Growing up it was always frustrating that many book characters I aspired to be like were often nothing like me. Say, for example, the pretty, popular girl who got the guy of her dreams in a romantic novel, or the handsome white boy who saved the day in an action story. None of these protagonists showed much diversity of any kind. Now, don’t get me wrong, many of these characters are still funny, strong, and inspiring heroes. Plus, there are definitely many authors whose characters defied this standard. However, there’s no denying that there is a lack of diversity in today’s young adult novels. A majority of the lead characters are white, showcasing few other ethnic backgrounds. Many characters are described with flawless appearances and feel unrealistic and un-relatable. While the personalities of these characters are great, it is hard for the diverse youth of today to find someone to relate to within their favorite teen books.
This year, a group on Tumblr sought to change that. Their blog titled “We Need Diverse Books” talks about the lack of diversity in youth novels inaccurately representing the world’s population. That’s why they decided to create the twitter movement that swept the world. They decided that on May 2nd, people on twitter could tweet using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks because _______ and then fill in the blank with why diverse books are important to them.
What started as a small movement ended up trending worldwide (tweeted 160 million times) and starting a brand new phenomenon with many of your favorite YA authors.
Check out some pictures below that people tweeted about why they think “We Need Diverse Books”!
The movement not only promotes the use of racially diverse characters, but characters who aren’t afraid to be themselves, who aren’t just “popular”, who are of different religions or gay. Teens have responded with how diversity representation has made a difference: In Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series, she introduced one of YA’s favorite couples “Malec”. By writing about a gay couple, Clare received messages from gay readers who have told her about how she has helped them be more comfortable about themselves. There’s also Sharon M. Draper’s novel Romiette and Julio about the struggles faced by a racially diverse couple that many couples can relate to today. Icons by Margaret Stohl tells the story of a Latino protagonist. Not only do these great books give diverse teens someone to relate to, but they also expose people to other cultures. They allow teens to be more accepting, and learn to stand up against discrimination and bullying.
Many authors fear about writing about characters that aren’t like them. Author Malinda Lo gives this advice, “Want to write a character of color, but scared you’ll get it wrong? Do it anyway.” It’s better to write about diverse characters and make a few mistakes then not write about them at all, that is what research is for. Part of the job that comes with writing is writing about things you don’t know- that’s what makes writing so fun!
So this is a call to authors and readers: read/write about something new, something different. Step out of your boundaries and expose yourself to the diversity that makes this world such an amazing, unique place! And go on Twitter to share with the world why you think “We Need Diverse Books”.
If you want to check out the campaign or find out about some diverse books in YA check out the official website for We Need Diverse Books: weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com
To find more statistics about diversity representation in children’s novels and to read some people’s tweets check out this article by the Huffington Post.