Disability Talks: Don't Dis My Ability

We Need Diverse Books Ensures Every Child is Represented

April 09, 2021 Abilities in Motion Season 2 Episode 7
Disability Talks: Don't Dis My Ability
We Need Diverse Books Ensures Every Child is Represented
Chapters
Disability Talks: Don't Dis My Ability
We Need Diverse Books Ensures Every Child is Represented
Apr 09, 2021 Season 2 Episode 7
Abilities in Motion

Every child should see themselves in the books they read. When a child can identify themselves just like the characters in their books, they become better readers. Representation is vital to everyone and young readers are hungry to see themselves in books. That’s why We need Diverse Books works with young Authors and Illustrators to develop books that include topics from different races, religions, the LGTBQ, and disability communities. We Need Diverse Books offers scholarships and pairs young artists with established artists to guide them through the process. Listen in to learn more.

Connect with We Need Diverse Books online:

Website:
https://diversebooks.org/
Twitter:
https://twitter.com/diversebooks?lang=en
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/weneeddiversebooks/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/598139093596498

For more information about Abilities in Motion, visit our website at https://www.abilitiesinmotion.org/ or follow us on social media.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AbilitiesinMotion
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/abilitiesinmotion/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSEXzEkE_CK5WYmOhMAN4Aw

Show Notes Transcript

Every child should see themselves in the books they read. When a child can identify themselves just like the characters in their books, they become better readers. Representation is vital to everyone and young readers are hungry to see themselves in books. That’s why We need Diverse Books works with young Authors and Illustrators to develop books that include topics from different races, religions, the LGTBQ, and disability communities. We Need Diverse Books offers scholarships and pairs young artists with established artists to guide them through the process. Listen in to learn more.

Connect with We Need Diverse Books online:

Website:
https://diversebooks.org/
Twitter:
https://twitter.com/diversebooks?lang=en
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/weneeddiversebooks/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/598139093596498

For more information about Abilities in Motion, visit our website at https://www.abilitiesinmotion.org/ or follow us on social media.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AbilitiesinMotion
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/abilitiesinmotion/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSEXzEkE_CK5WYmOhMAN4Aw

Intro:

Welcome to DisAbility Talks, a podcast produced by Abilities in Motion. I'm your host, Shelly Houser. Join us for real conversations and no nonsense talk from everyday people with disabilities. Living their most independent everyday lives tune in for the latest news surrounding disability, accessibility and independence, where conversations aren't dissed and stories that need to be told aren't missed. So let's talk.

Shelly:

Welcome back listeners. This is Shelly Houser and I am your host of DisAbility Talks. Today my guests are joining us from Frederick, Maryland, and Boston, Massachusetts. Program Manager, Caroline Richmond, and Communications Manager, Alaina LaVoie, are from We Need Diverse Books, which is a n onprofit created to promote diversity in all forms in children's literature. Welcome ladies. Thanks for being here today.

Speaker 2:

Thank you for having us.

Caroline:

Thank you so much for having us.

Shelly:

Sure. It's a pleasure. So I started following you guys on social media and I really thought what you did was very interesting and it's something our children and our youth need today now more than ever. In times of COVID and kind of getting out of that. So I came across your website and I really enjoyed the, the wide variety of ethnic LGBTQ , uh, disability-related topics that you have your authors write about. And I wanted to understand and have our listeners understand why is diversity important in children's literature to your folks?

