Category Archives: Features

2014 LGBT YA by the Numbers

By Malinda Lo

For the last three years I’ve been tracking the number of young adult novels about LGBT1 characters. Here are my statistics from 2011, 2012, and 2013, as well as an overview of LGBT YA published by mainstream publishers from 2003–13. Anyone who reads these posts can see that the topics I’ve been interested in unpacking have changed and focused, my methodology has been refined, and the language I’ve used to describe gender has evolved as I’ve learned more and as the language itself has evolved.

I use the term “LGBT YA” to identify a young adult book with an LGBT main character or that has a plot primarily concerned with LGBT issues. Some books have multiple main characters, and if one of that cast of primary characters is LGBT, I also count that book as an LGBT YA book (e.g., Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater). In the cases of books about LGBT issues, those issues typically focus around a straight person’s relationship with an LGBT person who comes out to them (e.g., The Boy I Love by Nina de Gramont). I do not include YA books with supporting LGBT characters because I think it’s important to focus on books where the LGBT person is the star of the story, but I recognize that the dividing line between supporting and main can be pretty blurry. Nor do I include YA books that have subtextual gay story lines (e.g., The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin; and more recently, Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry), because I’m focused on books where the gay story line is overt. (In other words, I’m tracking openly gay YA!) That means I may have left out some YA titles that others would count as “LGBT YA,” either on purpose or by accident.

LGBT YA is published by several different kinds of publishers ranging from small independent presses and LGBT-specific publishers to major global conglomerates. I am primarily interested in books published by mainstream publishers. By “mainstream” I mean the Big 5 publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster), as well as general interest publishers that do not focus on LGBT books. These general interest publishers include: Akashic Books, Algonquin Young Readers, Amulet, Big Bang Press, Bloomsbury, Booktrope Editions, Candlewick, Carolrhoda Lab, Flux, Harlequin Teen, K-Teen, Merit, Ooligan Press, Pulp, Red Deer Press, Scholastic, Sky Pony Press, Sourcebooks Fire, Spencer Hill Press, and Strange Chemistry.

In 2014, mainstream publishers published 47 LGBT YA books. This is a 59% increase from 2013, when only 29 LGBT YA books were published by mainstream publishers.

The category of “mainstream publishers” includes tiny presses like Big Bang, a startup with only one book out, as well as global giants like Penguin Random House; they don’t always have the same resources or the same distribution levels. That’s why, when I did my analysis of LGBT YA from 2003–13, I focused on “major commercial publishers.” That was an attempt to look at the biggest producers of YA books — they truly aim to reach the masses, which I think is something important to think about. In my analysis, major commercial publishers are the Big 5 plus three major US publishers: Disney Book Group, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Scholastic.

In 2014, out of those 47 LGBT YA books, 24 or 52% were published by major commercial publishers. The other 23 or 48% were published by small publishers.

(Edited 12/10/14, 1 PM: Initially my math was wrong on the above statement because I’d accidentally omitted one title. It has now been corrected above, as well as in the third chart below.)

This year I’ve chosen not to analyze the output of LGBT publishers simply because they produce too many titles for me to manage. I think that LGBT presses still play an important role in producing stories about LGBT experiences, but since my interest lies in analyzing mainstream production of LGBT books, they fall outside the scope of this project at this time. For those who are interested in looking at how LGBT presses represent LGBT experiences, I encourage you to look up the catalogs of Bold Strokes Books, one of the leading publishers of LGBT fiction, as well as Harmony Ink Press and Queerteen Press. I don’t know how many LGBT YA titles Queerteen Press released in 2014 (it was hard to tell from their website), but Harmony Ink informed me via email that they released 52 YA books this year. Bold Strokes Books published 15, and Lethe Press released at least one title (Red Caps, a collection of fantasy short stories by Steve Berman), adding up to at least 68 YA books published by LGBT presses in 2014. Continue reading 2014 LGBT YA by the Numbers


  1. LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender. It is currently most widely accepted English term used to identify sexual and gender minorities, but its initials omit other identies such as queer, intersex, asexual, and more. While I could add more initials (e.g., LGBTQQIA+) or use a term such as QUILTBAG, I believe that would simply be too confusing for the general reader, so I’ve chosen to follow the standards in the GLAAD Media Reference Guide – AP and New York Times Style

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.

DiYA’s Middle Grade Month Giveaway

Although Diversity in YA focuses on young adult books, we couldn’t help but notice the great diverse middle grade titles out this year, so we decided to spend a full month focused on these books! October 2014 is Middle Grade Month here at DiYA and to kick it off we’re giving away 15 books from middle grade authors, each of whom will be doing a guest post this month.

