Happy Day After Thanksgiving! Hope you had a nice time with your family and friends or whomever or whatever you chose to celebrate with. We celebrated by renting a yurt at a state park. It was a great plan until the heat went out in the middle of the night and we froze in 30-degree weather. A two night stay turned into one, it was memorable and cold.
In the spirit of sharing something good and a project that brings me thanks, I will share what I’m reading. This past summer I took the Diverse Books Challenge, and pledged to read 15 books by authors of color. The We Need Diverse Books campaign started a few years ago to highlight the need for more diversity in children’s literature. The campaign included a story in The New York Times showing how few authors of color and characters of color there are in children and young adult’s literature. One of my favorite pictures from the campaign said “We Need Diverse Books because there are more aliens/werewolves/vampires/yeti in books than People of Color.” If you are a yeti or a vampire you’ll feel good about seeing yourself reflected in American literature.
I took the diverse books challenge because I felt the need to diversify the media I hear from. I took it as a personal challenge and I control a lot of the books that come into our house, so it spilled over to my family. As the family library goer I control a lot of the books our children consume. As a result many of my 15 Diverse Book challenge books are children’s literature (plus children’s books are faster to read).
I want my funyuns (children) to see diverse characters, understand others, and to see themselves reflected in books. Seattle author Ken Mochizuki, author of several children’s and young adult books, writes “the value of fiction [is] it can sometimes prepare you for what happens in life.” My job as a parent is to prepare my children for life, and life beyond our home and family. Books are helping with this preparation.
The Diverse Books Challenge has exposed us to lots of new authors, and reread several favorites. Taking this challenge has forced me to be more mindful about my book choices, and open me to new authors. Instead of just picking books off of top-ten lists, or through recommendations, I spend time looking for authors of color.
What I’ve Learned
Authors of Color are in Every Genre—A few of my favorite books in this challenge have come in unexpected places, including a book about house cleaning by the Japanese cleaning phenom KonMari or the audio version of Oprah’s book What I know for Sure. Authors of Color aren’t relegated to only world literature or the entertainment or sports sections of the library, explore and wander the shelves.
Gatekeeping in Publishing—I think it was in a Star Trek episode I heard the line “History is written by the victor.” This means that many publishers cater to mainstream audiences because they have the power to publish. As a reader I have to push to have diverse stories featured in books and put on the shelves of bookstores and libraries. As People of Color we have the numbers, if we demand to see authors of color featured they will be. Be vocal and demand to see authors and authentic characters of color featured in books. Two publishers that currently standout are Blood Orange Press and Lee & Low. (I don’t work in the publishing world, I only keep track of this on a marginal level. Perhaps there are others I don’t know of.)
New Perspectives—Being exposed to books by authors of color has brought interesting viewpoints that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. For instance in the book Being Mortal by Atul Gawande made me think about aging across cultures. I also learned about the Freedom Rides from Senator John Lewis, I could have read about this period of history from a traditional history book, but reading Sen. Lewis’ version brought it to life in a real way.
Mindfulness—I just started Silence by Thich Nhat Hanh who writes about being mindful about the media we consume. This experience has shown me how mindful I have to be with exposing myself to different thoughts and perspectives. The We Need Diverse Books challenge has pushed me to dig deeper and to counter some of the noise. I still read the news and enjoy many mainstream media channels, but I try to ensure I keep different perspectives coming forward.
Requesting Books by Authors of Color—I’m fortunate to live in a city with a well-supplied library system. The Seattle Public Library provided me with almost all of the books I’ve read for the book challenge. Part of supporting authors of color and pushing publishers to publish more diverse authors is to get their books put into libraries and purchased overall. At the Seattle Public Library we can request books added to the collection through an easy online form. I’ve requested books for this challenge and the library has ordered them, a win-win-win. Win for the library that now has a more diverse collection, win for the author who has more readers, and win for the publisher with a higher book count.
Reading to Children—My children love being read to and I enjoy sharing books with them. About a month ago my kiddo said I could choose what we would read before his bedtime so I picked up a journal on racial equity. This is what he said “All I hear is word, word, word, word, word.” In other words he was tuning it out, he needs to see himself reflected in stories so he can understand the world around him. He recently brought home a book from his school library featuring a multiracial family. He chose the book because his teacher read it to him in class and he wanted to share it with me. He said he chose it because he wanted me to read it with him, he was in control and wanted to share it with me.
What this has to do with Equity— Diversifying what I read informs what I think. Equity work requires understanding others and realizing that our world view is only part of the picture.
Here is my list of 15 (and some bonus books) for the We Need Diverse Books that I’ve read over the past few months:
- Happy, by Pharrell Williams
- March Book I and March Book II, by Senator John Lewis (These are graphic novels.)
- Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, by Misty Copeland
- Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande (audio version)
- Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial, by Kenji Yoshino
- Baseball Saved Us, by Ken Mochizuki
- Before I Die, by Candy Chang (check out her TED talk too)
- Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson
- We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- The Terrorist’s Son: A Story of Choice, by Zak Ebrahim
- Firebird, by Misty Copeland
- The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man’s Fight for Justice and Freedom in China, by Chen Guangcheng
- What I Know For Sure, by Oprah Winfrey (audio version)
- The Lonesome Puppy, by Yoshitomo Nara
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo
- Red Knit Cap Girl, by Naoko Stoop
- Oh, Oh, Baby Boy!, by Janine Macbeth
- Mixed: Portraits of Multiracial Kids by Kip Fulbeck
- Men We Reaped: A Memoir, by Jesmyn Ward
- The Art of Stillness, by Pico Iyer
- Peek a Thai Hide and Seek and Hush a Thai Lullaby by Minfong Ho(Peek is out of publication, but hopefully the publisher will reprint this gem of a book.)