Today Only: Matching Donation Challenge from Andrea Brown Literary Agency

by We Need Diverse Books

Our end-the-year fundraiser has been going strong, thanks to all of you!

However, our fundraiser is not over yet. We still need your help to fund our programs that put more diverse books into children’s hands. As of today, We Need Diverse Books has raised over $24,000. To help us meet our goal of $30,000, our friends at Andrea Brown Literary Agency has issued a matching donation challenge.

Today only, the Andrea Brown Literary Agency will match donations up to $2000.

Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Here’s how you can help We Need Diverse Books meet this matching donation challenge:

  • Make a tax-deductible gift Via PayPal.
  • If you prefer to mail a check:
    • Please make your check to  “We Need Diverse Books” and mail to:  
      10319 Westlake Drive, #104
      Bethesda MD 20817-6403
    • And send an email to to let us know your check amount

All donations received today, November 28, 2016 between 12PM and 3PM Eastern will count towards our Andrea Brown Literary Agency challenge.

For live updates on the challenge, follow us on social media:

Will you help us meet the challenge?

Inspired by today’s matching donation challenge? If you’d like to offer a matching donation, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact Thien-Kim Lam at

Image courtesy of Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

WNDB 2016 End of Year Fundraiser

by We Need Diverse Books

We’re just past the midway point of WNDB’s 2016 end of year fundraiser. So far, we’ve raised a little over $20,000 so we’re two-thirds toward our $30,000 goal. But we need your help to get the rest of the way.

We are thrilled to have numerous authors commit to matching donations. Gayle Forman offered a $5000 matching donation and our supporters gave generously for a total of $10,000. Heidi Heilig’s promise of a $1500 match led to a total $3000 (her gift plus matching). Heidi’s and several upcoming match commitments are directed to our highly successful WNDB Internship Grant Program.

But non-directed gifts during this end of year fundraiser are very, very welcome as well. Here are the ways your donations will fund greater diversity in children’s literature so that all children can see themselves in the pages of a book:

If you’d like to offer a matching donation either directed to a particular program or as a general donation, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact Thien-Kim Lam.

If you’d just like to give, we have two ways of donating during this fundraiser. You can:

  • Bid on our silent auction
    • Where we’re auctioning off autographed books and art, author and editorial critiques, and more
  • Make a direct gift
    • Via PayPal or
    • Via check made out to “We Need Diverse Books” and mailed to:

10319 Westlake Drive, #104
Bethesda MD 20817-6403

Speaking of the silent auction, we’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who donated books and services. We’re very grateful for the generous in-kind donations from these authors, illustrators, editors, and agents in support of equity in children’s publishing.

Alex Gino
Beth Phelan
Cheryl Klein
Chris Appelhans
Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Dhonielle Clayton
Gayle Forman
Grace Lin
Gwenda Bond
Jo Knowles
Joan Paquette
Renee Ahdieh
Kat Yeh
Kate Messner
Kathi Appelt
Kekla Magoon
Kelly Barnhill
Laura Ruby
Lisa Yee
Madcap Retreats
Martha Brockenbrough
Meg Medina
Nicola Yoon
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Phoebe Yeh
Karen Sandler
Roshani Chokshi
Soman Chainini
Sona Charaipotra
Stacy Whitman
Vera Brosgol
Victoria Marini
Zareen Jaffrey


We Need Diverse Books is Giving Books to Schools

by We Need Diverse Books

We Need Diverse Books is excited to announce the opening of the application period for its 2016 WNDB™ in the Classroom program in which schools can apply for boxes of free books. This year, two titles are available: the Walter Award winning and NYT bestseller young adult book ALL AMERICAN BOYS by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely or the middle grade anthology FLYING LESSONS, edited by Ellen Oh (a starred selection from Booklist, Kirkus & SLJ).

Educators and librarians will need to apply here for 36 copies of the book of their choice. The books can be used for any educational purpose in a classroom or school library, or given away to students. They may not be sold. Priority will be given to schools with 60% free or reduced price lunch eligibility. Only one box of books will be awarded per school.

A teacher’s guide will also be made available so educators can discuss the novel with their students. We’ll also choose one classroom to win a free Skype visit from the authors!

At this time, we are only able to ship books within the United States. Selected applicants will be notified early 2017.

We Need Diverse Books™ Announces partnership with Madcap Retreats for diversity-themed author retreats

by We Need Diverse Books

October 20, 2016 (New York) The We Need Diverse Books™ team is proud to partner with Madcap Retreats to run a series of diversity-themed author retreats.

The partnership will present two affordable, workshop-based retreats for 2017. Writing Cross-Culturally will focus on how one can diversify their writing and learn to write cross-culturally responsibly, while the Diverse Aspiring Authors retreat will give authors from marginalized backgrounds craft workshops, industry 101 information, and ways to navigate the roadblocks of the current publishing climate.

“We Need Diverse Books is joining forces with Madcap to address a real need – lifting up marginalized voices while also showing writers how to write outside of their communities in a careful, diligent and thorough way,” says We Need Diverse Books COO Dhonielle Clayton. “The workshops will be guided by published authors who’ve tackled these issues with grace, offering feedback and mentorship in an intimate, low-key setting. We’ll also incorporate sessions that focus on polishing and marketing your work.”

Madcap is a boutique workshop and retreat company run by author-entrepreneur Natalie C. Parker (Director of Madcap Retreats), and has offered retreats featuring authors like Renee Ahdieh, Kiersten White, Brandy Colbert, Julie Murphy, Justina Ireland, Victoria Schwab, and more.

“Workshops and retreats are powerful tools, but they can be difficult to access. The goal of Madcap Retreats is to bring writers and mentors into creative community in structured, small-group settings while also keeping costs reasonable. We are excited to be partnering with WNDB to broaden our scope and continue learning,” says Madcap Retreats Director Natalie C. Parker.

The first spring Writing Cross Culturally retreat will kickoff in March 2017. It will be headlined by Daniel Jose Older, Leigh Bardugo, and Nicola Yoon. A summer Diverse Aspiring Authors will follow. The second Writing Cross Culturally retreat in 2018 will be headlined by Laurie Halse Anderson and Marie Lu.

We Need Diverse Books™ is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 2014 to address the lack of diverse representation in the children’s publishing industry. More about the organization is available at

For further information contact or visit


by We Need Diverse Books

Change. Progress. Understanding. The biggest word that gets in the way of the first two and undermines the latter, is ignorance. Ignorance. It’s a loaded word, and certainly one that the Deaf and hard of hearing community is working hard to eradicate. Plato’s mentor, Socrates (d. 399 BC), and Plato’s student Aristotle (d. 322 BC), both shared Aristotle’s belief that:
“Men who are born deaf, in all cases remain speechless. They thus become senseless and incapable of reason.”

From the moment Aristotle claimed that the deaf were incapable of speech, learning, or being educated down to the 21st century opinions and inaccuracies of Alexander Graham Bell’s that still plagues the Deaf community; the deaf minority has encountered ignorance and discrimination for more than a few centuries.

While in the 21st century there has been recent celebrities helping to pave the way to an understanding of what it means to be deaf or hard of hearing, there is still much that can be done. Children’s literature has made some great strides in helping the hearing community to understand, in rare small doses, what deaf culture is, and what our challenges and triumphs are.

EL DEAFOGrowing up, I didn’t have EL DEAFO; there was a scarcity of children’s literature that encompassed that world. In fact, there was even less that explained my hard of hearing world to me. I would have loved to relate to a character like myself, especially because I was the only hard of hearing/deaf person in my family, which is the case with most deaf children. More than 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents and only 2% have access to Sign Language. As a statistic, I had no one in my immediate circle that identified with my deafness. I didn’t know right away that I was an heir to this rich, amazing, animated language and culture. That realization came through children’s literature that my parents introduced me to. At least, what little they could find.