Here are the books you could win:

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  • I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín (Atheneum)
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Deadwood by Kell Andrews (Spencer Hill Press)
  • Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj (Albert Whitman & Company)
  • El Deafo by Cece Bell (Harry N. Abrams)
  • Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth (Scholastic)
  • The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda (Arthur A. Levine Books)
  • The City of Death by Sarwat Chadda (Arthur A. Levine Books)
  • Ash Mistry and the World of Darkness by Sarwat Chadda (HarperCollins)
  • Bird by Crystal Chan (Atheneum)
  • Tracy Tam: Santa Command by Krystalyn Drown (Month9Books)
  • Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon Flake (Scholastic)
  • Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky (Disney-Hyperion)
  • Saving Kabul Corner by N. H. Senzai (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books)
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books)

Here are the entry rules:

  1. Five lucky winners will receive three middle grade books of our choosing! (Don’t worry, series books will be kept together.)
  2. Because of the cost of international shipping, we are only able to ship to U.S. mailing addresses. International folks may enter as long as they have a U.S. mailing address.
  3. Teachers and librarians get an extra entry for free!
  4. The deadline to enter is the end of the day, Oct. 31, 2014.

Enter here:

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Happy reading, and please signal boost and spread the love!

Book Challenges Suppress Diversity

Analysis of the most banned/challenged books in the U.S. shows that diverse books are disproportionately targeted for book challenges and censorship.

By Malinda Lo

Over the summer, a Delaware school board removed The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth from a high school’s summer reading list after parents complained about the novel’s explicit language. Sadly, this kind of censorship isn’t unusual. Novels are removed from reading lists or are challenged in classrooms and libraries all the time. From 2000–2009, 5,009 book challenges were reported to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (source).

What made me take notice in this case was the fact that Cameron Post is a critically acclaimed novel about a lesbian teen coming of age, but the reason cited for the book’s removal was explicit language — even though several other books on the summer reading list also included explicit language. It was no great leap to wonder if “language” was used as a cover for homophobia.

After the school board was faced with a significant amount of pushback in the media for its removal of Cameron Post, it reacted by reconsidering their decision and deciding to remove the entire summer reading list, not only Cameron Post. Although the School Board continued to insist repeatedly that Cameron Post was removed solely for its language, the parent’s initial letter challenging the book, sent June 4, did in fact focus on the lesbian story line.

In an article at The Atlantic earlier this month, excerpts of the June 4 letter were posted in which the parent was “shocked and appalled” by the reading list, and declared that Cameron Post resembled “a roadmap or guide book on how to become a sexually active lesbian teen.”

The unfortunate situation with Cameron Post and the entire banned summer reading list made me wonder how often the cited reasons for book challenges (which are enumerated by the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom here) are smokescreens for the real reasons — reasons that might not always be socially acceptable to state publicly.

If a book like Beloved by Toni Morrison is challenged because it is “sexually explicit” and has a “religious viewpoint” and contains “violence” (these are the stated reasons for its challenges in 2012), is it simply accidental that Beloved is also a novel about an African American woman, written by an African American woman?

I wondered if there was a correlation between books with diverse content — that is, books by and about people of color, LGBT people, and/or disabled people — and book challenges, so I decided to take a look at the data available from the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom and see what emerged.

The Data

The Office of Intellectual Freedom compiles data on book challenges. According to the OIF:

“A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. The number of challenges reflects only incidents reported. We estimate that for every reported challenge, four or five remain unreported. Therefore, we do not claim comprehensiveness in recording challenges.” (source)

For my analysis I used the OIF’s list of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000–2009 and the Top Ten Challenged Books lists for 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

While these books are not all young adult books, the books are most often challenged by parents and/or are challenged in schools (see these statistics). Additionally, many of these books are classics that are often taught in middle and high school English classes, so the issue of banned/challenged books is highly relevant to young adults and the YA community.

Working from these lists, I researched the authors’ race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability status. I also researched the content of each banned/challenged book to determine if the book included any of the following types of content:

  • Non-White main and/or secondary characters
  • LGBT main and/or secondary characters
  • Disabled main and/or secondary characters
  • Issues about race or racism
  • LGBT issues
  • Issues about religion, which encompass in this situation the Holocaust and terrorism
  • Issues about disability and/or mental illness
  • Non-Western settings, in which the West is North America and Europe

I decided to include secondary non-white, LGBT and disabled characters if those secondary characters seemed particularly significant to the story. Additionally, some of these books were story, essay, or poetry anthologies, and some of those stories, essays, and poems were by or about non-white, LGBT and/or disabled characters. Though the entire anthologies were not about them, it seemed important to include them.

“LGBT issues” includes both books that focus on the LGBT experience, and books that are broadly about sexuality and include specific chapters about homosexuality (e.g., It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie Harris). “LGBT issues” also includes a book about two male penguins who hatch an egg together (And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson), who are not gay because they’re penguins and gay is a sexual and cultural identity for humans, but have been interpreted as such by those who wish to ban the book.

