In 2014, children’s author Ellen Oh tweeted her frustration about an all-white male panel at an upcoming book convention. The outrage that followed – on the part of white women as well as people of color – led to the hashtag WeNeedDiverseBooks. It has gone viral.
“It’s kind of like ‘Horton Hears a Who’. We were finally able to be heard outside of our little fluff ball, ”said Oh, who is Korean American and has had previous conversations with other people whose identities were not well represented in the edition for. children. Oh wanted more than words.
“I’m a very solution-oriented person,” she says. “We actually have to do things for the change to happen.”
Oh, and a half-dozen other authors, illustrators, and book industry professionals, started the non-profit We Need Diverse Books in an effort to shake up the industry.
The organization has done this with a dizzying array of programs. It has offered grants to unpublished authors and illustrators from a variety of backgrounds. He created awards for independent authors and booksellers. There is a mentoring program, a publishing internship grant, three short stories and a partnership with the Scholastic Book Club. And he donated about 20,000 books to public schools.
Oh said she had seen the publishing world – though still dominated by books by and about whites – shifting away from the long-held idea that miscellaneous books don’t sell. The writers used to hear, “We already have an Asian story or we already have a black book,” she said. “What you have now is a desire and a thirst for more diversity stories.”
This desire may come from a changing idea of why book diversity is essential.
“When we started out, we thought it was necessary for everyone to see themselves in the pages of a book,” Oh said.
In recent years, the scope of the organization has widened.
“Diversity should be for every child,” she says. “Otherwise, we will never learn empathy and we will never grow.”
Oh is hopeful that children’s editors will continue to embrace diverse authors and the power of their stories. “There are so many stories of people whose minds changed while reading a book.”
Oh, several other children’s authors and illustrators, and the Washington Post’s children’s reviews share their favorite books of 2020 below.
(Candlewick, 8 to 12 years old)
Every once in a while I fall for a book and can’t stop thinking about it. “A Wish in the Dark” is this book. A Thai-inspired “Les Misérables”, set in a magical version of Thailand, rooted in the themes of law and social justice, but centered on the beautiful human relationships that make up the heart of this story. It is absolutely fascinating. I fell in love with the characters and the world-building and long after I was done it still lives on in my heart, leaving me dreaming of hope and light in times of darkness.
By Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
(Roaring Brook, ages 4 to 8)
In this beautifully rendered artwork, a child contemplates the perception of “black”, noting its place among the rainbow color spectrum and the world as a whole. From black culture to black history, readers are treated to pretty examples of everyday black woven (“Black is the pan for frying bread”) and the legendary (“Black was the man who gave the world its dream. ”) Joy’s words and Holmes art are a perfect combination where the verse is as vivid as the paintings and collage. Children (and parents) of all colors will reread this one in abundance.
(Little, Brown, 8 to 12 years old)
Set in a coastal town in California, this book follows the budding friendship between Alberta and Edie. In many ways, they’re opposites: Alberta is a surfer, her loving fathers met in a township, and she only eats pecan and butter ice cream; Edie is Brooklyn’s new daughter, her parents are recently divorced, and she wears dark clothes and black lipstick. But despite their differences, the girls bond over their common blackness, as well as a mystery discovered in Edie’s attic. With its endearing characters, suspenseful twists and heartfelt moments, this book is pure excellence.
By Beth Ferry and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal.
The story of a bumpy road to an unlikely friendship between retired Captain Swashby, a tall grumpy man, perfectly content to live a quiet life beside his only mate the sea, and his newly arrived neighbors, a friendly granny and her curious granddaughter. With charming and playful illustrations and various characters from Juana Martinez-Neal, and a lively and sweet retelling by Beth Ferry, this story moves our hearts and reminds us to stay open to new friends and ideas, and to be present in them. adventure moments of life.
Medium level fiction
By Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
(Little, Brown, 8 to 12 years old)
Short monologues and radiant art combine in a dynamic work of historical fiction. On their small farm, Loretta, Roly and Aggie B. – characters based on members of the author’s family – fight the racism of the Jim Crow South. But in 1962, when 12-year-old Aggie B. volunteered to help register black people to vote, Loretta and Roly had to face their fears and hopes for change.