The first book I read, now out of print, was I HAVE A SISTER AND MY SISTER IS DEAF. It was introduced to me through the popular television show, Reading Rainbow. While the main character is not deaf, the story revolves around the experience of having a deaf sibling. It was refreshing to have that perspective, especially since I was the only deaf sibling in my family.

IM DEAF AND ITS OKAYReally though, when it comes to picture books there have been roughly 1-2 books published every year or every other year between the years of 1976 and 1999. Titles like JAMIE’S TIGER (1978), I’M DEAF AND IT’S OKAY (1986), ROSA’S PARROT (1999), and SILENT OVSERVER (1993), to name just a few touching on the concept of what it is to be deaf.
From 2000 onward there seemed to be a slight jump in books published with characters that have a complexity and depth beyond their deafness, both in picture books, MG and YA. DAD AND ME IN THE MORNING (2014) is a tranquil recounting of waking early to catch the sunrise, and the wonder that the natural world enchants us with—all through the eyes of a hard of hearing child who uses ASL, voice, and lip reading to communicate. SECRET SIGNS: AN ESCAPE THROUGH THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (2003) tells the story of a deaf child who uses sign language to help guide and keep slaves safe on the Underground Railroad. GOODBYE TCHAIKOVSKY (2012) explores the life of an eleven year old master violinist who goes deaf at age twelve. READ MY LIPS, a YA novel, delves into the complex and sometimes interesting fortune of lip reading.

In all the books I have come across it was difficult to find characters who happen to be deaf, in a story which does not revolve around deafness or the concept of it. The closest I came to fitting that need was Brian Selznick’s WONDERSTRUCK (2015). It is a book like Selznick’s—with a plot that isn’t strictly focused on what it is to be deaf—that captures my mind and enchants me. Among the many deaf and hard of hearing I’ve asked, including myself, most of us want two things: deaf characters across the spectrum in mainstream books, and plots that do not revolve around the concept of deafness as a disability. There is an attitude among the Deaf/deaf community, “Deaf can!” We are proud, successful, and capable, and we’d like that to reflect in literature.

Angela Dahle is hard-of-hearing, and proud to be. Her articles are published in The Friend. She also writes picture books, MG novels, and is learning American Sign Language.

South Asian Voices Roundtable: Part 2

by Hannah Gomez

Yesterday, we featured Part One of this series by Padma Venkatraman. This roundtable continues today with her remaining questions.

Padma Venkatraman
Padma Venkatraman

Padma Venkatraman: I’m American – and the American part of my identity is something I have to keep reminding people of. I’m often told I’m not “really American” and/or that my work isn’t “American enough” to appeal widely to readers in this country. This leaves me wondering if my daughter will be labeled American or South Asian, or both, or neither. It also makes me curious about what other authors think of the role of nature versus nurture in the world of writers and writing, so I asked:

The APALA award and the South Asia Book Award are two major prizes awarded to young people’s literature with Asian themes. Both are open to authors of all backgrounds. What do you see as some of the pros/cons arising from this?

Kashmira Sheth: I am happy that the APALA Award as well the newly created South Asian Book Award exist. These awards highlight books with Asian themes and shed light on that region of the world.

I do feel that opening up the awards to authors of all backgrounds can be a little tricky. If the author is outside of a culture, s/he should have background and knowledge about the culture s/he is portraying and not depend on stereotypes and popular media conceptions of the region. At times I have read books set in South Asia written by outsiders that have made me cringe or shake my head.  On the other hand, there are wonderful books written by outsiders that have been emotionally satisfying and culturally genuine.

Mitali Perkins: I prefer it. I would never ask people to show an ethnic credential before I allow them to tell a story with Asian themes. How many genes must one have to qualify if we require a racial/ethnic identity to tell stories? I’ve blogged about this before, and stick with my opinion. In an intermingling society where more and more of us are far from Malfoy-esque when it comes to “purity of blood,” which books will qualify for an Asian-American identity-based award? The bottom line for me, though, is power. Most Asian-Americans don’t face the same kind of power squeeze out of the American mainstream as blacks, Native peoples, and Hispanics.  The intersection of class/education/race might be the place to focus instead of just race on its own when it comes to championing voices from the margins.

Uma Krishnaswami
Uma Krishnaswami

Uma Krishnaswami: If the intent of an award is to encourage new writers, then it makes sense to restrict authorship to voices that are underrepresented. In an ideal world there should be room in the marketplace for insider narratives as well as those from the outside. But books about South Asia have for years tended to be books about social problems. These have been privileged, and they have typically been written by white writers. Not that they are not true or worthy, but do they have to be the single story of the region? So I think we have a history to get over. If the awards committees want to push the quality of the books beyond worthiness to reflecting the richness and dynamism of the region and its diasporic people, then there’s some thinking that needs to go into questions of whose stories are being told and why.

All of which is good reason for me, mostly, not to think about awards and the politics swirling around them. I have too many stories left to write still, and an increasing awareness that there is simply not enough time!

Rachna Gilmore: Well, I guess the pro is that it opens the field and promotes an egalitarian approach. The con is that it can perpetuate the misappropriation and misrepresentation of non-western cultures by white writers, which has been the case historically. However, I firmly believe that writers must write about what moves them, what they relate to and feel strongly about, even if it is about another culture. The onus is on the writers to ensure due diligence to depict that culture accurately. The onus is on readers and reviewers to speak up if there are wild inaccuracies or misrepresentation. The award committee, I am sure, will be skilled enough to distinguish which books are worthy of inclusion and which aren’t. I have read books by white writers, who have written beautifully and insightfully of characters from eastern cultures. I have also read books by such writers that were a travesty.

Rukhsana Khan
Rukhsana Khan

Rukhsana Khan: I think there’s a lot of white authors who have very good intentions but it’s really, really hard for them to make the leap and write about South Asians in a convincing manner.

I can count on one hand the number of books written by white authors, that I thought were ‘authentic’ to South Asian culture. So for the reasons I listed above, no I think it would be better to leave the APALA and SABA awards open to authors from those cultures.

Venkatraman: Often, even if we identify with a particular culture/ethnicity/group, we may vary, in so many ways (socio-economic status, for example). So, finally, I dared to ask about one of these differences–religion–because we so rarely speak about it, although it is a part of our diversity, and South Asian Americans have different faiths. This roundtable included authors informed by several spiritual/religious backgrounds, and they were brave enough to answer the question

Has your religion influenced your writing/writing life? Have editors/reviewers/readers commented on the influence of religion on your writing?

Khan: Oh definitely!

The fact that I wear hijab and am a practicing Muslim seems to require me to address Muslim issues. At this time of rampant Islamophobia and honestly just flat out HATE towards Muslims, it’s been really challenging! And yet totally necessary!

But it feels like I’m ‘pissing against the wind’. I make no secret about the fact that a lot of my writing has an agenda behind the story. It’s to humanize Muslims. But really I just want to tell some good stories! I’ve been required by the current political climate to try to do more.

I’m up against some considerable odds, and trying to tell good stories that happen to be about Muslims and that can still appeal to universal audiences, well it sure ain’t easy! What works in Muslim culture doesn’t always work in mainstream culture, and vice versa. And it doesn’t help that it has to get past all the white editors in the publishing establishment.

I think white editors are too polite to comment on the influence of religion in my writing. If the work doesn’t reinforce their ideas and perceptions of Islam and Muslims or the ideas and perceptions of what they know about western audiences or if the story doesn’t go the way they think it should they won’t usually comment, they’ll just say something like, “It’s not suitable for us. We wish you the best of luck…” blah blah blah. Honestly I can’t blame them. To say anything is a minefield. When I get those kind of comments, then I know that I haven’t been able to make the transition. I haven’t given the appropriate backstory/information/context for the story to work for mainstream audiences.

But I do think sometimes the white publishers and teachers and marketers underestimate children.

Kids have an altruistic streak. They want to know about other cultures. Often the kid readers themselves will tell me that the things they find most fascinating about my stories are the Islamic/religious aspects. It opens up a totally different world and way of thinking to them and they find it fascinating.