Authors and Banned/Challenged Books

From 2000–2009, 84 authors wrote the Top 100 most frequently banned/challenged books. Among those 84 authors, 81% were white and 19% were non-white. Those authors include Walter Dean Myers (Fallen Angels), Rudolfo Anaya (Bless Me Ultima), and Toni Morrison (challenged for Beloved, Song of Solomon, and The Bluest Eye).

chart-authors-2000to2009

To understand what these figures means in this context, it’s important to get a sense of the percentage of non-white authors being published in general. I couldn’t find any comprehensive study of this issue, but there are two data points worth sharing.

In 2012 at The Rumpus, Roxane Gay counted the number of authors of color reviewed by the New York Times in 2011. She concluded:

“Nearly 90% of the books reviewed by The New York Times are written by white writers. That is not even remotely reflective of the racial makeup of this country, where 72% of the population, according to the 2010 census, is white.”

Secondly, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center has been compiling data on the children’s books it receives since the mid–1980s. In 2013, multicultural children’s book publisher Lee & Low examined the CCBC data and concluded that over the past 18 years, the percentage of children’s books by and/or about people of color has remained virtually constant at 10%. In comparison, 37% of the U.S. population consists of people of color — a huge gap.

The New York Times and CCBC data are not directly comparable to the percentage of authors of color on the banned/challenged books list. However, I do think it’s interesting to see that almost twice as many authors of color appear on the banned/challenged books list as were reviewed in the New York Times.

The data from 2010–2013 is similar.

chart-authors-2010to2013

For this chart, I compiled the data from the Top Ten lists from 2010–2013, and eliminated repeated titles (e.g., The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie appeared on the Top Ten lists of each of the last four years). That resulted in a total of 30 authors (some of them had more than one title in the Top Ten lists), of which 79% were white and 21% were non-white. The non-white authors included Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner), Kim Dong Hwa (The Color of Earth) and again Toni Morrison (for both Beloved and The Bluest Eye).

What Kind of Diversity, Exactly?

Among the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books from 2000–2009, 52 books included some kind of diversity — that’s 52%: the majority of banned/challenged books included diverse content. Over half of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books from 2000–2009 addressed issues about race, sexuality and/or disability; or were about non-white, LGBTQ and/or disabled characters.

chart-bookcontent-2000to2009

Looking more closely at the diverse books on the list, some included more than one kind of diversity. For example, Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk included issues of disability and race, as well as a biracial main character. I counted each of those kinds of diversity separately because they speak to different experiences. That added up to 61 instances of diverse content, in which 40% were about issues (this means that the main character could be white, but the book is nonetheless about race, such as To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee), and 32% were about a non-white main character. The types of diversity content break down as follows:

chart-diversitycontent-2000to2009b

For 2010 to 2013, the data is similar. Once again I compiled the Top Ten lists for 2010 to 2013, eliminated repeated titles, and found that there were 29 individual titles in all on those four Top Ten lists. Among the 29 titles, 15 included diverse content, and 14 did not. In other words, once again 52% of the banned/challenged books included diverse content of some kind.

chart-bookcontent-2010to2013

The diversity content of those 15 books broke down into 17 different types, which are seen in the following chart:

chart-diversitycontent-2010to2013

Diversity Under Attack

Although the data I am working with is a selected amount — these are Top 100 and Top 10 lists, not the raw list of 5,000+ challenges that the OIF received over the last decade — I think it’s still quite revealing. It’s clear to me that books that fall outside the white, straight, abled mainstream are challenged more often than books that do not destabilize the status quo.

This isn’t surprising, but the extent to which diverse books are represented on these lists — as a majority — is quite disheartening. Diversity is slim throughout all genres of books and across all age groups — except when it comes to book challenges.

The message this sends is loud and clear: diversity is actually under attack. Minority perspectives are being silenced every year.

I think it’s important to note that the reasons for a book’s challenge may be beside the point when the result is a broad silencing of these minority perspectives. Though some might protest a book’s explicit language, the real result is closing off dialogue and preventing readers from experiencing stories and lives outside the mainstream.

Recent academic studies have shown that reading fiction leads to increased empathy, which suggests to me that it’s more important than ever to make sure books with diverse perspectives are widely available, not censored. I hope we can remember this during Banned Books Week, which takes place Sept. 21–27 this year, and every week.


The data I compiled for this analysis is available at Google Docs. Here is my data for Diversity in Banned/Challenged Books, 2000–09, and Diversity in Banned/Challenged Books, 2010–13. While I have double and triple-checked my research, I am the only one doing this research. If you discover errors, please email me at diversityinya@gmail.com. Thanks!

