Friday, May 2, 2014

We Need Diverse Books

by Mindy McGinnis

Diversity in children's literature has become a prominent topic lately. The We Need Diverse Books campaign - spearheaded by authors such as Ellen Oh, Aisha Saeed and Chelsea Pitcher - has roared into the public eye this week, with prominent authors and publishers tweeting under the tag #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

So here's my two cents.

As a lifelong reader, I always inserted myself into the stories I read. I was the main character. I was the saucy sidekick. I was the cool cat. The romantic interest was the guy I liked and the MC’s best friend was my best friend. I created a new physical reality for the book, and if an overly descriptive passage didn’t match my imaginings it would be jarring, and oftentimes kicked me right out of the story.

As a librarian I’ve encouraged reluctant readers to use this tactic, to cast the book with themselves and their friends (or enemies!) in order to make it more real, more enjoyable, a more palpable experience of an alternate reality that they can truly participate in. I see it working more often than not.

Every now and then I see reviews of NOT A DROP TO DRINK where people say they wish I would describe my characters more so that they could visualize them. The truth is that I purposely resist in-depth physical descriptions because I want the reader to have perfect freedom to visualize the characters in any way they choose.

This includes skin color.

In short, we need diverse books because everyone assumes Lynn is white.
Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent. The companion novel IN A HANDFUL OF DUST releases September 23, 2014. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and has a serious social media problem. You can find her on TwitterTumblrFacebookInstagram, and Pinterest.


Matt Sinclair said...

I typically do the same thing you do, but I think you're right and people need to know they are free to picture the characters however they want. That's not to say the readers are to blame, but not all readers recognize freedom when they have it.

Theresa Milstein said...

I can relate to a character that's different from me, but I can't relate to one I can't see. To me, characters are a product of their background and identity. I have to write a character as a certain ethnicity, just like I can't ignore gender.