Sometimes I feel like I haven’t yet been able to transfer my light-hearted oral storyteller approach to my writing. I have no trouble connecting with any audience even white audiences in person. I can have them laughing and getting emotional and thinking all within the expanse of an hour! And my stories can do that too but sometimes kids or teachers are reluctant to crack my books open until they’ve seen me. Maybe after they’ve seen me, then they hear my voice when they read my words and they know better how to take them.

I don’t know for sure which is the case. It might be a combination of all the above. All I know is that I’ve got to keep trying.

Kashmira Sheth
Kashmira Sheth

Sheth: My religion has influenced my writing life. Growing up in India, not only the festivals and religious holidays but also everyday events and routines like storytelling, gathering flowers for my grandmother for her daily worship, doing yoga and pranayama, eating vegetarian diet, and feeding sadhus were based on Hindu philosophy. To me, Hinduism is a way of life. I don’t remember going to temples often but we lived and breathed the doctrine of dharma (duty), in everyday life. My grandfather taught me the Bhagwat Gita when I was seven and our correspondence over the nature of universe, reincarnation, and various paths of attaining liberation from the cycle of birth and death continued even after I came to this country to attend college.

So far my protagonists have been Hindus and their religion has played a part in their lives, just as mine has in my life. However, religion has been subtly woven into each story. From time to time, people have commented about it.

Perkins: Yes, I hope that my faith defines everything I do, including my writing. Haven’t received too many comments on the influence of religion on my writing. My guiding motto comes from Katherine Paterson: “The challenge for those of us who care about our faith and about a hurting world is to tell stories which will carry the words of grace and hope in their bones and sinews and not wear them like fancy dress.”

Mitali Perkins
Mitali Perkins

Krishnaswami: South Asian art, music, and story have all influenced me, and such a large part of that tradition is Hindu. Not all of it, but certainly the most ancient roots. I’m not religious at all in my daily practice, but the art, the architecture, the sacred geography of India is in my bones. My husband and I went hiking in Nepal a couple of years ago. I’d never been there before, yet I felt as if I’d gone home to those mountains. Their names, their stories, their symbolism ran so very deep; it was a startling and moving experience.

Editors and reviewers have mentioned religious influences when they’re talking about the retold traditional stories, less so in the context of my picture books or middle grade novels. Parents probably write to me most often about The Broken Tusk: Stories of the Hindu God Ganesha, which turns 20 this year, and of course I had a personal and religious connection to that book. Young readers mostly write to me about Book Uncle and Me or the Dini and Dolly books. In Book Uncle, I chose to make Yasmin Muslim. That fact only gets attention when her dad quotes an 18th century Tamil Sufi saint. In The Grand Plan to Fix Everything and the sequel, I think the only mention religion gets is that the town of Swapnagiri has a church, a temple, and a mosque—one each—and they sometimes compete against each other by sending prayers ripping out through the hills over their respective loudspeakers. So I suppose it depends on the book.

Gilmore: I don’t think I know of any reviews that have commented on the influence of religion in my writing. I don’t really have a strong affiliation with any religion. I know it is coy to say so, but I do prefer the term spiritual. My exposure to religion has been wide, from Christianity in the school I attended in India, to Theosophy through my grandfather, Sikhism, as well as Vedanta and Buddhism, the last two of which I perhaps most identify with in terms of religion.

In as far as religion/spirituality shapes and develops the person you are, my own values have crept into my writing. My book, Lights for Gita, was influenced more by a desire to depict a beautiful part of Indian culture, than to reflect the Hindu religion, though.

Rachna Gilmore
Rachna Gilmore

But I think that my spiritual values or awareness have crept into my writing at times. It’s inevitable. In Mina’s Spring of Colors, for instance, the grandfather discusses philosophies from Vedanta, greatly to Mina’s irritation. I’m sure too, that the general values that come through in my books, are informed in part by my spiritual leanings, although I didn’t consciously insert them there.

About the authors:

Rachna Gilmore is a Governor General’s Literary award-winning Canadian author of over twenty best-selling children’s books. Her titles include picture books such Island Morning, My Mother is Weird, The Flute, The Gita trilogy, and others. Her children’s novels include That Boy Red, The Trouble With Dilly, Mina’s Spring of Colors, A Group of One, and others. Rachna’s books have received multiple honours and awards and have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Born in India, Rachna has lived in Mumbai, London, England, Prince Edward Island, and currently lives in Ottawa, Canada, where she continues to plark – play, work and lark – at dreaming up weird and wonder-filled tales.

Rukhsana Khan is an award-winning author and storyteller. She was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and immigrated to Canada at the age of three. She grew up in a small town in southern Ontario and was ruthlessly bullied. When a grade eight teacher told her she was a writer, she thought the idea was crazy. Writers were white people. They were from England and America. Now she has twelve books published (one of which was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the 100 greatest children’s books in the last 100 years). She has appeared on television and radio lots of times, and has been featured at conferences and festivals around the world.

Uma Krishnaswami is the author of over twenty books for children, from picture books (Out of the Way! Out of the Way!, The Girl of the Wish Garden, and Monsoon) to middle grade novels (The Grand Plan to Fix Everything and The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic). Her story collection, The Broken Tusk, has been in print twenty years. Uma’s chapter book, Book Uncle and Me, won the Scholastic Asian Book Award and the Crossword award (India). Uma teaches Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Victoria, BC, Canada.

Mitali Perkins has written nine novels for young readers, including Rickshaw Girl (chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the top 100 books for children in the past 100 years) and Bamboo People (an American Library Association’s Top Ten Novels for Young Adults, starred in Publishers Weekly as “a graceful exploration of the redemptive power of love, family, and friendship.”) Her newest novel, Tiger Boy, is a Junior Library Guild selection. She has been honored as a “Most Engaging Author” by independent booksellers across the country and selected as a “Literary Light for Children” by the Associates of the Boston Public Library. Mitali was born in Kolkata, India before immigrating to the Bay Area with her family.

Kashmira Sheth writes picture books, middle grade novels, and young adult fiction. Her 9 books have received many awards and honors, such as the Asian/Pacific American Librarian Association Honor Award, the International Reading Association’s Notable Book for a Global Society and the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults. Kashmira was born and raised in India and comes from a family of storytellers. She studied science in college but her enjoyment of reading and sharing stories nudged her into writing.  Her latest picture book, >Sona and the Wedding Game, has received rave reviews, including a starred review in Kirkus: “Everyone will want to attend this wedding.”

Padma Venkatraman lived in 5 countries, worked as chief scientist on oceanographic vessels, and even spent time underwater before becoming an author. Her latest novel, A Time to Dance (Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin) was released to 5 starred reviews (Kirkus, Booklist, SLJ, VOYA and BCCB) and received numerous awards: ALA Notable, IRA Notable, Kirkus Best Book, NYPL Top 25, IBBY outstanding, etc. Her two earlier novels, Island’s End and Climbing the Stairs, were also released to multiple (7) starred reviews, were ALA/YALSA Best Books, Amelia Bloomer, CCBC and Booklist Editor’s Choices and won several other awards and honors. Venkatraman has spoken at Harvard and other universities; provided commencement speeches at schools; participated on panels at venues such as the PEN World Voices Festival; and been the keynote speaker at national and international conferences and literary festivals. Padma is American and lives in Rhode Island. Her blog is at

South Asian Voices: A Roundtable Discussion: Part One

by We Need Diverse Books

Introduction and Questions by Padma Venkatraman

Padma Venkatraman

Thanks, WNDB, for trusting me to host the South Asian Roundtable, and thanks, readers, for visiting again.As I pointed out recently, while judging SLJ’s Battle of the Books, this field is highly subjective. There are a lot of South Asian writers, and authors who aren’t ethnically South Asian, but write about South Asia (like Paula Yoo, whose wonderful nonfiction picture book Twenty-Two Cents won the South Asia Book award).

