Monday, May 20, 2013

Writing, Illustrating & Publishing Diverse Books

Last Thursday, I got to attend this great panel, hosted by Charlesbridge and the Children's Book Council as part of Children's Book Week:
"Diversity on the Page, Behind the Pencil, and in the Office: A Discussion with Children’s Book Creators and Editors"

Moderated by Ayanna Coleman,
CBC Diversity Committee

Mitali Perkins, author
London Ladd, illustrator
Katie Cunningham, Editor, Candlewick Press
Alyssa Mito Pusey, Senior Editor, Charlesbridge Publishing
Monica Perez, Executive Editor, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
What a treat!

The discussion opened with the question,
What's your definition of "diversity," why is it important in children's books,  and how is this reflected in your work?
Other topics mentioned were the wide range of diversity issues (class, sexuality, disabilities, etc., in addition to race, class and gender); the experience of writers and illustrators of color in being pigeon-holed as representatives of their particular cultures; and the question of color-blindness. There was a good discussion of the challenge of increasing the diversity of staffing in children's publishing due to low salaries, especially for internships and entry-level jobs.

Here are a handful of gems I collected from the treasure trove of shared thoughts:
  •  In describing characters with disabilities, use "person-first language," i.e. a person with a certain condition, not someone who is identified by that characteristic.  - Katie Cunningham      (It occurs to me that this applies to all kinds of differences. Each person is so much more than any one of her/his group identities.)
  • Before you write or illustrate outside of your own racial or cultural experience, "cross the border yourself, and hold some babies over there." - Mitali Perkins
  • "It's still a problem that we view these [multicultural] books differently," not as books for everyone, anytime.  - Monica Perez
  • Don't just portray the outside of diverse characters and situations; "make it alive, beyond this," (gesturing to his skin). - London Ladd
  • "Everyone has to do the research." Just because you're a member of a particular group, "you aren't automatically the authentic voice." - Alyssa Mito Pusey                                                          


Carol Baldwin said...

Great advice. I need some babies to hold, and more...Thanks for sharing.

Anne Sibley O'Brien said...

I love Mitali's comment. A sound-bite that is full of substance, conveying a complex idea so vividly.