|Image: We Need Diverse Books|
"You've got to be taught
To hate and FEAR
You've got to be taught from year to year
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught."
Mass media/social media are frighteningly effective at teaching young people precisely this polarization, which reinforces a victim/victor mentality, helplessness, anger, zero-sum resolutions, and a "them vs us" view of life. This has been so effective, in my opinion, because it's fully immersive, surrounding small humans with vitriol.
My hope for combating those messages lies in providing equally immersive experiences with openmindedness, generosity, selflessness, and, above all, empathy. Lending another a hand doesn't weaken us, but strengthens both, and even those who view the action. That's already happening on several fronts, including Ellen Degeneres's long-running "BE KIND TO ONE ANOTHER" campaign, as well as the broad coverage of massive outpourings of love and support in the Women's March and protests of travel bans.
An ideal immersion experience for young people is found in reading, in the empathetic process of losing ourselves in the lives of others. This happens in many ways, but two are worth considering more closely. We readers are strengthened by recognizing ourselves in characters and experiences that reflect our own lives. Even more powerful, though, are the opportunities to "walk in another's shoes" when those shoes, or sandals, or bare ground paths lead us far beyond our individual, limited experiences. When we make those journeys we realize that there, too, we can recognize ourselves.
The Washington Post ran an important article about proactively teaching/leading middle grade readers to a more inclusive and empowering approach based on KINDNESS.
But this is a blog about picture books. We, as in "mainstream Americans", seem very open to reading stories of European immigrants, ones that reflect our own more distant immigrant pasts and feature characters who resemble us in physical and cultural ways. Sadly, this attitude has played out in the book-producing industry in the past, resulting in fewer selections for adults to actively share or for young readers to discover on their own.
That has begun to change in recent years. You can explore a few of those more recent releases (here). Sometimes the focus of the books is subject-specific, and in other cases the books merely portray universal stories with images and details that reflect the wide world in which we live. An ever-expanding community of authors, illustrators, agents, editors, publishers, and industry professionals are actively working to expand the quality diverse literature available through #We Need Diverse Books (#WNDB). Check it out.
Every voice matters.
In an effort to support and expand Muslim voices, to allow young people to see themselves in the lives of ALL others, agents Cindy Uh and Clelia Gore launched a challenge to other agents for open submissions by MUSLIM authors. Read more about their campaign here, and please pass on the information to those you know who may feel their stories are unwelcome, or only suited to a narrow market.
Every voice matters.
Every story matters.
Shape positive values and views of the world one book at a time.