Unfortunately, I couldn’t include all of them here, so on my blog I’ve created a list of ethnically South Asian authors (diaspora) who’ve written kids books (such as Vivek Shraya, whose moving YA novel God Loves Hair won the Lambda Literary Award Honor). I’d be delighted if readers would email me (venkatraman dot Padma at gmail – you know the rest) and let me know who is missing, so I can update my list and make it as comprehensive as possible.

I very much appreciated all the thoughtful responses I received, that are listed below in rotating and reverse alphabetical order. Why? Because my last name starts with a V, and I end up being at the tail end of every list. And, I once read an article that claimed that people vote more often for names that are listed closer to the tops of list, because we grow up thinking what’s listed first is what ought to lead! Anyway, I decided to mix it up, in an attempt to give every author a chance to be first.

As an oceanographer, I define Eurasia as one continent (despite cultural differences, if you look at a map of the world, you’ll see it really is one contiguous landmass). Asia, to me, includes every country  “East” of the Caspian Sea. However, I was once told, long ago, and I won’t say quite how long ago, at an “Asian” student gathering, that I wasn’t Asian! So, I began by asking:

The word “Asian” seems to mean different things to different people. How do you define “Asian”?

Uma Krishnaswami
Uma Krishnaswami

Uma Krishnaswami: I define it geographically. For me Asia begins in Afghanistan and ends at the Pacific Ocean. And within that there are words of cultures, languages, religions, belief systems, art forms, stories, ways of thinking and being. I see South Asia as very much a part of Asia. You didn’t ask that, but I’m saying it anyway. What would Asia be without Buddhism, or India without tea?

Kashmira Sheth: I define Asian as anyone who is or traces her/his ancestors to the Asian continent.

Mitali Perkins: Anybody with ancestors from Asia who dwells in Asia. I affiliate more as an Asian American than simply as an Asian.

Rukhsana Khan: The first thing I think of when I hear “Asian” is Chinese, or that area of the world.

Mitali Perkins
Mitali Perkins

Rachna Gilmore: I try not to define. I think it depends on the context. Broadly, though, I’d consider the word “Asian” to refer to someone living in Asia. Or someone who identifies as having come from Asia. I very much believe in the right of each person to name themselves, to state their own identity. So someone who may have been born in Asia may not consider themselves Asian and vice versa. Asia is a huge continent though – it seems absurd to lump all the diversity under that one moniker.

Venkatraman: Growing up, I read many books that portrayed South Asian culture in a less than positive light, and in my opinion, this does still happen in modern books. And, while I’ve met marvelous people and made dear friends in each of the 5 countries I’ve lived in, I’ve experienced privilege, seen prejudice directed against others, and also borne the brunt of racism, sexism and religious chauvinism. So, I asked:

Have negative stereotypes of South Asians that you’ve encountered, either in books or in life, influenced your books or your writing?

Perkins: Not at all. I feel that we have been represented with respect in both adult and children’s fiction.

Rukhsana Khan
Rukhsana Khan

Khan: Yes! Absolutely!

For the longest while and even now to a certain degree, the stories about Muslim/Pakistani South Asians that get the most attention and marketing are those written by white feminist women authors.

It really enrages me when these authors basically take a western girl and plunk her down in a Muslim culture with very little reference to the Muslim cultural foundation she would have grown up with. And in a few of these books, the solutions the authors come up with for these oppressed girls is that they dress up as boys and run away. What does that say to girls in Muslim cultures?

And in one particular book, I was furious that her solution was for white Americans to come in and save the day! Good grief!

I think the books that become the most popular tend to be Western visualizations of what life is like in more conservative societies rather than stories actually written with more nuance from authors from the culture. I think that feminists have an agenda. It’s almost like a proxy war. They’ve been fighting misogyny in their wealthy western societies all their life, and making some considerable gains, and here they see these poor powerless girls in these developing countries and they, with every good intention, want to rush in and save them. But they only show one side of the equation.

While there is a LOT of misogyny in Pakistani and Afghan cultures–there’s no doubt about that!–there is also considerable chivalry. The first time I came across this dual aspect of Afghan culture was reading Naheed Hasnat’s Shooting Kabul. That book is written by an insider to the culture. She married an Afghan and coming from a Muslim background herself, she naturally understands the culture much better, less superficially than white feminists.

Although that being said my personal reaction to these authors I mentioned above varies considerably. Some authors appear to be opportunistic, capitalizing on their travels to South Asian countries, while others do genuinely care about the subject matter. But in terms of the way these negative stereotypes have influenced my books and writing life, well, basically they make me angry enough to keep going.

I probably wouldn’t have written Wanting Mor but for these books. I needed to write the other side of the story, and I’m very proud of the book.

And the anger and outrage these books have generated within me is something I’ve channeled into my writing, giving me the energy to put up with all the rejections and difficulties to keep going in my writing career. I’ve read, listened, watched and observed, and all those observations I bring to my own writing.

Kashmira Sheth
Kashmira Sheth

Honestly, if I could read the kind of books that show my culture in a positive light, then what would I need to write for???

Sheth: Personally I have not encountered negative stereotypes attitudes directed toward me because of my South Asian heritage. Maybe that is why none of my books have that theme.  I have, however, read many reports about discrimination and even violence against South Asians. One of the most tragic and disturbing ones was the attack on a gurdwara, a Sikh temple, in my home state of Wisconsin.  The attack took place during worship hours, resulting in many deaths and serious injuries. It, along with other reports of violence, have made me think deeply about stereotypes and how they may affect young people of the South Asian heritage.

Krishnaswami: I think I might have fallen into writing for young readers anyway. That was probably determined in my childhood. I was a little sponge, absorbing all the stories I could find. But I do remember, as an adult, when I began to think seriously about claiming writing, first as a secret indulgence, then an avocation, and finally as the work of my life. Back in 1994, representations of South Asia in American children’s literature were not so much negative stereotypes as flat-out missing. It was as if we didn’t exist. When I looked in the library, what I found was Rudyard Kipling. Nothing against Kipling, mind you. He was brilliant, and he certainly had his own demons to battle. But you’d think we were all long-ago, faraway, dead. I found Shirley Arora’s book, What Then, Raman? Well, that was better, although still long-ago and faraway, and with the obligatory white character serving as mentor. And I thought, Oh for crying out loud! I have a baby! He’s going to grow up brown in America. How am I going to face him when he begins to read?

Over the years, I’ve done my bit to write against the stereotypes, to turn typical tropes on their heads. What continues to bother me is a kind of hyper-awareness I see in editors and reviewers about “the audience.” Will the audience get this or that about my work? I get asked that from time to time. Well, the unstated assumption there is that the audience is white kids and they won’t get all this cultural flimflam. I see this as well in books by South Asian writers whose voices convey that stance of explaining. I cringe because I know they know, and they had to do it because they were edited into that stance. And I also know no reviewer’s going to pick that up. I’ve felt most liberated from this constraint with a couple of my books that were published first in India and then picked up by the wonderful people at Groundwood for North American editions. With those books, I could occupy that place of centrality Toni Morrison talks about. I could speak to young readers without having to stop my story to explain anything. Now here’s the funny thing. I’ve done two books this way with Groundwood, worked with a total of three editors there. Not one of them ever once raised that audience question. So I know there’s hope. It can be done with integrity, by trusting young readers.

Rachna Gilmore
Rachna Gilmore

Gilmore: Yes, inasmuch as all authors’ life experiences inform who they are, and influence the values they form, which inevitably shapes their writing. More specifically though, as a brown person of Indian heritage in a white world, I have, of course, experienced racism; both the active, vicious kind, although rarely that, as well as the more patronizing and labeling kind, born of stereotyping. I know much of it is simple misunderstanding and ignorance. It has fueled my desire to write in a way that builds bridges. I strongly feel that it is through fiction that we can cut through boundaries. When we read of characters of cultures that we have perceived of as “strange” or “other”, and when we identify with them through the magic of fiction, and recognize that at the core they are not really that different from us, that is when we start to relate to others simply as people. We drop our stereotyping assumptions and see that our common experiences as human beings are far more profound and real than any superficial differences of skin colour or cultural preferences.

