We Need Diverse Books Campaign: 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 when it was brought to my attention, 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 read, less than 10 of them reflected some sort of diversity.

In the chapter of Literary Publishing in the 21st Century entitled “Diversity is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing” Daniel Jose Older speaks on the topic of racial diversity in the publishing industry. Older talks about the statistic that out 3,200 children’s books published in 2013 only 93 were about black people.

This is the kind of problem that brought about the start of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. 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 an all white male children’s authors panel at the BookCon (a popular fan convention that combines the publishing industry and pop culture) 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”

The OurStory app allows kids, teens, and educators to search through a list of titles with diverse content by marginalized authors in order to find the perfect book. Each book in their database is read by at least one member of the OurStory app team.

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 9.52.19 PMWe 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).

The We Need Diverse Books campaign has inspired me to take action and make a change in my reading habits. When browsing the aisles at Target or Barnes & Noble or the local library I make an extra effort to go towards more diverse books. This campaign has made me put thought into diversifying my shelves. As I go on to pursue a career in publishing, maybe being exposed to this campaign will help bring more diverse literature into the hands of children and teens.

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)

Works Cited:

“Diversity is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing.” Older, Daniel Jose; Miller, Wayne; Prufer, Kevin; Kurowski, Travis (2016-04-12). Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century (p. 153). Milkweed Editions. Kindle Edition.

“We Need Diverse Books .” We Need Diverse Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

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