Diversity in YA’s 2014 Back to School Giveaway

2014-september-giveaway

It’s September, which means we’re back to business as usual here at DiYA and many of you are back to school! To celebrate the fall, we’re giving away these nine awesome new and upcoming diverse young adult books to three lucky winners.

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giveaway-nonfiction

Here’s how this will work:

1. We’ve divided these nine books into three packs of three:

Prize Pack 1: Thriller/Science Fiction

Prize Pack 2: Realistic Fiction

Prize Pack 3: Nonfiction

2. We will pick three winners to receive one prize pack each. (You can tell us which prize pack you prefer in the entry form.)

3. Because of the cost of international shipping, we are only able to ship to U.S. mailing addresses. International folks may enter as long as they have a U.S. mailing address.

4. Teachers and librarians get an extra entry for free!

5. The deadline to enter is the end of the day, Sept. 19, 2014.

Enter here:

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If you can’t see the entry form widget above, go here to enter.

Thank you to Arthur A. Levine Books; Cinco Puntos; Harlequin Teen; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for generously donating copies of these books for this giveaway.

“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” Removed From Delaware Summer Reading List – UPDATED

By Malinda Lo

danforth-cameronIn 2012, I was invited by NPR to review an about-to-be-published young adult novel titled The Miseducation of Cameron Post by debut author emily m. danforth. I was a little nervous about it because I don’t like to criticize about my colleagues’ novels in public. But I didn’t need to worry — Cameron Post blew me away. It was the coming-of-age, coming-out novel that spoke to me in in such a deeply personal way that it felt like it was written for me.

Maybe that’s why I was so ticked off to hear that Cameron Post was recently removed from a summer reading list in Delaware due to parental complaints about its explicit language. Cameron Post is a complex, multilayered, award-winning novel that cannot by any means be reduced down to the number of times the word fuck in used in its 470 pages. And yet that is what has happened.

The Story So Far

As first reported by the Cape Gazette, on June 12, 2014, the Board of Education of Delaware’s Cape Henlopen School District removed the novel The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth from the summer reading list for Cape Henlopen High School’s incoming ninth graders. During the June 12 board meeting, board member Sandi Minard noted that the book contains explicit and inappropriate language.

Board president Spencer Brittingham, who had not read the book but found some passages online, told the Cape Gazette that “I knew in less than three minutes that this wasn’t a book I wanted on the list.” In an interview with Delaware radio station WXDE, Minard clarified, “I have read the book.”

Shortly after the news of the removal of Cameron Post from the summer reading list, concerns were raised that the removal was related to Sandi Minard’s association with the Delaware Family Policy Council and the 9–12 Delaware Patriots, both conservative, religious-based activist groups. Minard denied that the book removal was related to these groups, telling WXDE,

“This had nothing to do with the Delaware Family Policy Council and it had nothing to do with the 9-12 Delaware Patriots. It had to do with concerned parents that came to us about the book. … There were about three actual complaints that came in. Then whenever the book became an issue, I sat down with a group of different parents — these are people that I work with, that are in my neighborhood. They’re not part of one group that these people like to come on and say that oh because she’s a member of the Delaware Family Policy Council it’s their baby, it’s their agenda. It’s not their agenda. I have not talked to anyone that’s a part of the Delaware Family Policy Council about this book. There’s been no discussion with them, but there has been discussions with neighbors and coworkers and other parents … those people have sat down and said, ‘No way, no way, this should not be on the suggested reading list.’”

The primary reason for the removal of Cameron Post from the summer reading list, according to Minard, was the usage of the word fuck. “I think that the number of times that the F-word is used in this book is way out of proportion for the other books,” Minard told WXDE.

When AfterEllen, a major website focusing on the representation of lesbians and bisexual women in the media1, heard about the removal of Cameron Post from the Cape Henlopen summer reading list, they took action, calling on readers to contact the Cape Henlopen school board to express their concern about censorship. They also reached out to a local bookstore, Browseabout Books, to make sure that the book was available to interested readers. Several people (including myself) have called Browseabout Books and purchased copies of Cameron Post to be given away free to people in the community.

In the wake of the AfterEllen coverage, board president Spencer Brittingham probably heard from plenty of irate readers, because two days later, on July 3, he responded by telling one reader that he would “request a reinstatement of this publication to the list, but a suspension of the list until our curriculum folks can vet this list appropriately.”