In fiction, too, I encountered stereotypes of Indians, from the cringingly precious – I loathed Kipling, whose depiction of India bore no resemblance to the world I lived in, in Mumbai – to the outright racist, so carelessly depicted in western fiction, which was the only kind I had access to growing up in India. Enid Blyton was an example of that. Even L.M. Montgomery, whose Anne books were a huge favourite of mine, depicted people of Indigenous culture, as well as French Canadians, with an off-handed racism that was a part of her time. There were no books reflecting my life. None.

As an adult I came to understand that we need stories in which we can see ourselves reflected. So writing some of the books I did, focusing on Indian culture, was a way to redress the imbalances I knew existed, and which still exist, although to a lesser degree, in the literature available to our children today.

The South Asian Roundtable continues tomorrow with Part 2.

About the authors:

Rachna Gilmore is a Governor General’s Literary award-winning Canadian author of over twenty best-selling children’s books. Her titles include picture books such Island Morning, My Mother is Weird, The Flute, The Gita trilogy, and others. Her children’s novels include That Boy Red, The Trouble With Dilly, Mina’s Spring of Colors, A Group of One, and others. Rachna’s books have received multiple honours and awards and have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Born in India, Rachna has lived in Mumbai, London, England, Prince Edward Island, and currently lives in Ottawa, Canada, where she continues to plark – play, work and lark – at dreaming up weird and wonder-filled tales.

Rukhsana Khan is an award-winning author and storyteller. She was born in Lahore, Pakistan and immigrated to Canada at the age of three. She grew up in a small town in southern Ontario and was ruthlessly bullied. When a grade eight teacher told her she was a writer, she thought the idea was crazy. Writers were white people. They were from England and America. Now she has twelve books published (one of which was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the 100 greatest children’s books in the last 100 years). She has appeared on television and radio lots of times, and has been featured at conferences and festivals around the world.

Uma Krishnaswami is the author of over twenty books for children, from picture books (Out of the Way! Out of the Way!, The Girl of the Wish Garden, and Monsoon) to middle grade novels (The Grand Plan to Fix Everything and The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic). Her story collection, The Broken Tusk, has been in print twenty years. Uma’s chapter book, Book Uncle and Me, won the Scholastic Asian Book Award and the Crossword award (India). Uma teaches Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Victoria, BC, Canada.

Mitali Perkins has written nine novels for young readers, including Rickshaw Girl (chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the top 100 books for children in the past 100 years) and Bamboo People (an American Library Association’s Top Ten Novels for Young Adults, starred in Publishers Weekly as “a graceful exploration of the redemptive power of love, family, and friendship.”) Her newest novel, Tiger Boy, is a Junior Library Guild selection. She has been honored as a “Most Engaging Author” by independent booksellers across the country and selected as a “Literary Light for Children” by the Associates of the Boston Public Library. Mitali was born in Kolkata, India, before immigrating to the Bay Area with her family.

Kashmira Sheth writes picture books, middle grade novels, and young adult fiction. Her 9 books have received many awards and honors, such as the Asian/Pacific American Librarian Association Honor Award, the International Reading Association’s Notable Book for a Global Society and the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults. Kashmira was born and raised in India and comes from a family of storytellers. She studied science in college but her enjoyment of reading and sharing stories nudged her into writing.  Her latest picture book, Sona and the Wedding Game, has received rave reviews, including a starred review in Kirkus: “Everyone will want to attend this wedding.”

Padma Venkatraman lived in 5 countries, worked as chief scientist on oceanographic vessels, and even spent time underwater before becoming an author. Her latest novel, A Time to Dance (Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin) was released to 5 starred reviews (Kirkus, Booklist, SLJ, VOYA and BCCB) and received numerous awards: ALA Notable, IRA Notable, Kirkus Best Book, NYPL Top 25, IBBY outstanding, etc. Her two earlier novels, Island’s End and Climbing the Stairs, were also released to multiple (7) starred reviews, were ALA/YALSA Best Books, Amelia Bloomer, CCBC and Booklist Editor’s Choices and won several other awards and honors. Venkatraman has spoken at Harvard and other universities; provided commencement speeches at schools; participated on panels at venues such as the PEN World Voices Festival; and been the keynote speaker at national and international conferences and literary festivals. Padma is American and lives in Rhode Island. Visit her at and

This roundtable continues with Part 2.

We Need Diverse Books™ Announces Mentees in Newly Launched Program

by We Need Diverse Books

January 6, 2016 (New York, New York) – The We Need Diverse Books™ Mentorship Committee and mentors have confirmed selections for the inaugural Mentorship program. Of the nearly 300 applications received, five applicants have been chosen to work with award-winning authors and illustrators.

The winners are: Lisa Brathwaite, nonfiction mentee with Patricia Hruby-Powell; Deirdre D Havelock, picture book mentee with Nikki Grimes; Sun Jones, young adult mentee with Malinda Lo; Charlene Willing-McMannis, middle grade mentee with Margarita Engle, and Jacqueline Alcántara, illustration mentee with Carolyn Dee Flores.

Photos and bios of the mentors are available online. Additional mentee bios will be published later this month.

“The selection committee praised the high quality of the manuscripts received,” said Miranda Paul, chair of the WNDB™ Mentorship Committee. “Because so many deserving writers and illustrators applied, I’d like to see the program expand next year. I’m also hoping we can provide all of the applicants some kind of opportunity to get feedback or learn from our mentors, most likely through a web-based event in the coming months.”

The mentorship program is one of many initiatives funded or supported by WNDB™ since it incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Other WNDB programs include the Walter Dean Myers awards and grants, publishing internships, Title I school visits, and a series of online and on-the-ground discussions and panels at key events nationwide to keep the conversation progressing within the industry.

Penguin Young Readers and We Need Diverse Books Announce Writing Contest to Honor Mildred D. Taylor’s ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY

by We Need Diverse Books

(New York, NY – January 7, 2016) — Penguin Young Readers is pleased to announce a writing contest in partnership with We Need Diverse Books™ to honor the 40th anniversary of Mildred D. Taylor’s award winning Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Ms. Taylor’s writing, first discovered in 1974 through a contest sponsored by the Council of Interracial Books, will now inspire a new generation of authors from diverse backgrounds.

In 1974, the CounRollofThunder_JKT_3P.inddcil on Interracial Books sponsored a writing contest seeking out diverse voices. Mildred D. Taylor was the winner of the African-American segment for the manuscript that became Song of the Trees (Dial, 1975), her first book. It introduced the Logan family and was followed by Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976), which won the Newbery Medal.

Forty years later, in partnership with We Need Diverse Books™, Penguin Young Readers celebrates this momentous publication by launching a debut children’s fiction contest to find talented, ethnically diverse authors writing for readers ages 8-14. The submission period will begin in April 2016 with additional details to be posted on

Ms. Taylor commented, “Without the Council on Interracial Books contest, my books about the Logan family might not have been published. The contest gave many aspiring writers the opportunity to be heard. Now the Roll of Thunder Publishing Contest is renewing that opportunity for new minority writers. It is amazing to me!”

Dhonielle Clayton, COO of We Need Diverse Books™ , says “We Need Diverse Books™ is thrilled to partner with Penguin Young Readers to honor the 40th anniversary of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. This award-winning book is pivotal, life-changing, and timeless for so many readers. As one of the first mirrors of Depression-era African American life for children, it brought so many forgotten readers onto the page, giving them cathartic access to a family’s triumph over the injustice of racism. Taylor gave the children’s book world a strong heroine whose perseverance sticks with readers long after her story is complete. As an African American child spending summers with my grandparents on their farm in Mississippi, I learned that my family had undergone many of the same challenges as the Logans, and this parallel made Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry the first book where I could find a part of my history and culture contained within the most treasured of places – a book.”

