We Need Diverse Books

The most recent issue of Kirkus is a “diversity issue,” with about 40 pages of articles and essays that give different perspectives on diversity in literature. I’m still making my way through it, but I loved this quote from author Padma Venkatraman:

“Books are more than mere mirrors or windows; they are keys to compassion. And novels don’t just expose readers to differences, they allow readers to experience diversity. They allow us to live within another’s skin, think another’s thoughts, feel the depths of another’s soul. Novels transport, transform, and, most importantly, allow us to transcend prejudice. When we immerse ourselves in characters whose religions are different than our own, our empathy is enhanced. We move closer to embracing people of all religions.”

It reminded me a bit of the way Neil Gaiman talks about fiction (“Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been”), and what Caitlin Moran wrote in her essay “Alma Mater” about growing up in the library:

“The shelves were supposed to be loaded with books – but they were, of course, really doors….A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination….They are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead.”

When Venkatraman writes about mirrors and windows, she is referencing Rudine Sims Bishop’s 1990 article “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” Books that are mirrors reflect the reader’s self and own world back at them; books that are windows show the reader another person or people and world; books that are sliding glass doors allow the reader to “enter” another world.

The San Antonio Public Library page “Diversity in the Classroom: Building Your (Early Childhood) Library with Mirrors and Windows” has a video clip of Bishop from January 2015. In it, Bishop says, “Children need to see themselves reflected, but books can also be windows, so you can look through and see other worlds, and see how they match up or don’t match up to [your] own. But the sliding glass door allows you to enter that world as well, so that’s the reason diversity needs to go both ways.” She says that just as children of color need to see themselves in books, white children – who see plenty of themselves in books – need to see characters of other cultures, races, and religions as well, to provide a more accurate picture of the world as it is (“colorful”).

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement FAQ page cites an infographic produced by multicultural publisher Lee & Low Books (“About everyone. For everyone”), which used statistics from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and census data. Although 37% of the U.S. population are people of color, only 10% of published children’s books contain multicultural content. Note that that includes books where the main character might not be a person of color, and it also doesn’t mean that the author was a person of color.

We Need Diverse Books virtual buttonWhere do we go from here? We need more diversity at all levels of publishing, in libraries, in schools, in the bookselling business. We need to write, publish, read, and promote diverse books; “multicultural books don’t sell” is no longer a valid argument, if it ever was. We need more stories about more different people and places. We’re getting there, but too slowly.

8/17/17 Edited to add:

As I made my way through the rest of the issue, I found two more quotes I wanted to share. The first is from Megan Dowd Lambert, an author, senior lecturer in children’s literature at Simmons, and Kirkus reviewer; she in turn is quoting Mary Robinette Kowel:

“It’s not about adding diversity for the sake of diversity, it’s about subtracting homogeneity for the sake of realism.”

Though our society is far more segregated than it ought to be, and some kids may rarely see people outside of their own race, culture, or class, the world is “colorful” and literature ought to reflect that. In fact, books are where many people encounter new ideas and perspectives and learn about the world. “Armchair traveling” isn’t just for seeing the lives of ancient royalty, dangerous mountain-climbing expeditions, or sea voyages; it may be a way to see into the next neighborhood.

“…Disability comes from scarcity and environment and other people’s prejudices as much as the body. Silencing the word can silence real injustices, emotions, and experiences. Diverse books are tools for empathy, but we can’t address what we won’t say.”

This is from Amy Robinson, children’s librarian and Kirkus reviewer. She makes an important point about environment contributing to disability. Are our built environments inclusive, or do they present barriers? (Do elevators work? Are aisles wide enough? Are there ramps or only stairs? Is signage large and clear? Are there curb cuts on sidewalks? Are sidewalks even or broken, covered in snow or cleared?) In many cases, a disability may only present extra difficulty because of obstacles in the world – in the built environment or as part of prevailing cultural and societal ideas. Let’s figure out what those obstacles are (it’s often very hard to imagine, so ask people who confront them) and start removing them.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I was/am looking forward to

This list is a combination of two recent Top Ten Tuesday topics: most anticipated books for the second half of 2017, and books I’ve recently added to my to-read list.