Yesterday I wrote to Brittingham on behalf of Diversity in YA and asked when he would request this reinstatement. Brittingham did not answer that question directly, but he did write back with this statement:

“I have to say from the start the book was not banned.  It was removed from our incoming Freshman’s reading list for the language content.  I have been informed from other outlets that some other books on the list also contain excessive amounts of profanity and that is why I will request the reinstatement of this book and request a review of the entire list for acceptance of the content of profanity.  Our code of conduct and school discipline arena has rules against profanity in our buildings and I don’t think we have adequately communicated this to our committee.  I don’t believe it is a school system’s responsibilty to say a child can curse and then attempt to punish for a code violation, if taken out of context.  What is the parent’s role in this?  Some parents are saying, we are right , some are saying, they don’t care, either way it needs more debate and follow  thru.  Thank you for your correspondence and please be patient with us, we will get this right.  I promise!”

The Pink Elephant in the Room

The Cape Henlopen summer reading list for incoming ninth graders is comprised of the 2014 and 2015 winners and nominees of the Blue Hen Book Award, which is an award administered by the Youth Services Division of the Delaware Library Association. Among the other books on the summer reading list are The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, both of which include the word fuck as well as other words that could be considered profanities. In fact, using curse words is not uncommon in fiction — especially fiction that seeks to represent the real world.

As emily danforth told me via email:

“[I]f you have to ask teens NOT to curse in school (and enforce that) then clearly it’s an inclination of many teens, right?—so it stands to reason that those of us who write about teens might likely try to write dialogue and thoughts using vocabulary that’s true to the ways we know that teens (some teens—clearly not all) speak and think. I understand that some parents object to this and might say—’elevate their discourse, don’t just mimic it’—I do understand that—and certainly not every character in my novel uses profanity (nor do the characters who do use profanity ONLY use profanity) but how strange, to me, to equate these usages in works of literature with what you do or don’t want your students saying in the classroom.”

According to the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, which tracks banned and challenged books, between 2000–2009 they received 1,291 challenges due to “offensive language.” The only type of challenge to outnumber “offensive language” was “sexually explicit material,” which generated 1,577 challenges during this same time period.

Anyone who has read The Miseducation of Cameron Post is unlikely to conclude that it is a book focused on profanity. It is clearly and obviously a book about coming of age as a young lesbian. There is, indeed, sexuality in the book, though whether it’s “explicit” truly varies according to one’s perspective on what “explicit” means. It is explicitly clear that the main character, Cameron, falls in love with other girls. They do more than hold hands and stroke each other’s hair, too — as do most young people in love.

The pink elephant in the room, as I noted when I posted about this on tumblr last week, and as AfterEllen noted in its first article, is the fact that Cameron Post could understandably be challenged for its lesbian content. For many of us — especially those of us who are LGBT, who have faced both direct and indirect homophobia for much of our lives — the idea that a book like Cameron Post would be challenged for curse words rather than lesbianism might seem a bit like protesting too much.

In her interview with WXDE, which brought up the question of the book’s lesbian content, Sandi Minard insisted, “It is only the language issue that was brought up.”

Board president Spencer Brittingham told the reader who wrote to him: “I can assure you that I am not homophobic and never did this area of the book enter the conversation.”

Is this really the truth? To me, it sounds like the argument that women aren’t hired (or reviewed, or acknowledge, or heard) not because they’re women, but because they’re not as qualified as men. Is the real issue that these parents have with Cameron Post the fact that she uses the word fuck, or is it easier — and more politically correct these days — to point the finger at the F-word than to acknowledge any discomfort with same-sex relationships?

We may not ever know the truth behind the “about three actual complaints” that Sandi Minard received. The fact is, the goal of book challenges is to silence people — and that silencing may begin at the very start, even with the true nature of why a book is challenged. If you deny that homophobia is on the table, it makes it very hard to fight back on those grounds.

The Context on Book Challenges

In the press about the removal of Cameron Post from the reading list, board members are quick to stress that the book has not been “banned”; it has simply been “removed” from a reading list. Yes, the book is still available in libraries and bookstores, but this is where book challenges happen now: on school reading lists and in some cases in author visits. This is the local stage on which censorship is enacted, debated, and sometimes (thankfully) successfully fought.

Here are a few links to coverage of recent book challenges:

  • The Los Angeles Times reports on the removal of John Green’s Paper Towns from a summer reading list in Florida.
  • Here’s The Guardian reporting on the removal of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother from a summer reading list in Florida (again).
  • Bill Moyers reports on the removal of Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian from the curriculum of an Idaho school district.
  • Last September, NPR reported on Rainbow Rowell being disinvited to a Minnesota school after Eleanor & Park was on a summer reading list because parents were concerned about the book’s profanity.

emily m. danforth isn’t as big of a name as John Green, Cory Doctorow, Sherman Alexie, or Rainbow Rowell, but exactly the same thing has happened to her novel as has happened to these other books. When it comes to book challenges, the mainstream media tends to focus on those who are already famous. A book like The Miseducation of Cameron Post, an award-winning literary novel that hasn’t hit the bestseller lists, risks slipping through the cracks in these situations, and I don’t want that to happen. This happens far too often to other books that aren’t huge bestsellers: people don’t pay attention. Let’s not let this happen this time around.

