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Six Reasons Why We Need Diverse Books

There are many, many reasons why we need diverse books. Diverse books empower, vindicate, normalize, and make visible readers who might otherwise feel forgotten, invisible, or like they’re imposters whose stories don’t deserve to be told. Everyone deserves to see themselves in books. Here are just a handful of reasons why:

Because the world contains more than a single story

“I was an early reader, and what I read were British and American children's books . . .  I was also an early writer, and when I began to write, at about the age of seven, stories in pencil with crayon illustrations that my poor mother was obligated to read, I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading: All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples. . . Because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign, I had become convinced that books by their very nature had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify. ” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, novelist, nonfiction writer, and short story writer

In her TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” Adichie talks about growing up in Nigeria and reading British and American kids’ books, and how it was a revelation to read stories about people like her. It’s a powerful talk and you should listen to it immediately.

Because some voices aren’t being heard 

The CCBC releases annual statistics for children's books by and about people of color – and here’s their data for 2015 so far. To summarize: There are very few books written about people of color – and many of those few books being written about people of color are being written by people who are not of that race or ethnicity. If you’re not sure why that’s a problem, this blog post explains.

Because some readers feel invisible

“So many teens learn about the world and themselves through the media they consume. I learn from the books I read and the shows I watch and the movies I go to see. When groups of people are omitted, we are taught that these people don’t exist. They aren’t as important as those displayed.” – Camryn Garrett, blogger

If you were paying attention during Bisexual Awareness Week, then you may have read this great blog post series that Gay YA did, which talked a lot about bi erasure and the importance of seeing yourself in books. It’s a message that’s true for all readers of all identities – it’s vital for readers to see people like themselves in books. Otherwise, they may start to feel invisible.

Because diverse media creates opportunity

“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. ” – Viola Davis, actress and producer

Viola Davis’s Emmys acceptance speech is already legendary, because she underscores why diversity in media is so important. Without diverse characters in books, how will a person of color star in the next huge blockbuster film adaptation of our next favorite YA?

Because people need to see themselves – and their experiences – in the media

“Having never seen myself in the world around me, especially in the media I consumed and engaged with, my depression told me that my illness wasn’t reality. . . .  A lack of representation about the ways the disease works and a lack of diverse narratives, including those with ‘boring’ moments, mean that those who suffer from depression aren’t given the opportunity to see that their experiences are valid, are real, and are worth talking about and getting help for.” – Kelly Jensen, Bookriot editor and blogger 

Kelly Jensen’s post about what it meant to not see realistic portrayals of depression in books is just one example of how damaging a lack of diversity in the stories being told can be. Disability in Kidlit has some great posts about ways that disabilities are depicted in kids’ books, and how they can be harmful.

Because when readers see characters like themselves, they feel less alone

“Here in the absence of words to defend myself, without examples, without models, I began to believe voices in my head – that I was a freak, that I am broken, that there is something wrong with me, that I will never be lovable.” – Lana Wachowski, film director, screenwriter, and producer

You know Lana Wachowski because she directed The Matrix, Sense8, and many other films with her brother. I’m a huge fan of her work and think you should go watch Sense8 immediately if you haven’t already, but first you should also watch her powerful HRC speech about being trans and her decision to step out into the public eye. She talks about how alone she felt when she was a kid, and how, in 2012, she gave up her anonymity in order to help others who need role models and need to see themselves in the world around them. When I listen to her story, I can’t help thinking how her experience may have been different if she had grown up in a world full of books with characters on a similar journey.

I’ve written before about resources for writing diversity, and the internet is full of fabulous listicles about why diversity is so important. But it’s something that’s worth saying again and again. 

What are the reasons that you’d like to see diverse books? What are a few of your favorite diverse reads?

Author spotlight

Christine Barcellona

Editor / I blog and edit for Swoon Reads, plus I'm the editor for our paperback line, Square Fish. Find …

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