Alaina:

Well, there's actually quite a lot of research to support the idea that diversity in children's literature really provides both a window and a mirror for young readers. Um, there's a lot of evidence to suggest that diversity allows readers at a young age to develop empathy with people whose life experiences they don't share. And also research to suggest that for kids to be able to see people like them in the books that they read in the media that they consume, and to be able to see people who have similar life experiences can be very validating for them and make them feel seen and make them feel comfortable, developing a sense of that identity. And that's really what we need diverse books has always been about. We have always really believed that. And we often call back to Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop's, Windows and Mirrors essay to talk about the importance of seeing both those, like you in the books you read, and also people who are not like you. Um , and the importance of that you don't really is something that children should have access to it at an early age, because at that time they're still developing their sense of self and their sense of the world. And, you know, they're developing and understanding of what kinds of topics they should be allowed to talk about. And what's important. And the more that those things are discussed, the more that they understand, you know, it is it's absolutely okay and normal to talk about disability or to talk about LGBTQ topics, to talk about race, to talk about religion and, and kids learn that from the books that they read, the media they consume and the way that it's presented to them by their parents, caregivers, and educators.

Shelly:

I was reading just lately that if a child doesn't understand and learn empathy and grace of gracefully losing and gracefully winning at an early age, they go on to being very dysfunctional adults. And we see that in today's history and in today's society in some ways. And it's something that we desperately need to work on. So what kind of background do you ladies have? You know, where did you come from? Do you have a major in children education? Um,

Alaina:

I can speak to my backgrounds. I have a bachelor's degree in professional writing and a master's degree in publishing and I in publishing, I focused mostly on book publishing, but also a little bit on journalism as well. And prior to joining WNDB, I was a volunteer for WNDB for about three years before I became communications manager. And I've also written a variety of articles about diversity in children's books. Most recently for publishers weekly, I wrote about the importance of remote jobs in book publishing and also wrote for Bitch Media and article about the current state of disability and children's books. Um, so that's really been my background focusing on specifically representation and disability and LGBTQ, u m, books for young readers.

Shelly:

Carolyn, what about you? What's your background?

Caroline:

Sure. Well, we're really lucky to have Alaina on our team first a volunteer and now as Communications Manager due to her experience, I'm also an author. I write young adult fiction books published with Scholastic and Simon and Schuster amongst others. So I really came to WNDB from the writing side because growing up I'm Chinese American. It was, it wasn't until I was a freshman in high school where I really saw myself represented in a book and that was, The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan. And I've always been a very hungry bookworm, you know, I devoured books as a child, but it wasn't until I had read The Joy Luck Club for school that it's just like, just something hit me in the chest. Like this is what I had been waiting for! And for so long, I had to develop the ability to kind of just put myself into other characters that didn't look like me at all. And to finally see a character that so closely resembled my life and my experiences, it just, it was such a pivotal experience for me. And I really don't want my biracial kids to have to wait that long to find that book. And, you know, some people never find that book. They have to write it themselves. I guess I was lucky in a way that I was able to discover a book like that as a teenager. And I know for so many kids around the world, they are hungry to find themselves in a book. And when they don't, oftentimes we can lose them as a reader. So that's why the work at We Need Diverse Books really resonated with me and why I wanted to become a part of the organization.

Shelly:

And that's what drew me to read need diverse books as well, because growing up there was nothing for me as a child with a disability to be a role model. Not in television, not in film, not in billboards and advertising. It just was something that was ignored and we're all here, you know? And we all have our unique sense of who we are internally and externally. So I was really, I loved seeing the diverse books that you had, not only on disability related children's books and youth books, but you know, just a lot of ethnicities because my nephews are Chinese American and my other nephews are Indian American. And so it's important for my children that are Caucasian to embrace all the different things. We have the best food at parties. Let me just tell you! Because we come from such a mishmash of, of culture and it makes us bond over food and, and different cultural experiences. So it can be a really great thing when we expose children and youth. And like Alaina said at a very young age and it stirs that curiosity to maybe travel and to see the world and try new languages and listen to new music from other cultures that you would never normally listen to in your normal bubble of your everyday life. Right. Um, tell us more about how, and when we need diverse books got started?