The Pearl ThiefRecently finished or in-progress:

  • The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein: I added this to my to-read list the instant I heard about it, and got a library copy as soon as it came out. It was a delight; I devoured it in two days. So lovely to see Julie (from Code Name Verity) again, at home in her native Scotland. With the first-person narration, her pride and courage are even more immediate, though the stakes are a bit lower this go-round, as she’s not a Nazi prisoner.
  • Holding Up the Universe and All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven: I’ve been hearing good things about Jennifer Niven for a while now – the Not-So-Young-Adult book group at my library read All the Bright Places – so I finally picked up Holding Up the Universe on audio. I finished it on the way to a meeting at the Medfield Public Library at the end of May (more on Medfield later) and picked up All The Bright Places while I was there; I’m about halfway through now. I really like her writing: it reminds me of Cammie McGovern, Julie Murphy, and Rainbow Rowell.

Published recently(ish)

  • Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy: I loved Dumplin’ and was thrilled to learn about Murphy’s new novel; a co-worker has already read and liked it. I’m waiting for a library copy.
  • Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister: I liked Macallister’s first novel, The Magician’s Lie, and the description of this one looks equally intriguing.Eleanor Oliphant
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: How can you not want to read a book with this title? And it has a great cover. And it’s set in Scotland.
  • The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson: Again, I’m cribbing my co-worker’s list; I too loved Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and I don’t know why I didn’t read The Summer Before the War as soon as it came out.
  • Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen: I had this in my hand a couple months ago but didn’t bring it home on account of the already precarious height of my to-read stack. But I haven’t read Anna Quindlen in ages, this got great reviews, and the description is appealing.
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: The word “essential” has been used in every review of this book that I’ve seen, and it’s a short book. There’s no reason I haven’t read it yet and I intend to read it before the end of the year.Life on Mars
  • Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith: I don’t pick up new poetry collections often, but she’s the new poet laureate, and this sentence from a review compelled me: “As all the best poetry does, “Life on Mars” first sends us out into the magnificent chill of the imagination and then returns us to ourselves, both changed and consoled.”

Not Yet Published

  • The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman, obviously. The first installment comes out October 19 (though I’m hoping to snag a galley before then) and is called La Belle Sauvage. There was already an extract in The Guardian.
  • Jane, UnlimitedJane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore(!!!): Just heard about this from a co-worker. Beyond excited for a new (standalone?) book from Kristin Cashore (Graceling).
  • Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin: I’ve loved Zevin’s books in the past, and the Kirkus (starred) review said it’s pleasingly feminist.
  • The Runaways by Rainbow Rowell: I don’t read graphic novels or comics that much but I will follow Rainbow Rowell across genres and formats and anywhere else she goes. I want to catch up on the earlier volumes first, and Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga has also been on my list.

6/23/17 Edited to add: Turtles All The Way Down by John Green(!!!!!), coming October 10! And new E. Lockhart, Genuine Fraud, coming September 5.

HIGHLY anticipating

Cover of Northern LightsAt the end of my 2016 wrap-up I started to look ahead into 2017 for books to look forward to, but didn’t have any specific titles at the time. This morning (I went to bed even earlier than usual last night) I woke up to the good news that Philip Pullman is publishing another trilogy, The Book of Dust, and that the first one comes out this fall – specifically, on my daughter’s birthday. (She will be thrilled about being dragged to a bookstore first thing in the morning and then being ignored all day while her mama reads. Best birthday ever!)(Kidding, of course. She will be in daycare that day and I will probably take a vacation day. Or just read during her naps and after she goes to sleep, like a normal person.)

So anyway, I’m definitely looking forward to that one. Sometimes when an author of a beloved book or series announces a new book or series, I am a little nervous that it won’t measure up, but I have faith that this one will.

Cover image (not yet final) of All the Crooked SaintsAnd because October is always a big month for publishing, Maggie Stiefvater’s novel All the Crooked Saints comes out then too, another one I’m looking forward to, but not with quite the insane devotion, because I haven’t been reading and re-reading her since I was twelve.

Still waiting on Audrey Niffenegger for Alba, Continued.

Best books I read in 2016

There were many books published this year that I was looking forward to eagerly, and which I devoured as soon as I could get them. Other books sneaked up on me (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!), some were recommended by friends or librarian-friends, others discovered serendipitously (my toddler pulling them off the library shelf), some a combination of the above. Links go to my LibraryThing reviews.

