Varian Johnson: A Better World

Guest Post by Austin Author Varian Johnson

This is the fourth week in a series of author guest posts about diversity in children’s literature and the BookPeople Modern First Library initiative. For more about BookPeople’s Modern First Library initiative, and for more recommendations of wonderful new and classic picture books to read, visit

Previous posts in this series:

Meghan G., Kids book buyer: Introducing BookPeople’s Modern First Library
Chris Barton: A Modern First Library List
Chris Barton: Loved, valued, unique? Yes. Center of the universe? No.
Cynthia Leitich Smith: Books as mirrors
Cynthia Leitich Smith: This book is for you
Liz Garton Scanlon: Soul reflecting 101
Liz Garton Scanlon: Fear No Difference
Liz Garton Scanlon: All the World Is All of Us
Don Tate: When I Began to Read, I Began to Exist
Don Tate: Maybe It’s Just Plain Fate
Varian Johnson: Diversity for Our Youngest Readers


Prior to college, I grew up in a world that wasn’t very multiethnic. My community was made up of black people and white people—there was very little “other.” Sure, I was aware of people of other ethnicities and nationalities, but it wasn’t until college that I really learned that there was a difference between people of Japanese and Korean descent. That someone from Puerto Rico had different cultural norms than someone from Mexico. That there were huge differences between Egyptians and Nigerians and South Africans.

My daughter’s world will be totally different from mine. Her school is like a mini-United Nations—she’s already seen more diversity first-hand at three than I had by sixteen. Likewise, the books available to her better reflect this diversity. I love that she’ll have more access to learning about herself and her classmates in a way not available to me when I was her age. When her generation is of age and ready to “rule the world”, they’ll be starting with a much better understanding of each other. This, I hope, will make the world a much better, and much safer, place to live.


Varian Johnson is the author of four novels, including The Great Greene Heist, a Publishers Weekly Best Summer Book of 2014. His novels for older readers include My Life as a Rhombus, named to the Texas Library Association Tayshas High School Reading List and the New York Public Library “Stuff for the Teen Age” list, and Saving Maddie, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book.

Varian was born in Florence, South Carolina, and attended the University of Oklahoma, where he received a BS in Civil Engineering. He later received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Varian now lives outside of Austin, TX with his family.

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