What Can You Do About This?

As of today (July 7), many things are happening both behind the scenes and out in the open. If you’re concerned about the removal of Cameron Post from the Cape Henlopen summer reading list — and if you’re concerned that the board might realize that other books on that list also contain profanity and thus might also be removed — there are certainly things you can do.

  • Follow AfterEllen’s lead and buy a copy of The Miseducation of Cameron Post from Browseabout Books either to give away to a local reader or even for yourself.
  • emily m. danforth is giving away the entire uncensored Blue Hen list to a lucky reader: “All you have to do to enter is to use your twitter account (easiest for tech-challenged me to track and collate) to explain, in not very many characters, why you want/need these books. Use the hashtag #LeaveTheBlueHenListAlone so that I can find your entry.” So far, Rainbow Rowell (Eleanor & Park), Erin Jade Lange (Butter), and Gene Luen Yang (Boxers and Saints) are also donating signed copies of their books to the giveaway.
  • If you’re near the Cape Henlopen school district on July 10, 2014 at 6 p.m., you might consider attending their school board meeting, which is open to the public. Here’s the agenda. I’ve been digging around in the Cape Henlopen school district board policies (download PDF), and it’s pretty clear that the board itself hasn’t followed its own rules regarding book challenges. According to section 110 on Instructional Methods, Materials, and Supplies, challenges must be registered in writing with the school principal, using a specific form; the principal must then appoint a committee composed of a librarian and two teachers to evaluate the challenge. None of this has been done yet. In her interview with WXDE, Sandi Minard repeatedly expressed frustration with local parents who don’t come to board meetings and then complain after the fact, declaring, “Come to the school board meetings. Show up and let’s talk.” I suggest we answer Minard’s invitation on Thursday, July 10.

Meanwhile, I will be following this story as it develops. I’ve been told that the National Coalition Against Censorship is stepping in, and if there is any news I’ll update this post when I can.


Updates: July 12, 2014
Update: July 24, 2014

  1. Full disclosure: I was managing editor at AfterEllen from 2006-08, and a regular contributor from 2003-2006. 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign kicks off today!

We asked author Ellen Oh, one of the authors and bloggers spearheading the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, to tell us about the genesis of the campaign. Here’s what she told us:

While diversity initiatives have been on my mind for a very long time, this particular hashtag campaign struck me hard on the day BookCon announced its all white male panel on kid lit. It started with a twitter conversation I was having with Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, Hannah Ehrlich of Lee and Low Books, and Megan from Braun Books. We were talking about how hard it was being a POC author in a marketplace that clearly only favors white authors and the conversation took off from there.

And then more and more people began to chime in on the conversation and there were so many of us, so many voices saying the same thing. And I just thought we were all like all the Whos in Whoville in Horton Hears a Who. We were shouting but no one was listening.

But what if we got a lot more people shouting with us. What if we took over twitter with our voices? Then people would have to listen to us. And then what if we pointed them in the direction of things they could do to support us.

That’s when this big wonderful group of people went from talking to planning. And at that point I went and grabbed Chelsea Pitcher, another fantastic YA author, who I had been talking to about working on a diversity initiative. She had devised a plan for a Diversify Your Shelves initiative. But I had been a part of lots of “Buy Diverse books” campaigns and they never seemed to lead to anything. However this time I thought that if we raised a big enough ruckus beforehand, wouldn’t we have more success for the action part of the campaign? Chelsea loved it and was totally onboard.

And that’s why our campaign has 3 parts to it. The first day (which has already started trending on twitter!) is to raise awareness, the second day will be about discussing solutions, and the third day will be about taking action. #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign needs every single person who cares about diversity to do something and let their voice join with ours so that we can make a real difference. All the details are here.

I hope everyone will join us!

weneeddiversebooks

Should white people write about people of color?

By Malinda Lo

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions in email, twitter, and tumblr like this one:

“I can’t help but feel that as I white girl that it’s hard for me to write from the POV of a person of color. I realize that’s probably completely and utterly ridiculous, but I was wondering what you thought? Is it insincere for white YA authors to write from the POV of a person of color?”

Probably because I’m co-founder of Diversity in YA and I’m not white, I seem to be some sort of authority on this, but the truth is: There is no one right answer to this question. Everyone has a personal stake in this issue, whether they realize it or not.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

I have a very low tolerance for cross-cultural errors in works of fiction that are based in Chinese culture. The reason I have such a low tolerance for these cross-cultural errors is because (1) I am Chinese American, and (2) I did my B.A. in Chinese Studies at Wellesley and my M.A. in East Asian Studies (focusing on China) at Harvard. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about China and Chinese culture, and I have a deeply personal stake in these narratives.