Jen Loja, President of Penguin Young Readers, said, “We are tremendously excited to partner with We Need Diverse Books™, an organization committed to increasing diversity within the children’s book industry and raising awareness, just as the Council of Interracial Books intended when they launched the contest through which Ms. Taylor’s own writing was discovered. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry has been read by generations of young readers, and we look forward to launching a new voice to honor this tradition of diversity in American literature.”

ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY was first published in 1976. Set in Mississippi at the height of the Depression, this is the story of one family’s struggle to maintain their integrity, pride, and independence in the face of racism and social injustice. It is also the story of Cassie Logan, an independent girl who discovers over the course of an important year why having land of their own is so crucial to the Logan family, even as she learns to draw strength from her own sense of dignity and self-respect.

The book was followed by eight additional novels to form the Logan family saga. The 40th anniversary edition of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was released with new jacket art by Kadir Nelson, an introduction by Jacqueline Woodson, and additional content from Ms. Taylor on January 5, 2016.The complete series – Let the Circle be Unbroken, The Road to Memphis, Mississippi Bridge, Song of the Trees, The Friendship, The Land, The Well, The Gold Cadillac – will be reissued in paperback with original art by Mr. Nelson for release in April – July 2016. The final book in the Logan family saga will be released by Viking in 2017.

Mildred D. Taylor is the author of nine books including The Road to Memphis, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, The Land, The Well and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Her books have won numerous awards, among them a Newbery Medal and Germany’s Buxtehude Bulle Award (both for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry), four Coretta Scott King Awards, and a Boston Globe—Horn Book Award. Her book The Land was awarded the L.A. Times Book Prize and the PEN Award for Children’s Literature. In 2003, Ms. Taylor was named the First Laureate of the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature. In 2004, Mississippi celebrated a Mildred D. Taylor Day, and Mildred Taylor returned to her roots to address several hundred school children and adults at The University of Mississippi.

Mildred Taylor was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and grew up in Toledo, Ohio. After graduating from the University of Toledo, she served in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia for two years and then spent the next year traveling throughout the United States, working and recruiting for the Peace Corps. At the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism, she helped created a Black Studies program and taught in the program for two years. Ms. Taylor has worked as a proofreader-editor and as program coordinator for an international house and a community free school. She now devotes her time to her family, writing, and what she terms “the family ranch” in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

We Need Diverse Books™ is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 2014 to address the lack of diverse representation in the children’s publishing industry. With the announcement in 2014 of an all-white, all-male panel at BookCon, a major publishing event, a group of children’s book authors responded with an aggressive social media campaign to draw attention to the need for books that authentically reflect the experience of all children. We Need Diverse Books™ is now a team of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people. Our mission is to put more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children. We Need Diverse Books™ has a national platform in the area of diversity in children’s literature, and funds six distinct programs and awards that seek to:

  • support and mentor authors of diverse backgrounds
  • develop editorial and marketing staff of diverse backgrounds
  • assist teachers, librarians, and booksellers in broadening their collections

Penguin Random House  is the world’s most global trade book publisher. It was formed on July 1, 2013, upon the completion of an agreement between Bertelsmann and Pearson to merge their respective trade publishing companies, Random House and Penguin, with the parent companies owning 53% and 47%, respectively.  Penguin Random House comprises the adult and children’s fiction and nonfiction print and digital trade book publishing businesses of Penguin and Random House in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa, and Penguin’s trade publishing activity in Asia and Brazil; DK worldwide; and Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial’s Spanish-language companies in Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, and Chile. Penguin Random House employs more than 10,000 people globally across almost 250 editorially and creatively independent imprints and publishing houses that collectively publish more than 15,000 new titles annually. Its publishing lists include more than 70 Nobel Prize laureates and hundreds of the world’s most widely read authors.

Native Voices Roundtable: Sharing Stories & Talking Back (Part 2 of 2)

by We Need Diverse Books

Native Voices Roundtable: Sharing Stories & Talking Back (Part 2 of 2)

Yesterday, we posted Part 1 of this roundtable, including an introduction by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Here were the questions she posed to participants:

  1. How did you process–emotionally, intellectually, and/or on a pragmatic/outward response level–societal/media misrepresentations of Native people as a child? Did that change for you as an adult, and, if so, how?
  1. To what extent is your individual Nation well represented in the arts, including literature? Where would you point your own daughter to see her reflection or your dearest friend to be respectfully educated?


Julie Flett

As a young person, I yearned for books about my community and culture. I remember reading one book about a First Nations longhouse, or it was set in a longhouse or pit house. I can’t remember the title, but it was likely written in the latJulie Flette 1960s or early ‘70s. I imagine the content was not well written or accurate, as tends to be the case with most children’s books about First Nations people from that period. I don’t remember the story itself, just getting lost in the images. The pictures were grainy and warm, possibly stonecut or pencil crayon. There was something unique about the images from that period.

It was clear to me that it was a book about the history of the people, but I wanted to know more, whether any of these people of the longhouse were my ancestors (they were not), and how I fit in. I think there were just so few resources that I tried to find a connection anywhere I could.

When coming across images at that age that were stereotypes of First Nations people, I would tend either to disassociate, go into denial, or experience a sort of kicked-in-the gut feeling. Usually those responses intermingled. At the time, of course, I couldn’t make heads nor tails of the feelings, as so much of that experience was internalized.

Sadly, as a child, what I took away from those conflicted feelings, is that one should not be “so sensitive.” Consequently, I spent too many years feeling I should keep to myself, keep my mixed ancestry to myself, and I avoided making the connections I’d needed to make. I wish I’d known earlier on and had access to books such as Beatrice Culleton’s In Search of April Raintree (1983), the story of two sisters struggling to find their own identities. Culleton writes:

“Before she could reply, the other man voiced his opinion, and the two soon walked away, discussing their concepts of native life, without having allowed Cheryl to say one thing.”

I know this experience all too well.

As an adult, I studied fine arts at Concordia University and Emily Carr University of Art + Design. At that time, there was an Aboriginal Students’ Centre at Concordia. I remember feeling shy to join, but they were so welcoming. A group of about fifteen of us would get together to share our work and just connect. I had a son, just a baby at the time, and I would bring him along. It was there that I was introduced to what our First Nations Métis and Inuit communities and individuals were working on in a significant way during the mid-1990’s. I was gradually immersing myself in the work, whether it was film, fine arts, or literature. This is one of the projects a number of us worked on together at that time.

There are many Cree, Cross Lake/Norway House, as well as Métis and Cree-Métis artists whose work I admire. Here are just a few: Christie Belcourt, Kevin Lee Burton, Gil Cardinal, Sherry Farrell Racette, Rosalie Favell, Kurt Flett, Shannon Letandre, Leanne L’Hirondelle, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Dylan Miner, Tannis Neilsen, Skeena Reece, and Christine Welsh.

While publishing is slowly picking up momentum toward diversity, there are still too few First Nations, Métis and Inuit children’s books, too few Indigenous children’s books overall. There is some beautiful work out there that doesn’t make its way into the world as readily. As far as children’s books go, we need more that reflect the reality of our communities, contemporary as well as traditional historical books. They need to be written in an accurate and authentic way.

Categories can be challenging because categorization tends to compartmentalize the work. I personally appreciate having access to a First Nations, Métis and Inuit section in bookstores as I often go there first to check out resources. Yet at the same time, I believe those books could also be included in broader categories, whether that is picture books, children’s fiction, adventure books, poetry, non-fiction or information books, traditional stories, fantasy, or science fiction and so on.

There are some really good resources out there – notably Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL), and Lee and Low Books, dedicated to multicultural children’s books. There are also some really good resources here in Canada: the First Nation Communities READ program, Gabriel Dumont Institute (GDI), Goodminds, Inhabit Media (an Inuit-owned publisher), Pemmican Publications (promoting Métis authors, illustrators and stories), Theytus Books (a First Nations-owned and operated publisher of indigenous voices), and Strong Nations (First Nations, Aboriginal, Inuit, Métis, Indigenous and Native American book recommendations and resources).