Caroline:

Well, so we actually started as a hashtag on Twitter, # We Need Diverse Books. This is back in 2014. So I think it was earlier in that year the Book Con book festival released its panel of speakers and they all were, were white and a lot were white men. And so We Need Diverse Books came about as a sort of way of saying like, Hey, you know, we, we want diversity and what we're reading and we're here. And we're writing the books. We want to write the books and we want to change the , the children's publishing landscape to reflect our world. And it just took off. I wasn't involved at that early, very early stage. We had a team of co-founders who put it together, but it sort of trending on Twitter. I feel like Twitter was just sort of that alchemy moment that brought together people from all over the world that otherwise would never have connected. Um, and that's how WNDB really got its start. And then we incorporated as a 5O1 C3 non- profit and we now run 12 initiatives that address, you know, how do we make publishing a more inclusive space?

Shelly:

Was it really well received amongst teachers and educators? Or was it coming from the children and the families and the parents themselves?

Caroline:

Yeah, I would say it was teachers, educators , um, families who were able to get their kids involved. What's neat is if you go back to look at some of those first tweets, we asked people to write down like what We Need Diverse Books means to you. And so people would write it out in pieces of paper, they'd hold it, they'd have their kids hold it, or, you know, their students. It was, I would say a lot of, we got a lot of our initial support from teachers and librarians who serve communities that are diverse and they, it was so hard for them sometimes to find books that looked like their kids. Alaina am I missing anything?

Alaina:

I don't think so. I , I didn't get involved with WNDB until 2015 about a year after the organization was founded. But I think that you've covered everything about how it got started and it really has just grown since then. And I remember even when I was just a volunteer, how passionate everyone was we used to have monthly Twitter chats where we would interact and engage with diverse authors and illustrators and publishing professionals and the community loved them. I mean, the community was just so thrilled to rally behind WNDB. And I've only seen that increase over the last few years.

Shelly:

I have to ask you Alaina, how did the panel receive this concept of more diversity and inclusion in children's book writing from diverse authors and illustrators?

Alaina:

I actually don't know. Caroline do know how Book Con reacted to WNDB?

Caroline:

I think they did end up changing some of their programming and there was a WNDB panel that they added. And that was, you know, I didn't get to go to, unfortunately I had just had my first kid early that year, but that was definitely one of the first rallying points for the t eam.

Shelly:

Sometimes when they are so used to doing something this way, the idea of doing a 180 and doing something completely different, sometimes it hits a wall where they don't move well, this is the way it was always done! And you know, you and Carolyn and Alaina can both say, well, that's not working for everybody! So tell us about what topics that y our diverse and inclusive books cover?

Alaina:

Well at WNDB we don't publish books, but we do cover quite a number of books on our blog and social media and our blog and social media are really intended to supplement our programming and to help us promote authors and their works to a wider audience. So they're really meant as a way for people to find new diverse books and to find new authors to read. And we cover pretty much everything from picture books, through young adults, both fiction and nonfiction , and we've really been fortunate to be able to feature quite a number of authors across genres. We've, we've featured authors, who've written books in v erse, u m, as well as prose. Books that are intended as educational m aterials, such as stamps, u m, and books that are completely fictional and are just a fun and engaging r ide such as Legend Born by T racy Deonn. So we've really been fortunate to be able to do that on our b log a nd on social media to help authors who are debuting or who are still, u m, who are not debut authors, but who are in the middle of their careers and, and trying to move forward with their careers to have, have them be able to reach a wider audience. And it's honestly just been wonderful to see the reception to that. I think that readers are hungry for a variety of different books. There are definitely times at which readers are hungry for something specific. I think, you know, this year in general, there's been a lot of interest in racism and anti-racism materials and education, but I've also seen a huge interest in just books that showcase diverse characters, enjoying life, and being themselves and going on adventures and, you know, fighting bad guys and coming across magic and discovering that they have abilities. So it's really, it's really across the board at WNDB. We try to be reflective and representative of the wide variety of materials that authors are coming out with.

Shelly:

Do you ever hear back from your readers about what they like or what they want to hear more about in your books?