Cover image of My Real ChildrenAdult Fiction

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, and J.K. Rowling

My Real Children by Jo Walton

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

“And we can’t know the lives of others. And we can’t know our own lives beyond the details we can manage. And the things that change us forever happen without us knowing they would happen. And the moment that looks like the rest is the one where hearts are broken or healed. And time that runs so steady and sure runs wild outside of the clocks. It takes so little time to change a lifetime and it takes a lifetime to understand the change.” -Jeanette Winterson, The Gap of Time

Adult Nonfiction

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

“Shame is a tool of oppression, not change….You know what’s shameful? A complete lack of empathy.” -Lindy West, Shrill

Teen/YA

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

My True Love Gave to Me (short stories, edited by Stephanie Perkins)

Cover of I Am the Wolf...And Here I ComeChildren’s board books and picture books

Wow! Said the Owl by Tim Hopgood

There Is A Bird On Your Head by Mo Willems

I Am the Wolf…And Here I Come! by Benedicte Guettier

I Kissed the Baby by Mary Murphy

One Was Johnny by Maurice Sendak – I can’t believe I missed this one as a kid. It is the perfect counting book for introverts.

How to Cheer Up Dad by Fred Koehler

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Children’s chapter books/series

Cover image of ClementineThe Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker – I listened to all seven of these audiobooks (narrated by Jessica Almasy) and loved every single one. Clementine reminds me of Ramona Quimby (especially when adults tell her to “pay attention” and she says that she was paying attention…to something else. Perfect kid logic). The parents are great characters too.

Coming soon…2017

I haven’t looked too far ahead into 2017, publishing-wise. The book I am most anticipating, of course, is the sequel to The Time Traveler’s Wife, but there is no new news about it, as far as I can tell, and the last I heard, it was looking like ballpark 2018. I’d be excited to read anything new by David Mitchell or Nick Hornby, but they each had books out in 2015 (Slade House and Funny Girl, respectively). I’d love to read whatever Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus) is cooking up next, too. I’m sure plenty of wonderful new books will come along while I’m waiting for these…what are you excited to read this coming year?

Caitlin Moran discusses her Moranifesto

Cover image of MoranifestoOn November 30, journalist and author Caitlin Moran (pronounced CAT-lin mo-RAN) spoke in conversation with Boston Globe columnist Meredith Goldstein at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, hosted by the Harvard Bookstore. It was dark and rainy, but good to be in a room full of feminist librarian types. I haven’t yet read Moran’s newest book, Moranifesto, but I loved her book How to Be A Woman and her previous essay collection, Moranthology. I initially discovered her via her essay “Alma Mater” in The Library Book, and I still think of a passage from it often:

“The shelves were supposed to be loaded with books – but they were, of course, really doors….A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination….They are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead.”

-“Alma Mater,” Caitlin Moran

Like most of the audience, I was prepared for Moran to be her unselfconscious, energetic, hilariously uncensored self, and she launched in right away about having just gotten her period and being on codeine (which I’m pretty sure you cannot get over the counter in this country) and coffee. The coffee was winning, I think, because she was talking faster than Lauren Graham.

In shifting from writing about pop culture and feminism, Moran said that at first she had felt “ill-qualified” to write about politics, but gained confidence when she realized that many political figures were former journalists. She stated, “Politics does not work anymore,” and said that we need to form new political parties in the U.K. and U.S. Moran believes in action: “If you started complaining three minutes ago, you should’ve started doing something two minutes ago.”

Of certain of our current political figures, Moran said, “These are not politicians, they are agents provocateurs.” She said that the tone of politics has been set by the Internet, which is  largely young, male, and lawless – “like California during the Gold Rush.”

“EVERYTHING is going to change in the next twenty years.”

Moran believes the left’s biggest enemy is itself. Whereas the goal of conservatism is to keep things as they are (the status quo), the left has two goals: to redistribute power and to invent a future. It is far harder to create something new than to preserve something, which leads to greater dissent, even among those who agree on a progressive agenda.

Moran read from one of the essays in Moranifesto, “Advice to Teenage Girls.” Some of her advice:

  • “‘Yet’ is a very useful word.”
  • “When in doubt, listen to David Bowie.”
  • “Go out there and change the world so it works for you.”

“I think everyone should write a manifesto,” Moran said. What will her next book be? How to Be Famous. “Celebrities are the Greek gods of our time.”

