I became, especially when it came to War World ll.  With all of his shananigans and secrets, could Mr. Davenport be a former Tuskegee Airman?  No it would be unfair to those Negro soldiers who fought so valiantly against all odds, I thought.  What about a member of the Red Ball Express?  Nope.  It went on and on this way for a while—asking myself questions, researching and fretting. Until one day a light went off.  These soldiers where human beings, who were fighting for the right for all Americans to be treated equally and humanly.  And humanity is some messy, complicated business. So how could I make them less than human, by holding them to standards of perfection that did not exist in any other person on the planet?

This revelation helped me come to terms with a few characters in the book, and the choices that people make when they want to be unstoppable (i.e.: to accomplish any dream they desire) in a society that has placed limits on their ability to do so.

Like humanity, writing can be some messy business. Sometimes a writer has to step away from their novel for an hour, day, or year to gain perspective.  Or as in my case for one hour a week over the course of a few years.  I am thankful now for Pinned and the opportunity it afforded me to seek out distractions.  If not for that book, perhaps Octobia May would never have been birthed.  And a novel filled with adventure, mystery and one unstoppable girl, may not have been written.


Sharon G. Flake is an internationally recognized author whose break out novel The Skin I’m In earned her the reputation of having one of the most authentic voices in children’s literature.  She is the author of nine middle grade and young adult novels and the winner of multiple Coretta Scott King Honors.  Her novels have been translated into Korean, French and Italian.  Readers may reach Flake via twitter @sharonflake, Facebook, or sharongflake.com.

You can purchase a copy of Unstoppable Octobia May here.