Yesterday we attended a panel discussion called Diversity and Changemaking in Children’s Literature in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day at the Washington State History Museum in downtown Tacoma. Here’s a summary of the panelists and their messages.
Belinda Louie, Ph.D.
Dr. Louie is a professor of education at the University of Washington Tacoma. She immigrated to the United States from China to attend college. ( See her website ). In her presentation she stressed two points:
- Authenticity. She exhibited two books that present the same Chinese fairy tale. One of the books she bought in China. The other was published in the West. She pointed out that the illustrations in the two books are very different, with the Western version picturing a Chinese woman in a way that would not appear in China. She made the point that when looking at books aimed at diversity, it is important that the books depict the authentic experiences and beliefs of the culture represented.
- Empathy. Books that present the experience of people of diverse cultural backgrounds help children develop empathy. As an example she offered Black Misery (1969) by Langston Hughes.
Sundee T. Frazier
Frazier is an award-winning novelist of books for young people. All of her books feature biracial main characters. She stressed that seeing a main character in a book who is like them is a validation of children’s right to exist in the world. All children deserve this experience, she said, and she hopes her books show that being from a biracial or interracial family is normal. ( See her website ).
Richard Jesse Watson
Artist Richard Jesse Watson is a best-selling children’s book author and illustrator. His work was featured in a recent solo exhibition at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art and is also on display at the Washington State History Museum. In his illustrations especially he aims to present people from all over the world. ( See his website ).
Laurie Ann Thompson
Thompson’s books aim to inspire and empower young readers. Her first book, Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters, is a guide for teens who want to change the world. Another book, Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, is a picture book about a young man from Ghana who changed his country’s perception of people with disabilities. ( See her website ).
It took Brandt 10 years to find a publisher for Maddi’s Fridge, her children’s book about friendship, promises, and childhood hunger. No one wanted to publish a book about childhood hunger, she said. The book is based on Brandt’s personal experience of visiting a friend whose refrigerator was as empty as a display refrigerator in an appliance store. ( See her website ).
Bernier-Grand is a native of Puerto Rico. She said that she was surprised when a publisher asked her to write a children’s book about César Chavez because she was not Mexican. Apparently the publisher thought that anyone who spoke Spanish could write the book. She took on the challenge and immersed herself in the life and culture of her subject. She has since written several more children’s biographies of Latino artists and changemakers. She is a professor of creative writing for children at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts on Whidbey Island. ( See her website ).
Jesse Joshua Watson
Jesse, the son of Richard Jesse Watson, is an artist whose passion is portraying the diversity of people from all over the world. He said that he loves expressing both the differences and the similarities among people in his illustrations. ( See his website ).
Kathleen (Katie) Monks
Monks is head of instruction services at the University of Washington Taooma. She manages the children’s book collection at the university’s Tioga Library. The collection was begun with the donation by Professor Belinda Louie of her children’s books. The children’s and YA (Young Adult) collection now holds more than 8,200 books.
Another source of information about the need for diversity in children’s literature is We Need Diverse Books:
We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. We Need Diverse Books is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality.
The organization also has a Twitter page and a hashtag: #WeNeedDiverseBooks.