Alaina:

Absolutely. We get a lot of comments on social media and some comments on the blog as well. And sometimes even emails with readers who are interested in something specific. Perhaps we've, you know , written an article that touches a little bit on one topic, and they want to hear more about something specific. More about magic systems and indigenous and native writers work, or they want to hear more about disability, but disability and Sci -Fi as opposed to contemporary stories. So a lot of the times I'll look to those comments to think about what else we might be missing on the blog. If readers are specifically interested in something, we want to make sure that to whatever extent we're able to, we can bring those books to them and have them see that, you know, they might not think that there are a lot of books by disabled authors in the h orror category, but there are more than they think, and we can help introduce them to those.

Shelly:

What kind of disability related books are in your catalog at We Need Diverse Books?

Alaina:

Well, I mean, that's really all books that we've recommended in some way or featured on the blog or featured on social media through Q and A's. Um, book recommendation lists are our story app feature stories, opinion pieces. So we've really tried to cover the gamut of what's out there from memoirs and also educational materials and variety of different genres , um, across the board. I think that, especially in YA, there are a lot of sub genres, so, you know, there's fantasy, YA there's Sci-Fi YA. And we're really trying to make sure that with regard to disability, we're able to cover all of that because some people are interested in talking about that with their really young toddlers. And then they're , you know, teenagers who are just looking to see themselves in a fun story.

Shelly:

And you also have a list of resources on your website for educators and parents alike. Is that correct?

Alaina:

We do. Yes. We have, we have quite a few resources on our website and we're currently in the process of working on a new website relaunch, and we've got a lot of resources for educators, parents, for writers and illustrators for publishers and booksellers. And all of those resources are really aimed at being centered around our mission.

Shelly:

What ages, you know , what is the youngest book ? And what's the oldest book that your authors write for?

Alaina:

We really cover the gamut of children's books from picture books and board books all the way through young adult and some adult books that are aimed at teen readers.

Shelly:

Oh, okay. And where do you find the authors and the illustrators to work with?

Caroline:

So it kind of varies by program. So for instance, we have a Walter Dean Myers grant, which is $2,000 for unpublished authors and illustrators. And generally people apply because they've heard about us on social media. For the most part, you know, we have a really robust following , um , Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Elena also runs our newsletter, which reaches thousands of people. So that's where a lot of people hear about our initiatives and when our application cycles open. And for another, we also run a scholarship program with Penguin Random House called a creative writing awards. And for that, because it's for high school seniors, we also reach out to different organizations that work with teenagers in particular. So we can really reach out to seniors and rising seniors to let them know about this opportunity. So it's kind of a bit of a mish- mash?

Shelly:

There's a lot of great opportunities for groups from different, you know , kiddos and youth from different areas to really tap into these grants and these resources to kind of get their, their writing career or their literacy career off the ground and start, or they're drawing careers. We want to hear more about, we need diverse books, but I think we're going to take a break and we'll be back with Caroline and Alaina.

AD:

Abilities in Motion is one of Pennsylvania's premier centers for independent living existing to educate support and promote individuals with disabilities. Our programs are focused on providing opportunities for individuals with disabilities to live independent self-determined lives, Abilities in Motion, advocates for local state and national laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities. We are proud to create innovative and sustainable solutions and set trends using multi focused approaches towards shaping national education, employment opportunities, in-home supports and healthcare that affects the lives of individuals with disabilities. For more information about programs and services, Abilities in Motion provides. Call (610) 376-0010, or visit our website at www.abilitiesinmotion .org .

Shelly:

And we're back listeners. This is your host Shelly Houser, and I'm with, We Need Diverse Books with Caroline Richmond and Alaina Levoie. How do you ladies find and promote these diverse books within the community?

