Jacqueline Woodson once said, “Diversity is about all of us and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together.”
My interest in reading books flourished when I was in the fourth grade; Anna Sewell’s novel, Black Beauty, was the first book that I ever read and finished. I was hooked and started to hoard more and more books, each one something new for my eyes to devour.
However, little did I know that the books I was reading lacked even the slightest diversity.
Because of that, I had a different mindset back then. Whenever I came across a POC character, or one that was non-binary, or even someone who simply had a different culture, I would feel uncomfortable. My mind couldn’t process and imagine someone with such characteristics. I ended up “whitewashing” the characters, making them fair-skinned—and almost always heterosexual.
Take Hazel Levesque and Frank Zhang from Rick Riordan’s series, The Heroes of Olympus, as the perfect example of characters who I whitewashed back then. Hazel is described as an African-American daughter of Pluto who has cinnamon brown curly hair and her skin color “brown as a roasted coffee bean,” while Frank is described as a Chinese-Canadian son of Mars who has a baby face with a huge cuddly bear-like yet muscly frame. Instead of exactly picturing them with the said characteristics, I whitewashed them by making Hazel’s complexion a little lighter and turning her afro hairstyle into a wavy one and by making Frank thin and all macho, no more or less.
You might be wondering now, “When did you start becoming aware of the importance of diverse books?” Well, everything changed when I was scrolling through Twitter, where I discovered We Need Diverse Books: an organization that aims to put more diverse books into kids’ hands and to promote diversity in publishing industries. They do so by holding numerous programs, such as The Walter, an award given to diverse authors who have achieved and contributed to diversity with greatness. Others include internship grants, writing contests, mentorships and the like.
Because of the organization — and along with some helpful devoted diverse book bloggers — I was able to finally fill in the spaces of what I had been missing out on. I slowly became an advocate for diversity, reading, reviewing and sharing a myriad of books to the community. As a part of my gratitude, I’m currently fundraising for them, so they can further their mission as they fill more classrooms with diverse books and give support to more diverse authors out there!
Here are two of my favorite diverse books that I recommend to read:
1. “Mom & Me & Mom” by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou’s last non-fiction autobiographical book, Mom & Me & Mom, was the diverse book I never knew I needed until I started reading it for Emma Watson’s Goodreads book club called Our Shared Shelf. The book club is a part of her work as an ambassador for UN Women. Other than women empowerment, this book also touches the topic of discrimination against black people.
2. “The Heroes of Olympus” series by Rick Riordan
This second recommendation isn’t just one book, it’s a series! Unlike Rick Riordan’s first book series Percy Jackson & The Olympians, the next for the Percyverse stepped up the game and introduced various diverse characters to young readers. In here, expect not only Greek and Roman mythology lessons but also lessons about different racial cultures.
Why do we need diverse books? Because lack of diversity leads to invisibility. It’s important for marginalized voices to be heard and for others to see themselves in these books. We all ought to read a more diverse selection of literature and push for the much-needed representation.
Photos Courtesy of Goodreads.com.