Q&A

The questions from the audience were mostly serious, but the answers ranged. In one case Moran’s answer skittered so far from the topic of the question so quickly that the only possible explanation is a tesseract. Suffice to say that Moran has clearly given the issue of Muppet sex some thought. Her answer offended an audience member; Moran listened to the complaint and responded that she was glad the person had spoken up: “I try to make everyone feel like they can say anything.”

Another audience member asked how we can encourage a cultural shift so that sexual violence and rape is taken seriously? Moran’s idea is to drop the word “sexual” in front of the word “assault”; “physical assault” sounds more serious.

Moran also talked about the online environment and social media. She said, “If you had a town planner, they’d never build the Internet the way it is. There are no safe public spaces….We need to find a new way [of designing and using social media]. This is a “problem of culture, not politics.” There is more money in argument and dissent than in agreement, thus “the world becomes angrier and more afraid.” The U.S., Moran pointed out, will never be invaded – our biggest danger is ourselves (internal dissent).

Ending on a serious note, Moran said that the Brexit vote and the Trump election are part of the same phenomenon, dating back to the 2008 crash. Neither approach of the current political systems – austerity or stimulus – brought anyone to justice for the events of 2008. Instead, the strategy of those in power to stop a revolution was to create a sub-class so people’s anger was directed down instead of up (to the elite).

And back out into the rainy night we went.

Books enjoyed and anticipated in 2016

In terms of politics and world events, 2016 has perhaps not been the best year. But in terms of books, it has been stellar. I’m going to combine two Top Ten Tuesday topics: favorite releases so far this year, and most anticipated releases for the rest of the year. As usual, Linda has beat me to it and we’re anticipating many of the same titles.

Once again, this has sat half-finished in the draft folder for so long that several of the titles I was anticipating I have now read. When I started this, the two categories were more evenly balanced. Well, now you know what I was doing while I wasn’t writing blog posts.

Looking at this list, it’s almost as if all my favorite authors got together and said, “We know she has a baby (now a toddler) and reading time is precious, so let’s each publish a book this year and see if she can still read them all.” Challenge accepted! (Just one question: Why wasn’t Audrey Niffenegger invited to the party? I am going to have the teaser section of “Alba, Continued” memorized by the time she publishes the rest of the novel. Come on, Audrey…)

The Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock: I thought my precious boxed set of Griffin & Sabine books was complete, but – surprise! – there is a new one. I received a copy through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program and am happy to say that it fits in perfectly with the other six books; the magic remains intact.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave: Chris Cleave is one of my favorite authors, and I love historical fiction. This is a good book, but there is so much WWII fiction that the bar is quite high, and I think Cleave’s contemporary fiction is stronger. This one didn’t stay with me the way that Gold did.

The WonderThe Wonder by Emma Donoghue: Donoghue switches fluidly between contemporary and historical novels, and she excels at both. The Wonder is the story of Nightingale-trained English nurse Lib Wright, who takes a two-week job watching Irish eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell, who claims not to have eaten in four months. Is it a miracle or a hoax? Lib is sure it’s a hoax and that Anna is a liar, but she quickly comes to care for the girl, and concern at her deteriorating condition compels her to ask not how Anna is maintaining her fast, but why she feels the need to fast at all. The answer is a tangle of religious beliefs and a dark family secret.

Leave Me by Gayle Forman: A mother of four-year-old twins can’t get a break even when she is recovering from a heart attack, so she simply leaves town to find the rest and recovery she needs. Difficult to read at times, but Forman (If I Stay, Where She Went, Just One Day, Just One Year) has such compassionate for and empathy with her characters; she makes the transition from YA to adult seamlessly.

The TrespasserThe Trespasser by Tana French: I’ve been devoted to Tana French’s psychological suspense novels since In the Woods, and I’m always eager to read her new books, though I think The Likeness will always be my favorite. The Trespasser takes place largely in the police office and interview rooms rather than out on the scene; it was a touch long but never felt sluggish, as Conway and Moran dug into what was apparently a domestic murder but turned out to be more complicated than that.

The View from the Cheap SeatsThe View From the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman: This one sneaked up on me; it was not preceded by a lot of fanfare. I’d read a few of the pieces already but enjoyed them again, particularly “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading, and Daydreaming: The Reading Agency Lecture, 2013.” Nearly every piece in the collection is quite short, and I browsed rather than read straight through in order, so there are some pieces I missed.

Something New by Lucy Knisley: Relish is still my favorite book of hers, but this story of engagement and wedding planning is perfect for those who are in the same stage of life, particularly those with an artsy-craftsy hipster DIY style.