Some of the Indigenous writers and storytellers I would point my nieces, son, and dearest friends to are Reneltta Arluk, Jeannette Armstrong, Maria Campbell, Leah Dorion, Dawn Dumont, Marilyn Dumont, Basil Johnson, Joanne Arnott, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Thomas King, Michael Kusugak, Larry Loyie and Constance Brissenden, Victor Lethbridge, Tracey Lindberg, Lee Maracle, Patricia Monture, Beatrice Culleton Mosionier, Aaron Paquette, Waubgeshig Rice, Eden Robinson, Gregory Scofield, Bev Sellars, Sharon Shorty, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Monique Grey Smith, Andrea Spalding, Ningeokuluk Teevee, Penny M. Thomas, Richard Van Camp, Katherena Vermette, Richard Wagamese, and Sheila Watt-Cloutier. These authors are a start. The resource guides above are also helpful.

Julie Flett is an award-winning author, illustrator, and artist currently living in Vancouver, BC. She is Cree-Métis. Julie studied fine arts at Concordia University in Montreal and Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver. She received the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize and was nominated for the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature for her book Owls See Clearly at Night (Lii Yiiboo Nayaapiwak lii Swer): A Michif Alphabet (L’alphabet di Michif). Most recently, Julie’s book Wild Berries/Pakwa che Menisu was chosen as the First Nation Communities READ title selection for 2014-2015. As the author and illustrator of the 2014-2015 selection, Julie is the first-time recipient of the 2014 Aboriginal Literature Award, sponsored by the Periodical Marketers of Canada.


Eric Gansworth

The media and Indians. Always a tricky one. I was four the first time I saw an Indian on TV. This was the era of three TV networks and their local affiliates. The first Indian I saw on TV was my brother. I don’t mean this metaphorically. It Eric Gansworthwas my real brother, four years older than me. He was on the local news, the star of a “feel good” segment on a new language revitalization program at the reservation’s elementary school.

The second Indian I saw was my mother. Her bowling team, reservation women, was selected for a local TV game show called Strikes! Spares! and Misses! on which bowlers received prizes for their performance. This is how non-existent Indians were on TV when I was a kid. These are the only examples I can conjure from my early childhood.

A year later, the first local independent TV station debuted, giving us a wider variety of programming options—mostly old shows in syndication and low-budget movies. Aside from the occasional glimpse of Buffy Sainte-Marie on Sesame Street, the three consistent Indians I saw in the media were men: Jay Silverheels as Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s sidekick; “Iron Eyes” Cody, keeping America Beautiful, and Tom Laughlin as Billy Jack, a half-Indian war vet, doing barefoot martial arts in too tight jeans for social justice toward Indians.

No one I knew was really fooled by Iron Eyes Cody, the latest in a long line of non-Indians playing Indians in media. Though Jay Silverheels was Mohawk, from a nearby reservation, and though he had relatives who lived on my road, people from home didn’t seem to connect with him. Maybe it was Tonto’s subservient role, or the way Iron Eyes and Tonto dressed alike—Indians of a different era. Billy Jack was another matter. He dressed like a lot of guys on the Rez, except he had That Hat: a black dome-top western brim hat, with a beadwork hatband to clinch the pedigree. Since that time, That Hat has had an improbably long life.

Billy Jack is, by most aesthetic measures, not a good movie, but for a generation of Indian men, it was what we had. That alone should speak to the need for there being more than one voice for young people to hear. I don’t know to what degree this is true across Indian country, or if it’s even true for young people from my community today, but Billy Jack is alive and well among my middle aged Indian peers. As an adult, I’ve noticed a good number of guys on the Rez sporting That Hat, often at informal events, but sometimes at weddings, and even funerals. I’ve seen someone sporting it in the past year. Most people in America don’t know who Billy Jack was anymore. Why would they know the hero of four obscure drive-in movies from the seventies? But in this one small indigenous community, it lives.

I’ve never owned one of those hats, but I do know firsthand about making personal choices influenced by media. When I was eight, my mother had found a fringed buckskin jacket like Tonto’s, at a rummage sale. I couldn’t wait for that school year to start, but the jacket didn’t last long in my wardrobe. Kids on the bus—other reservation kids—tore at the fringe, until it looked like teeth in an unhygienic mouth. One of the assailants was a cousin of mine. What had so provoked these guys I’d known all my young life? I didn’t know, but in response, I chose a pacifist resolution and stopped wearing it, claiming at home that it wasn’t warm enough.

I lamented the loss of my jacket when it happened, but I’ve come to understand why Tonto did not speak to my peers the way Billy Jack had. They preferred a white actor to a Haudenosaunee actor. They wanted to signify “tough,” to be the denim-jacketed Indian who could stop a white town’s corrupt leader with one swift barefoot kick to the head, and dispatch his cronies with a few more before putting his boots back on. They didn’t want to be anyone’s kemo sabe, despite the word’s theorized Ojibwe origins (giimoozaabi). They wanted to signify defiance and strength, not accommodation. Those traits were desirable.

We had been children when the United States Congress used Eminent Domain to disrupt the lives of my entire community. Despite our formal, legal assertion of sovereignty, and our efforts at peaceful, and then more assertive protest, the United States took a significant part of reservation land. They partly justified this move because to use non-reservation land would “cause unwanted community disruption,” as if they were not causing exactly the same disruption in my home lands. This happened in my lifetime and the ramifications continue to this day.

We find the media images that give voice to our needs, and I can see why so many of my reservation peers have hung on to Billy Jack’s hat as a talisman of sorts, a glimpse of what might have been. I was never going to be tough enough to sport a Billy Jack anything, but in 1976, I got lucky and found a different media representation of my world.

Ted C. Williams, a man from my community, and a sort of second cousin of mine, wrote a book, The Reservation, and, improbably, was able to get it published. I was eleven at the time. The book was maybe a little challenging for me at that age, but its existence was a life changer for me. It showed me, a bookish kid, that there could be books about lives like mine, places like my home. I have no way of knowing if I would have become a writer without this one immeasurably important book, but it was certainly a guiding beacon that had not existed for me before.

In the time of my mother and brother’s appearances on local TV, my specific community, Tuscarora Nation, had a fairly lively group of traditional artists, but little in the way of contemporary artists. I’ve been fortunate that a group of contemporary artists just a little older than I am began professional careers slightly before I was at a professional stage of my life. Visual artists like Jolene Rickard, Rick Hill, Erwin Printup, Simon Brascoupe, and artists from other Haudenosaunee communities chose to merge their traditional sensibilities with contemporary aesthetics. They illuminated a bridge for younger artists like me. Gary Farmer, who has been called an indigenous National Treasure, spent part of his younger years here, and I occasionally run into him at community events. It’s nice to see young people in my community recognize him as their own celebrity.

For reflections to offer friends and family, I’d recommend Erwin Printup and Jake Swamp’s beautiful collaborative children’s picture book, Giving Thanks. It is an earnest and respectful version of our Thanksgiving Address for a young and broad audience. Ted C. Williams’s The Reservation will always be the gold standard for me, so I am just elated it exists. It captures my community at a point just before my life. In addition to showing me our stories were valuable, it also delivered my world in a way that would otherwise have been lost to me. He only published one other book, Big Medicine from Six Nations, and even that happened posthumously. Mohawk poet James Thomas Stevens has spent parts of his life in my community and has family here. His work, though often experimental in form and transnational in scope, sometimes includes nuanced glimpses of our shared world. Anishinaabe poet and intellect, Kristi Leora Gansworth has experiential connections to my individual Nation as well, though her work reflects the larger complications of living with multiple tribal influences. My own work will continue to explore my community because it’s a world I find rich with a sense of its own wondrous place in the world. If I Ever Get Out of Here, my first Young Adult novel, has been used in the seventh grade culture class here (the outgrowth of the language class I mentioned at the beginning of this piece). My hope is that it may do for some young person what Ted’s book did for me–that it will provide evidence our stories are as worthy as anyone else’s to tell.