That personal stake is because of my personal background. I was born in China but immigrated to the United States with my family when I was three and a half years old. When I was born (in China), my parents gave me a Chinese name. This is not unexpected. When we moved to the US, I still had that Chinese name, and that’s how I was introduced to people. However, non-Chinese-speakers could not pronounce my name correctly. They totally messed it up. Other kids made fun of my name. This happened when I was very little, from four to six years old, and I still remember it today.

Because of most Americans’ inability to pronounce my Chinese name, when I was six years old and about to start first grade, I chose an English name to use: Malinda. And yes, I personally chose the name Malinda. I’m pretty fortunate I didn’t choose something horrible!

When I became a naturalized American citizen, my full name became Malinda [Chinese Name] Lo. To this day, when non-Chinese people ask me what my Chinese name is, I might not tell them. Sometimes I say, “I’ll only tell you if you promise to not try to pronounce it.” Sometimes I say, “Sorry, I’m not going to tell you.” Without fail, every time I do tell an American what my Chinese name is, they think it’s hilarious and they try to pronounce it — even though I’ve told them I don’t want them to.

I can’t help it: This offends me. Why? Because it underscores my difference, my foreignness. It turns me into an exotic exhibit for them to gawk at.

Also, it contrasts significantly with how Chinese people react when I tell them my Chinese name. They either simply proceed to pronounce my name correctly, or they tell me that my name is beautiful, which is a compliment to my parents. Here’s my Chinese name: 駱曼琴.

I posted it there in Chinese characters to illustrate the fact that my Chinese name exists on a totally different cultural plane than my English name. If you can’t read Chinese, the name will mean nothing to you. Even if you hear it spoken aloud, you won’t hear the poetry that some Chinese speakers hear. Instead, it will sound strange and probably ugly to English speakers.

Maybe you think I’m making too much of this. Maybe you think I should get over it and realize that curious non-Chinese Americans just want to learn about Chinese culture, that their interest is innocent and I shouldn’t be offended. Well, I admit I have a chip on my shoulder about this specific situation. I don’t know if I will ever not be offended when an American wants me to perform my Chinese name for them. It’s personal.

That’s the way I feel about white people writing books based on China. I have a personal stake in it, and it’s difficult for me to overcome that. Beyond my personal background, I did spend all those years studying China, and I know how much there is to know and how much I don’t know. I’ve done a lot of research on China. I know enough to spot cross-cultural errors, and when I spot them, I’m always thrown out of the story.

The other night I was watching a third season episode of The Good Wife, a show that I’ve only recently started to watch. In episode 3.6, “Affairs of State,” the case being investigated involves a character named Chen Jin-Pyn, who is supposed to be the son of a Taiwanese diplomat. The plot hinges on the fact that attorney Cary Agos realizes that the Taiwanese character would sign his name with his surname first, which means a receipt signed “Chen Jin-Pyn” indicates it was not signed by the Taiwanese character.

I’ve been enjoying The Good Wife, but this episode was just astonishingly factually incorrect. First, “Chen” is a surname, but everyone in this episode believes the character’s first name is “Chen” and his surname is “Jin-Pyn.” This is so wrong it’s ludicrous, not only because “Chen” is not a first name but also because what kind of name is “Jin-Pyn”? Honestly, to me it sounds like a Chinese name that a Westerner would invent. (And secondarily, when I looked up an episode recap to confirm my memory of the show, I saw that the name is spelled “Jin-Pyn.” The usage of the letter Y shows the screenwriter had no idea how to properly romanize Chinese characters.) Thirdly, what Chinese person signs their name in ENGLISH with their Chinese surname first? I don’t sign my name Lo Malinda. (Although sometimes I do get junk mail to Lomalinda.) In CHINESE, of course I would write the character for my surname first. But in English? That would be bizarre, because I know that English speakers already get confused enough by Chinese names. In English, I would sign my first name first.

The episode also refers to the fraught issue of political recognition of Taiwan versus the People’s Republic of China, but because of this simple name error — which could have been fixed by asking basically any Chinese or Chinese American person off the street — I stopped paying attention. I couldn’t believe that anybody who got that name so wrong would know anything about the complexities of the PRC and Taiwan.

So: Those are my personal stakes involved when I encounter a book based on China and Chinese culture. They are high for me. I am quick to put down a book that has cross-cultural errors in these areas, but it’s also important to remember that I am one person. My personal stakes are not the same as everyone else’s. Someone else might read a book based on China or Chinese culture and have absolutely no problem with it, even if it does actually contain those cross-cultural errors.

Anyone who wants to write outside of their culture has to remember this: Books are personal, and one person’s reaction does not mean that everybody is going to react the same way. In fact, it’s likely that every single reader will have a different reaction.

This doesn’t mean that it’s okay to blithely write whatever the hell you want about a culture that isn’t yours. Writers who are writing outside of their culture do have to work extra hard to research that culture, because they have much farther to go to get to the kind of instinctual knowledge of it that allows someone to hear my Chinese name and feel that it sounds poetic.

When white writers come to me and ask if it’s OK for them to write about people of color, it seems as if they’re asking for my blessing. I can’t give them my blessing because I don’t speak for other people of color. I only speak for myself, and I have personal stakes in specific kinds of narratives.

It also feels as if they’re asking for a simple answer, and frankly, there is no simple answer. Writing outside your culture is a complicated endeavor that requires extensive research, being aware of your own biases and limitations, and a commitment to delving deeply into the story. However, writing any fiction requires this. There are no shortcuts to writing fiction truthfully and well. There really aren’t. The writer must put in the time so that they become confident in their decisions, and there are a million and one decisions to make when writing a novel.

If you’re a white writer who wants to write about a culture not your own, go for it. There’s no reason you shouldn’t do it. Some people will prefer that you don’t, but those people don’t speak for everyone. On the other hand, if you’re terrified of writing outside your culture, you don’t have to. There’s not necessarily any reason for you to do something that makes you that uncomfortable. I believe that writing is a personal thing, and you should write what you personally want to write.

And yes, writing is hard. It isn’t physical labor and it’s not rocket science, but it sure is hard. It requires you to be honest with yourself. So if you’re thinking about writing outside your culture and you’re afraid to get it wrong, be honest with yourself. Ask yourself why you want to do it. That’s where you start. I can’t tell you where you’ll end up.


Originally published at MalindaLo.com.


mlo-by-andiepetkus-300x300Malinda Lo is the author of several young adult novels including most recently the sci-fi duology Adaptation and Inheritance. Her first novel, Ash, a retelling of Cinderella with a lesbian twist, was a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, the Andre Norton Award, and the Lambda Literary Award. Her novel Huntress was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Malinda is co-founder with Cindy Pon of Diversity in YA, a project that celebrates diversity in young adult books. Malinda lives in Northern California with her partner and their dog. Her website is www.malindalo.com.

Diversity in 2013 New York Times Young Adult Bestsellers

By Malinda Lo

Over the past year or so, I’ve examined diversity in the Publishers Weekly bestsellers (here’s 2012 and here’s 2013) as well as the Best Fiction for Young Adults (here’s 2013, here’s 2014). One list I haven’t looked at until now is the New York Times bestseller lists for young adult books.

My conclusions? There’s nothing really surprising about the diversity on the New York Times bestseller lists for young adult books. They tell the same story that Publishers Weekly does, but with a slightly different sample: There isn’t much diversity. Continue reading Diversity in 2013 New York Times Young Adult Bestsellers

Want More Diversity in Your YA? Here’s How You Can Help

Within the last few weeks, the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and CNN have all published articles examining the lack of diversity in children’s and young adult literature — and next month, School Library Journal plans to publish an entire issue devoted to diversity. While all this mainstream interest in diversity is to be applauded for bringing more people into the ongoing conversation about diversity, they still largely fail to tackle the problem of how we can change the status quo.

We at Diversity in YA obviously don’t have all the answers, and we aren’t the first people to talk about these issues. This conversation has been going on for decades. What we do have are ideas for how you can change the status quo right now. If you’re an ordinary reader, you don’t have to wait to show your support for books that show the world as it is. Here are five ways you can help make positive change right now:

1. Look for diversity.

Make a conscious effort to seek out books to read that feature characters of color, LGBT characters, and/or disabled characters. They may not be front-and-center at your local Barnes & Noble; you may have to look around a bit or go online to find them.

2. Support diversity.

Support the diverse books that are published today by buying them, by checking them out at your library, or by requesting that your library buy them.

3. Recommend diversity.

If you use Goodreads, Facebook, social media, or have a blog, talk up the books you love that happen to have diverse characters. Tell your friends! Word of mouth is still key in bringing awareness to books. And remember: You don’t need to recommend them solely for their diversity — they’re great books to enjoy, plain and simple.

4. Talk up diversity.

When discussions around diversity in literature occur online, join in the conversation if you can to express that you do want more diverse books to read and that the issue is important to you.

5. Don’t give up.

There will always be people who dismiss “diversity” as meaningless. They are the reason we must keep fighting for representation. We’re all in this together.


Want a list of diverse YA books you can get started reading right now? Here are a dozen YA books of all kinds (contemporary, fantasy, sci-fi, mystery — something for everyone!) that happen to have characters of color, LGBT characters, and/or disabled characters. (Descriptions are from WorldCat.)

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Continue reading Want More Diversity in Your YA? Here’s How You Can Help