I was going to post this a few days ago, but didn’t have time to complete my thoughts, so here it is today. Recently I’ve had something on my mind that I wanted to talk about.
As the heading to this post would suggest, yes, it is about diversity in books.
I want to start out this post with an anecdote. One that throws back to when I was 15 years old and a sophomore in high school. I am a straight, white, young woman from an upper middle class family. At 15, I didn’t understand poverty or discrimination. Honestly, at 24, I still don’t understand it the way that those who have experienced it first hand can.
But I can say that through books and the book community I’ve been able to see the disparity in diverse novels which is part of the reason for this post today.
And because of my students.
I was 15 when I read one of the Bluford books. I didn’t identify. I couldn’t identify. I could sympathize, but 15-year-old Eden had no idea that people’s lives could be anything beyond easy.
Remember, I was a part of an upper middle class Catholic family that thought vacations to Hawaii were ordinary.
When the housing market crashed, when my family went from vacations to Hawaii to praying to God we would have electricity and food at Christmas time — I was able to identify a bit more.
The first truly “diverse” novel I ever read was one of the Bluford books. If you don’t know these books than I’ll give you a quick breakdown. These books focus on every gender, POC and religion being treated equally. The Bluford books cover topics from gang violence, running away from home, and even bullying. And in the end, they have positive messages (There’s always someone who cares, just because you made one bad decision doesn’t mean your life is over, etc). These books appeal most to my students because many are low income and live in situations not far off from the ones in the books. These books get my students reading because they can actually identify with them. They can see their own lives reflected back – they can see themselves in these characters because for once they aren’t white. These books go beyond just a white, female protagonist whose biggest problem is whether a particular boy likes her back.
This is where diverse books come in. I teach language arts from kids ranging between 10-13 years old. I teach kids that don’t know if they’re going home to have dinner or have clean clothes for the next school day.
It’s been in the last year that I’ve really, really realized what diverse novels can do for kids. When I have an 11 year old student come up to me and tell me that they understand why Zero from “Holes” would steal a pair of shoes because sometimes you just don’t have the money to buy shoes, I know that diversity is so important.
So, with all of that said. I’m making a vow right here, right now to read at least one diverse novel a month. This isn’t just important for me, but it’s important for my students. If I can find more books with diverse characters that an 11 year old will read and relate to, I know I have done something right in my job.
So, fire away. If you know of ANY diverse books that I can read/an 11 year old would enjoy, send them my way. I’ve got work to do.