By Rosanne Parry, illustrated by Lindsay Moore
(Greenwillow, 8 to 12 years old)
Watch sea otters and face a giant wave, alongside Vega and Deneb. Two young orcas search for a lost family, meet unique friends, and face the dangerous impact of pollutants and global warming on their underwater world, which is clearly conveyed in this novel through words and pictures.
There’s a new girl in town in 1880s South Dakota, and she wields needle and thread with determination and pride. Sewing techniques learned by her late mother, a Chinese immigrant, help 14-year-old Hanna and her white father fight the city’s racist resistance to their clothing business. This engaging historical novel explores the place and time of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic “Little House” books, from an Asian American perspective.
(Greenwillow, 8 to 12 years old)
Trash is a poetic treasure in this intriguing collection of verses from the current Young Poet Laureate. Nye’s keen eye for the revealing little detail – a heartwarming pine cone, a lost mitten – encourages us to notice and perhaps write about the weird and wandering things around us.
By Varian Johnson, illustrated by Shannon Wright
(Graphix / Scholastic, 8 to 12 years old)
In this vivid and touching graphic novel, twins and best friends Maureen and Francine navigate in grade six, new interests and often confusing changes in their relationship. Tensions rise and soon sister is opposed to her sister in the election for the class presidency – an election which also shakes up family and friends.
By Matthew Burgess. Illustrations by Josh Cochran
(Enchanted lion, 6 years and older)
Brilliant and daring like the art of Keith Haring, this book follows the artist’s ever-energetic creative dynamic. Author Burgess and illustrator Cochran show how generous he was and how children played a central role in his life and work.
By Carole Lindstrom. Illustrated by Michaela Goade.
(Roaring Brook, ages 4 to 6)
Presenting an urgent message about protecting the Earth and its water, this book also inspires a new appreciation for the world we have been given. The illustrations feature breathtaking scenes of radiant sunsets, brilliant waterways, watchful animals and, most importantly, courageous indigenous peoples, young and old, taking a stand against “a black serpent that will destroy the earth”.
By Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
(Little Brown, 12 years old and over)
Spanning hundreds of years with ease, this adaptation of Kendi’s bestselling adult book explores how the idea of white superiority has affected the course of American history. It also shows how major advances in black social equality have sparked backlash and legal deception.
By Veronica Chambers and New York Times staff
(Versify / HMH, 8 to 12 years old)
In a great election year, this book offers a bracing and vividly illustrated introduction to some of the “courageous and lesser-known revolutionary women who fought for the right to vote”. It will remain precious for years to come.
(Henry Holt, 12 and over)
In this clear-eyed column of Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Saddam Hussein, Davis asks important questions about the development of democracy and its flip side, autocracy. The book reveals how these leaders and their allies manipulated their fellow citizens, killing millions in their quest for power.
Anyone can help out in the kitchen – picking produce from the garden, peeling carrots, mixing chili, carrying dishes and pots. It’s loud and crowded, and no one knows (until they’re ready) how well the meal is going. But the people who come on Wednesdays for the community dinner are happy to meet up, the food and the people in the kitchen.
By Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith
(Neal Porter / Vacation Home, ages 4 to 8)
When the beginnings of words get tangled and get stuck in his mouth, and some sounds don’t work as they should, this boy shuts up due to his stuttering. But her father shows her how a river, flowing over rocks and on its banks, sounds pretty much the same – sometimes rough, but sometimes gentle, sparkling in the sun.
By Mihn Le, illustrated by Dan Santat
(Little, Brown, 3 to 7 years old)
Iris is surprised when her little brother manages to press the buttons on the elevator, because she thought it was her job! But when she gets her own elevator button, it opens the door to amazing places, from a rainforest to outer space, and Iris realizes that these are adventures that would be wonderful to share. .
By Raul the Third, colors by Elaine Bay
(Versify / HMH, ages 4 to 8)
El Toro and the other luchadores are hungry before the big game. They send a message to their friend Little Lobo: Bring some food soon. Fortunately, there are many delicious options! Dozens of food trucks have gathered, like the Taco Tuesday truck (with tacos every day!), Les Burritos de Bronco and the Quesadillas de Quique. And everyone loves churros – do you?
By Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey
A red truck is an important and hardworking part of the farm as a young girl grows up. Later, parked in the yard near the barn, he becomes an ocean explorer, airship, planetary rover. The grass grows longer around its wheels, and the seasons pass, until one day the young woman, now a farmer herself, fixes the old truck and it becomes part of the job again.