#weneeddiversebooks: Diversifying Children’s Literature

By: Alicia Hughes

I first became aware of the #weneeddiversebooks campaign in 2014 when authors Jenny Han and Rainbow Rowell both shared their support via twitter.

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Before this moment I had never given a thought to the phrase diverse literature, but now that I had thought about it, it dawned on me that I could count all the diverse books I’ve ever read on two hands. It perplexed me how out of the all 200 books I’ve ever read, only less than 10 of them reflected some sort of diversity.

This is the kind of problem that brought about the start of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. The campaigns FAQ page recounts its conception. In April of 2014 now CEO and President, Ellen Oh, had a twitter exchange with Malinda Lo where they expressed their frustration over the lack of diversity in children’s literature in response to the all white male children’s authors panel at the BookCon reader event.

Within a couple of tweets, Ellen had started planning action, receiving encouragements from authors, blogger and those in the industry. Thus, the #weneeddiversebooks campaign started.

The We Need Diverse Books campaign focuses mostly on children’s and young adult (YA) literature as their mission says they are dedicated to, “Putting more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children.”

We Need Diverse Books has rapidly expanded, sponsoring projects that aim to diversify classrooms, as well as offering support to diverse authors. They’ve started programs that celebrate diverse authors such as the Walter Award (whose past winners include authors such as Jason Reynolds) and the Walter Grant.

One of their biggest developments is an app called OurStory that helps kids, teens, librarians and educators find diverse books and content.  After traveling across the United States, the We Need Diverse Books team heard one overwhelming theme which was diverse books were hard to find. In order to combat this, they developed an app that made diverse books easier to find, “We created a tool that highlights books with diverse content and by marginalized content creators”

We Need Diverse Books also works to diversify the publishing industry by offering a grant for diverse interns. They offer five interns “from diverse backgrounds (people of color, people with disabilities, people from the LGBTQIAP+ community, and other underrepresented groups)” a $2500 grant to offset some of the costs of their internship.

We Need Diverse Books partners with School Library Journal, An Open Book Foundation, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and Library of Congress. They currently get most of their funding from donations (click here for their donations page).

From We Need Diverse Books FAQ page:

What benefits are there from reading diverse books?

  1. They reflect the world and people of the world
  2. They teach respect for all cultural groups
  3. They serve as a window and a mirror and as an example of how to interact in the world
  4. They show that despite differences, all people share common feelings and aspirations (Source here)
  5. They can create a wider curiosity for the world
  6. They prepare children for the real world
  7. They enrich educational experiences (Source here)

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One thought on “#weneeddiversebooks: Diversifying Children’s Literature

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  1. Thanks for introducing us more fully to #weneeddiversebooks! Good opening, especially. Beginning the post with those original tweets creates interest and shows your personal connection to the campaign.

    For the story of how the campaign started, are you relying only on your memory, or can you link to an article about the beginning of WNDB?

    For the end of the post, you might come back to where you began, considering how your personal experiences with reading have changed in light of WNDB.


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