This Must Be the PlaceThis Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell: O’Farrell is another of my favorite authors and I read an e-galley of this novel in a few huge gulps, the result being that I don’t remember it as well as if I’d read it more slowly. It’s the story of Daniel Sullivan and his various family members, in various parts of the world (Donegal, Paris, California, New York, Chile), at various times (from the 1980s to 2016). O’Farrell has a genius for character; I would read this again and probably enjoy it just as much.

CommonwealthCommonwealth by Ann Patchett: On my admittedly long list of favorite authors, Patchett is firmly in the top five. Commonwealth is the story of two families who break apart and combine, leaving the children to cope with divorce, cross-country moves, and a singular tragedy. Various family members (but not all of them) narrate over a long time frame, during which their personal tragedy is made public in a famous author’s thinly fictionalized account.

On Bowie by Rob Sheffield: I was a Bowie fan without realizing it; when he died, I checked a greatest hits CD out from the library and discovered I knew plenty of Bowie songs, I just hadn’t known they were Bowie songs. Sheffield’s book is somewhere between a Bowie biography and a personal memoir – an fan’s extended paean to a cultural idol.

EligibleEligible by Curtis Sittenfeld: I had high expectations for this book (Curtis Sittenfeld! Pride & Prejudice!), and though some reviews were negative or mixed, I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did the other members of my book club. Sittenfeld brings the P&P story and characters into present-day Cincinnati, and she does it very well: with cleverness and wit and invention. She makes one or two significant changes from the original plot and characters, but remains true to the heart of the story.

Last Painting of Sara de VosThe Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith: I do love a good art history story, and this one didn’t disappoint. It takes place in three time periods: Holland in the 1630s, when the painting is created; Manhattan in the 1950s, when the painting is stolen and copied; and Sydney, Australia in 2000 when both the original and the forgery arrive at a museum show. Suspenseful and satisfying, a good choice for those who liked The Art Forger (B.A. Shapiro) or The Miniaturist (Jessie Burton).

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefavater: I have inhaled each of these four books, reading them so quickly it’s hard to remember the details. This was a satisfying conclusion to this uniquely magical quartet.

Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down by Anne Valente: The title snagged my attention, and the description and comp titles were enticing, so I requested and received the e-galley. For a story about a school shooting and a series of subsequent fatal house fires, I found it to be pretty slow-paced, and ended up skimming the last third just to find out who/what was causing the fires. On a political note, stories like this make our lack of national legislation on gun control even more frustrating.

Father’s Day by Simon Van Booy: Yet another of my favorite authors, Van Booy never disappoints: his poetic language, beautiful settings, and gift for bringing characters together in unexpected ways is delicate and touching.

Anticipating

The Muse by Jessie Burton: The second novel by the author of The Miniaturist takes place in Spain in 1936 and England in 1967. I like historical fiction in general, and Jessie Burton’s writing, and Spain in the 1930s is particularly interesting. I’m hoping to pick this up in the next month or two.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple: Plenty of buzz about the new novel by the author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? A library copy just came in so I’ll be giving it a try soon.

A Gentleman in MoscowA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles: I loved Rules of Civility so much that I was doubtful his next novel could be nearly as good, but my library colleague raved about it and it’s gotten very good reviews. I’ve just started reading and am enjoying it so far.

See also:

Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2015 (7/1/15)

Best Books I’ve Read in the Second Half of 2016 (12/25/15)

And Little Louis: author-illustrator collaboration

Like most other picture book readers, I’m a big fan of Jon Klassen (I Want My Hat Back, This Is Not My Hat, etc.) and Mac Barnett (Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, Leo: A Ghost Story, etc.), so naturally when they collaborate I am excited. Their book Extra Yarn is a favorite, but I have been wondering about something.

I have been wondering about Little Louis.

littlelouis

Particularly, I am wondering if Mac Barnett handed (or more likely e-mailed) the manuscript to Jon Klassen and let him take it from there, or if they discussed how the illustrations and text would fit together. If it was the former, I wonder what Barnett had in mind for Little Louis, and how far that was from what Klassen came up with. Did it make him laugh? Or were they in on it together?

I used to work in publishing, but I don’t know much about picture book publishing, other than that some authors and illustrators work together more closely, others less closely. I asked Barnett and Klassen on Twitter but they haven’t replied. The question stands…

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