This is the second month in a series of author guest posts about diversity in children’s literature and the BookPeople Modern First Library initiative. We’ve enjoyed many posts by local Austin authors and now look forward to sharing guest posts written by national authors. For more about BookPeople’s Modern First Library initiative, and for more recommendations of wonderful new and classic picture books to read, visit bookpeople.com.
Previous posts in this series:
Varian Johnson: A Better World
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
When Chris and Meghan invited me to participate in this blog series, what sold me was the program title. Modern First Library. It’s a great title, but it also spoke directly to two of the most bothersome questions that I encounter as an author/illustrator passionate about new and diverse books.
Question #1: Everything is just a rehash of the classics! And those were so good! People should just read those. Why bother to read something new?
I love the classics. Believe me, my favorite books are Little Women, Charlotte’s Web…heck, I love Anne of Green Gables so much that I made a pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island!
But we need new, modern books as well. The most obvious reason, of course, is the need to reflect the statistics of our changing society. However, I like to think there is a need even beyond that.
Many years ago, I was a student studying in Rome, Italy. In the middle of incredibly busy, dirty street stood a famous sculpture dating from the Renaissance. The exposure to the weather and pollution was causing it to discolor and crumble, most likely a far cry from what it had originally looked like.
“That is so sad!” I said to an Italian. “That sculpture is dying!”
He looked at me in shock. “Everyday, people see that sculpture,” he said. “It’s a part of this world, changing with it. That sculpture is living.”
I’ve thought about that conversation for a long time. And slowly, I’ve come to see that to me, new stories, and books are like that sculpture. They are adapted for each generation, told and retold over and over again. Stories change with time, slowly transforming with the world it is a part of. We and our children should read these stories because they are part of the fabric that make up our current world and because reading these new stories is what keeps literature relevant…and alive.
Question #2: Is it really that important to have diverse books? When I was a kid, I didn’t see my (fill in the blank here) and I’m just fine.
This is a question I get fairly often, even from family members. And I always reply that I’m happy that the lack of diverse books was something that didn’t affect them. But, when I was a kid, there weren’t seatbelts and I’m fine. When I was kid, people smoked in airplanes and I’m fine. When I was a kid, there weren’t bicycle helmets and…
To be clear, I do not mean that a horrific injury is anywhere on the same level and I do NOT mean to imply that there should be some sort of mandatory reading of diverse books.
What I do mean is if the lack of diverse books didn’t affect you, you are one of the lucky ones.
All you have to do is scroll through the photos of the WeNeedDiverseBooks site and you’ll see there are plenty of people who are and were affected, many in heartbreaking ways. I, myself, was so affected that it’s my job and passion now.
And, also, maybe, you weren’t affected because it’s hard to miss something that you didn’t know could’ve existed. In my book, Starry River of the Sky, I write about the legend of the Moon Lady who can grant your most secret wish. It can be a wish so secret that you, yourself, might not even know you have it. But when she grants your wish, when your most secret wish comes true, it is a revelation.
That is what diverse books are. They are the wishes that many readers don’t know they have. They are for the readers who finally see themselves:
and for readers who will see outside of themselves:
(taken from WeNeedDiverseBooks: http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com/)
So, you can see why the Modern First Library appealed to me. The books that I am so passionate about are for every modern child, they are the stories that have been included for their time and for the world they will grow up in.
Welcome a Modern Library in your house! For the Modern First Library (with hope that there will be a Modern Second and Third library for older readers!), here are some of my personal favorite picture books I hope you will consider:
1. Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth By Emily Haynes
2. Wait, Wait by Hatsue Nakawaki
3. When the Moon Forgot by Jimmy Liao
4. Ruby’s Wish By Shirim Yim Bridges
5. Hiromi’s Hands By Lynne Barasch
6. Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic by Ginnie Lo
7. Apple Pie Fourth of July By Janet Wong
8. Take Me Out to the Yakyu by Aaron Meshon
9. Brush of the Gods by Lenore Look
10. The House Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in China by Ed Young
Grace Lin is the author and illustrator of picture books, early readers and middle grade novels. Grace’s 2010 Newberry Honor book WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON was chosen for Al Roker’s Today Show Kid’s Book Club and was a NY Times Bestseller. LING & TING, Grace’s first early reader, was honored with the Theodor Geisel Honor in 2011. An Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award nominee for the US, most of Grace’s books are about the Asian-American experience because she believes, “Books erase bias, they make the uncommon everyday, and the mundane exotic. A book makes all cultures universal.” Her next book, LING & TING: TWICE AS SILLY will be out this fall and she is hard at work on another novel. See more about Grace and her work at www.gracelin.com or her blog http://www.gracelinblog.com