#OwnVoices, For Truly Diverse Children’s Lit

I am from a very homogeneous town. Racially speaking, most people in this area look like me. There is a very high concentration of one religion so the culture is also very homogeneous. And my children are still young. We don’t get out a lot, for very long, or very far to be around other people and the majority of the people that we spend time with look like us, have the same background and are similarly abled. However, I want my children to develop empathy. I want them to be aware of the struggles of others, even if they don’t have those struggles themselves. I would like for them to be able to learn from and appreciate people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. How can I help my children truly appreciate diversity if there isn’t much in our direct vicinity?

Like usual, I turn to literature to find what I need. I decided to search out children’s lit that features diverse authors at my local library.

As I perused the aisles, I decided that for this trip, I wanted to find books that feature people of color. Here is something that I noticed. First of all, there aren’t many books that feature main characters of color. Second, many of the books that do have characters of color are not written by authors of color. Something felt wrong to me and I wasn’t sure how to articulate it. I realized that I don’t want a (well-meaning) white author’s perspective on the life of a person of color. To me, truly appreciating diverse voices means listening directly to the diverse voices.

I asked the librarian if she knew of a list of multicultural authors. She didn’t have one. I ended up taking my search online and that is where I stumbled upon #OwnVoices.

I learned I’m late to the party. The hashtag #OwnVoices was coined in 2015 by Corinne Duyvis, “to recommend kidlit about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group.” The School Library Journal later reported that “Black, Native, or Latinx authors wrote only six percent of all children’s (that included YA) literature published in 2016″ which makes it clear that there aren’t many diverse voices getting published. This infographic also helps to illustrate the numbers.

To me, this makes it all the more important to find those voices, recognize them, and support them. Next time you visit your local library or talk to your book club, ask about #OurVoices. You may find that your library already has resources or lists. If not, you can start the conversation.

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