By Malinda Lo
November is a short month, but it’s been big on diversity news and the month isn’t even over yet. In case you missed it, the incredibly talented Jacqueline Woodson won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for her memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, published by Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin). Jackie was one of the authors who joined Cindy and me for our Diversity Tour back in 2011, and her work has always pushed children’s and YA literature to be more inclusive of diverse experiences. If you missed her recent guest post about Brown Girl Dreaming, check it out here, and buy a copy of her book, too.
Unfortunately, Jackie’s win was marred by racist remarks made by the awards ceremony’s emcee, Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket), which set off a firestorm of discussion on Twitter and other online forums. In response, Handler apologized and acknowledged that his remarks were racist; he also donated $10,000 to We Need Diverse Books and offered to match donations to the WNDB fundraising campaign up to $100,000. (See the whole story, along with Jackie’s response, at Publishers Weekly.) And guess what? As of Monday, Nov. 24th, WNDB confirmed that Handler is sending them a grand total of $110,000. That’s right! Over $200,000 was raised for WNDB in a period of only 24 hours! Is that incredible or what?
Clearly, a lot of people are putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to diverse books — except there’s still a ways to go. Over at The Horn Book, one of children’s literature’s most prominent review journals, editor Roger Sutton posted a brief accounting of his reaction to Handler’s racist jokes at the National Book Awards. Given the title of Sutton’s post, “Being a White Guy in Children’s Books,” you should expect it to stir up a controversy — and it has.
In the many, many comments, publishing industry pros and authors have offered several nuanced responses to Sutton’s post. It is BRACING READING. While reading the comments is generally a bad idea, especially when it comes to posts about race, I recommend reading the comments this time around. It’s an amazing (and sobering) snapshot of where a lot of people in children’s and YA lit are these days in relation to the diversity discourse that has been saturating the internet lately. One could conclude, glumly, that it shows that we have a long way to go, but while I do think that’s true, the discussion also shows that many smart people are paying attention and trying to make a change.
The fact is, this dialogue that everyone in kids’ and YA lit is having about diversity is hard. And just think: If it’s that hard to talk about it, how much harder is it to change one’s actions?
This is a long, uphill battle. I’m a little tired these days. So I was grateful to read this interview with Jackie Woodson at The Guardian in which she says, “I feel like, as a person of color, I’ve always been kind of doing the work against the tide. … I feel like change is coming, and change sometimes comes too slow for a lot of us. But it comes.”
I really hope that Jackie’s right, and I’m very thankful that WNDB is fighting so hard. And you know, their campaign isn’t over yet. It’s gonna take a lot more than $200,000 to change the publishing industry, so if you haven’t given yet, consider giving now.
I only found one cover reveal to share this month, but it’s a good one. Coming June 30, 2015, from Arthur A. Levine Books is Daniel José Older’s YA debut, Shadowshaper:
Add it to your Goodreads now.
Advice Roundup: Thoughts on How To Do Diversity
Are you a reader who wants more diverse books in your local library but aren’t sure how to get them there? Librarian Angie Manfredi offers advice for how you can talk to your local librarian about diversity.
Are you querying a novel with diverse characters and don’t really know how to mention that in your query letter? Literary agent Amy Boggs of the Donald Maass Literary Agency has some suggestions on how to do it.
Are you a writer who is writing about people who are of a different racial/ethnic background than yourself? MariNaomi at Midnight Breakfast offers some useful tips on Writing People of Color (if you happen to be a person of another color)
Are you a book reviewer who struggles with how to mention a book’s diverse characters? Roger Sutton, editor of The Horn Book, has some thoughts on mentioning race in book reviews. (Yes, this is another post from Roger. Yes, I think this one is worth a read, as well as the comments — seriously, the commenters at The Horn Book are high-quality folks.)
Let’s Make a Deal
Here are some of this month’s diverse book deals. If you have sold a diverse book recently (or in the future!) and want to tell us about it, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author Robin Talley (Lies We Tell Ourselves) has sold a contemporary retelling of Macbeth titled As I Descended to Kristen Pettit at HarperCollins. The novel, which Talley describes as “a horror novel,” is set around a lesbian couple at a contemporary Virginia boarding school, and involves some gender-flipping of Shakespeare’s play. It’s due out in summer 2016.
Everyone We’ve Been and an untitled second book by debut author Sarah Everett have been acquired by Julia Maguire at Knopf for publication in fall 2016. According to Publishers Weekly, Everyone We’ve Been is “about a girl whose heart is broken so badly she resorts to having her memories erased.”
Future Shock and its sequel by Elizabeth Briggs have been acquired by Wendy McClure of Albert Whitman. The science fiction novels are about “a Latina teenager raised in Los Angeles’s foster care system with an eidetic memory is recruited by a tech company for a mission — a trip 30 years into the future,” and the first book is due out in March 2016 (Publishers Weekly).
Brazen, the third book in Christina Farley’s Gilded series, has been sold to Miriam Juskowicz at Skyscape, for publication in September 2015. The trilogy is about a 16-year-old Korean American girl who battles a god of darkness.
What To Read Next
Robin Talley has a list of her top 7 LGBT young adult characters of color.
Disability in Kid Lit put together several great book lists recently, including YA books with deaf teenagers as main characters, YA modern-day fantasy novels with disabled protagonists, and YA non-contemporary fantasy novels with disabled protagonists.
Want a sneak peek at 2015? Stacked has a list of Fabulously Diverse YA Book Covers We Should See More Often and that will be hitting bookshelves next year.
Think About It
We Need Diverse Books hosted a twitter chat focused on LGBTQ books, and if you missed it you can read the full-length Storified version of the chat here.
Author Cammie McGovern (Say What You Will), has some thoughts on writing “Beyond the Magically (Dis)abled.”
Farrar, Straus and Giroux editor Grace Kendall says nothing is holding her back from publishing diverse books (CBC Diversity).
Last But Not Least
November is Native American Heritage Month, so Lee & Low has a list of 10 Children’s Books by Native Writers. WNDB held a #SupportWNDB twitter chat focused on Native American representation in books earlier this month, but if you missed it you can read the Storify version here.
I also have two fresh books with Native American characters to share with you. First is Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend by Erika T. Wurth (Curbside Splendor Publishing), a gritty, contemporary novel about a 16-year-old Native American girl which came out back in September (we missed it back then). Second is Joseph Bruchac’s Rose Eagle, an ebook companion novella to his dystopian thriller Killer of Enemies (Tu Books). Both are available now: