Diversify, Diversify, Diversify….
Last month a dialogue began online about the need for more diversity in Children’s and YA Fiction. A campaign was begun, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and on May 1-3, the Internet was abuzz with commentary and discussion. People took to social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and the blogosphere to have a much needed forum. All avenues of the news media have chimed in, and the conversation continues.
I’m a little late to the party, but I’m happy to have a place at the table. This is an issue that deserves the attention it is getting. Our world is becoming increasingly more diverse, and information is being shared more globally than ever before. However, the marketplace and the publishing world still do not adequately reflect these changes. Literature, perhaps more than any other art form, is uniquely equipped to broaden and open minds. Books can create and encourage empathy in powerful ways. Through the pages of a book, one can virtually walk a mile in another person’s shoes. Young minds are impressionable, but they are also more accepting and less guarded. Unless someone has told them otherwise, children don’t know that they should treat people differently according to color, status, or sexual orientation. To them, people are either nice or mean based on experience. It’s imperative that Children’s literature be more inclusive of various peoples and points-of-view, so that kids can better understand one another. Let them define themselves and their world; they’ll no doubt shape it into a better place.
Today and tomorrow, I’ll be calling attention to some books I’ve recently read (and loved) which have a lot to offer today’s kids — and their parents — on the diversity front.
Better Nate Than Ever and Five, Six, Seven, Nate!
by Tim Federle
Nate Foster is one of the most endearing characters I’ve met in a LONG time. He and I became fast friends. And without a doubt, Nate will be a friend to, and be befriended by, many kids. He’s talented and funny, but perhaps most importantly, he’s honest. And he passionately forges his own path.
Nate’s not like the other boys at school. He doesn’t care for sports and probably couldn’t accomplish anything even remotely athletic to save his life. He’d much rather sing show tunes and talk Broadway musicals with his best friend, Libby. Because he’s different, the other kids bully him and throw insults at him which commonly employ gay slurs.
Considering what he’s up against, Nate takes things in relative stride. I love his aside when discussing his harassment:
“My sexuality, by the way, is off-topic and unrelated. I am undecided. I am a freshman at the College of Sexuality and I have undecided my major, and frankly don’t want to declare anything other than ‘Hey, jerks, I’m thirteen, leave me alone. Macaroni and cheese is still my favorite food — how would I know who I want to hook up with?”
It’s this kind of insight and candor that makes me love Nate. Besides, Better Nate Than Ever, is uproariously funny. Ready to go after his dreams, Nate goes on an epic adventure to New York City to audition for E.T. The Musical. The hijinks that follow will have kids giggling and turning the pages. But they’ll also find themselves rooting on this antihero, Nate. And Nate will teach them a lot about themselves.
He’s a nonconformist who isn’t afraid to be himself. Though he might like to play other roles on stage, in life he’s not content with being anyone but Nate Foster. And over the course of the book, he becomes more comfortable in his own skin.
In addition to making inroads toward celebrating diversity and dialoguing naturally and genuinely about gender/sexual identity, Better Nate Than Ever and its follow-up Five, Six, Seven, Nate! are just plain FUN!
Parents would be shortsighted and unnecessarily reactive to keep their children from these books out of any kind of fear or concern. LGBT themes are not handled age-inappropriately, nor do they predominate. Everything is gentle and safe. But more than anything, kids will learn to treat others and themselves with kindness, compassion, and consideration. And they’ll know it’s okay to be different — that life is not one size fits all. I’m pretty sure that can never be a bad thing.
— Dawn Teresa
That’s it for Day Two of Children’s Book Week. Let me hear from you about why #weneeddiversebooks ! Please share some titles with me — I’d love to read them!
Be sure to join me again tomorrow for another post celebrating Children’s Book Week!