Caroline:

Um , well Alaina mentioned the blog and social media. We have a really big reach on those platforms , um, our newsletter as well, that Alaina oversees , but when it comes to like the physical books themselves, we have a program called WNDB in the classroom. Where we provide classroom sets of diverse books to schools nationwide. In particular school low-income schools, we've given away over 20,000 books so far with many more to go. And just with the eye that a lot of teachers, librarians and educators need diverse books. And so many of them have pretty strapped funding at their schools. And also that when we give away a classroom set that way, they can really incorporate a single title into their library or their individual classroom. And so all the kids can have the same book. They can build their curriculum around. It have book clubs we're really loose as to how the winners of our books can use them. But that's usually how they're employed, book clubs, reading groups, sometimes teachers will kind of group together to share them. So, you know, more students at an individual school will have access to them.

Shelly:

You talked earlier about your scholarship programs, tell us about how the mentors work with the young writers and how they can apply to these scholarships.

Speaker 2:

I have a mentor ship program that goes by the calendar years. So we just actually announced the 2021 mentors. And it's our biggest group yet? Elena it's like 16 this year, right?

Alaina:

Like16. Yes. Yeah.

Caroline:

And a lot of our core programs are , um, they have to have US-based applicants just because of how we can give grants, but because the mentorship program , um, it just connects aspiring authors and illustrators with professional in the field. You know, a published writer. Sometimes we've had editors participate, we're able to take mentees across the world. And I think this year is the most diverse when it comes to location. Um, there's like a few different countries represented , right? And this crop Alaina?

Alaina:

There are, yes.

Caroline:

Um , so basically over the course of a calendar year, these mentees will work with their mentors on, on their books and they will refine them, get edits and, you know, more revisions down the road. And the mentors also help the mentees, you know, prepare to get published, maybe to find an agent and an editor. We typically open to applications for that in the Fall. Um, and it's, it's pretty straightforward of a application. We asked for some biographical info, as well as, you know, uploading some sample pages. And then we have a robust judging process to whittle down the applicants down to the top. Usually it's 10 this year at 16.

Shelly:

So besides growing this program of young writers and illustrators, where else do you see? We Need Diverse Books expanding and growing in the years to come?

Caroline:

We have a couple of new initiatives coming up that I can't talk about publicly, but please definitely check our social media newsletter in the upcoming months. I say one area that we're making some inroads in is working on getting more publishers to publish diverse books for adults. Our main focus has been on children's literature in it. I think it always will be in a lot of ways, that's our hearts, but there's been a lot of clamor that, you know, the adult sphere needs more diversity. So hopefully we're going to move a little bit in that direction as well.

Shelly:

So the big kids need empathy and diversity and inclusion as well. I completely agreed . That's funny. I know you ladies have both mentioned some of your social media outlets, but could you recap for our listeners all the different outlets that they have? Because I want them to be able to find out more about We Need Diverse Books and how to be authors and illustrators with your company.

Alaina:

Yeah. You can follow us on a variety of different platforms. Our website is Diverse Books.org. We're also on Twitter at Diverse Books. We're on Instagram at We Need Diverse Books and we're on Facebook at Diverse Books as well. And we do also have a growing YouTube channel as well. And our blog is attached to our website at www.diversebooks.org. And there's a place on our website where you can sign up for our newsletter, which is typically about once a month and comes out with everything that WNDB has for news. But we also like to provide resources. So you'll find in there news from publishers who are seeking manuscripts or job opportunities in the publishing world, news about diverse books being optioned for TV and film or coming out. So it's just a really a good place to keep in the loop of everything that's going on in diversity in publishing.

Shelly:

Perfect. Thank you so much. Well, folks that wraps it up for today's episode of DisAbility Talks. Thanks to Caroline and Alaina for joining me today and educating us more on the importance of diverse books and what is available to the youth of all ages.

Caroline:

Thank you for having us.

Alaina:

Thank you so much.

Shelly:

Absolutely. My pleasure. And to my listeners,Thanks for listening in. Be sure to hit that like and subscribe button. So you get notifications every time we release a new episode of disability talks,

Music:

[inaudible]

Outro:

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of disability. Talks want to keep the conversation going then visit our website at www.abilitiesinmotion .org or connect with us on social media. And remember don't dis my ability .