In the publishing world, we are not exceptionally well represented. That said, we are a community of about a thousand people. That one writer has successfully sent work out into the larger world is remarkable. That five have done it this century seems like a major, delightful statistical anomaly. For this, I give eternal thanks.

Eric Gansworth (Onondaga) is a writer and visual artist from the Tuscarora Nation. He is Lowery Writer-in-Residence at Canisius College. His first YA novel is If I Ever Get Out of Here, for which he also recorded the audiobook. His other books include Extra Indians (American Book Award, NAIBA Trade Book of the Year) and Mending Skins (PEN Oakland Award). His play, Re-Creation Story, was selected for the Public Theater’s Native Theater Festival in New York City. He’s had numerous visual art shows, and his written work has been widely published. Samples may be seen at


Naomi Bishop

As a child growing up in the late 80s and 90s, I was exposed to misrepresentations of Native people in school and in the media. Disney hits like Pocahontas were actually very appealing to me. My favorite character was Meeko the little Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 6.05.03 PMraccoon from the movie. I remember I had a stuffed animal raccoon and would sing to him. I never really thought about how these misrepresentations were brainwashing me to buy into lies. As I grew older, I began to recognize how historically inaccurate the movie and other movies about Native people were.

When I was growing up, people assumed I was Mexican because of my dark skin and dark hair and would say mean things to me and my sisters. People would yell at us for no reason in the grocery stores or at the movies. I would always say to them I’m Native American and speak only English.

I think most American adults are ignorant on Native American cultures because the U.S. Government purposefully excluded our cultures, languages, and people from society. When I went to college on the East Coast I was one of five American Indians at Smith College. I became aware of the ignorance of people. People would ask me, “What are you? Where are you from?” I told them I was half Native American (Pima) and half white and from Arizona. They would respond, “I’ve never met an Indian before.” I was the only Native person that they had ever met. It was strange because in Arizona and all over the US there are Native people, but these kids had never had any experience with a 21st century Indian before and did not know what to say to me. I would tell them that they should visit a reservation sometime and meet more Native people.

I think society has misrepresented Native people so much in literature (non-fiction and fiction), the media, and history that students don’t know the truth. As an adult I have dedicated much of my efforts in sharing my present day culture with friends, co-workers, and students so that they will gain a better understanding of what it means to be Native American in the 21st century. I invite my friends to come with me to the reservation to visit my grandparents. I speak out against stereotypes and misrepresentations of Native people every chance I get and have frank discussions with strangers about why misrepresentations are so harmful to society. How would you like it if people said your culture does this and that and it was all a lie? What if people told lies about your culture? What would you do if teachers made you wear feathers for Thanksgiving? How do we as Native people tell others to stop spreading lies and start telling the truth about us?

I’ve written emails to authors and publishers informing them that their work is contains stereotypes and misrepresentations of Native Americans. We are not all one tribe, we are 562 different tribes. We have different languages, food, and cultures. As an adult I feel responsible for speaking up and telling the truth so future generations don’t have to experience the harmful stereotypes and lies about their people that I have.

My tribe is not well represented in the literature. There are few books that represent my tribe, but there are more representation in the arts. We are a creative community. We are basket makers, musicians, and storytellers.

If I was to point my friend or daughter somewhere to be educated I would send her to talk with my grandparents. Grandparents and other elders are our most important resources, and the stories they share give me inspiration. My grandparents are living libraries full of stories and memories of growing up in Montana and Arizona before modern life and technology. I would also take my friend or daughter to our tribal museum and the National Museum of the American Indian in D.C. to see collections on our tribe.

I hope that one day people will understand why they should stop misrepresenting other cultures in their writing. If an author wants to write fiction, and a publisher wants to publish it, then they should respect other cultures enough to write accurately.

If the author or the publisher is so misinformed they don’t know whether or not a depiction of other cultures is offensive, they shouldn’t publish it. If you leave out the lies, stereotypes, and misrepresentations, you will have a better story and a better book.

I once reviewed a book that had a character from my tribe. This book was full of stereotypes and inaccurate information about my tribe. I tried to speak with the author and publisher about the book, but they dismissed my comments and critiques. I think publishers and authors don’t care much about Native people. They are trying to make a profit so they don’t really care about complaints from one or two people. I feel very proud and thankful that I am a Native librarian in the 21st century and have the opportunity to speak up and share my thoughts and experience with others about being Native.

Naomi Bishop received her MLIS from the University of Washington iSchool in 2010. She is the 2016 American Indian Youth Literature Awards committee chair, a member of the American Indian Library Association, and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community (Akimel-O’odham/Pima). In 2009, she interned at the National Museum of the American Indian in Archives and Repatriation. She lives in Denver, Colorado and works as the Science and Engineering Reference Librarian at the University of Denver.


Joseph Bruchac

As a child I was not that aware of my own Native American heritage. I knew that my grandparents, and especially my grandfather who was quite dark-skinned and visibly Native, were raising me in a way that was different from many of Joseph Bruchacmy peers. I never experienced corporal punishment, for example. My grandfather told me that was the way his father raised him–to never raise a hand to a child but just to talk to them. My grandfather also told me of his leaving school in 4th grade–jumping out the window because they kept calling him a dirty Indian.

Perhaps that was why I usually identified more with the Native characters in the films and movies and radio shows I experienced as a child, even though many of those representations, even the “positive” ones, either bordered on stereotype or were full on stereotypes of Native people. Jay Silverheels as Tonto. The character of Red Ryder’s “Little Beaver” who rode “Papoose.” Straight Arrow. And then, when I was in high school, Michael Ansara (Syrian American and Klingon) portraying Cochise.

I also recall being disturbed as a child by the way Indians were mowed down by righteous cowboys and pioneers. And I recall hurtful remarks being made about my grandfather–that he was “as black as an Abenaki” for example, or using the “N” word about him. (Though there were far more people who respected him for his generosity and his kindness, running a general store where anyone and everyone could get things on credit, even when they never paid him.)

Did it change for me as an adult? Are you kidding? I would have had to be blind for it not to change. From my college years on I was deeply aware of the racism in the misrepresentations of Native people at every level in American culture. I was also able to meet and interact with elders of my own and other Native nations who were some of the most patient teachers anyone could ever hope for.

As an adult, a poet, then as a writer for young people (and adults), I have endeavored to provide very different images and more accurate portrayals than those that I grew up surrounded by. I am still doing that. There have been changes for the better. That is due, in large part, to the work being done by Native people in education and in the media. Native teachers, writers, filmmakers are doing valiant work (including my son, who maintains a Western Abenaki language site). But sadly, so much misinformation and prejudice still remain both in the US and Canada. Those of us who are Native authors still have an immense amount of work to do.

To be quite honest, one reason that I write what I write is because I could find virtually no honest representation of Western Abenaki people and culture in any books, whether they were for children or adults. We were frequently referred to as the bloody St. Francis Indians. That epithet was included in school textbooks in the state of Vermont, where the prevailing view was that there had never been any Native Americans in that state. That despite the fact that there are numerous archaeological evidences, to say nothing of the continuing presence of thousands of people of Abenaki ancestry.

Things were a bit better for the more Eastern Wabanaki peoples, such as the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy. And there are several recent picture books by writers from those tribal nations: Thanks to the Animals by Allen Sockabasin (Passamaquoddy); Kunu’s Basket by Lee DeCora Francis (Penobscot/Ho-Chunk); and Remember Me, Tomah Joseph’s Gift to Franklin Roosevelt by Donald Soctomah (Passamaquoddy) and Jean Flahive. But I will mostly confine myself to the Western Abenakis.

One of my books, The Winter People, was written to give an entirely different viewpoint of the 1759 raid on St. Francis by the Rogers Rangers. And my book, Hidden Roots, deals with the little known Vermont eugenics project that affected Western Abenaki people deeply in the early part of the 20th century.

There are other native people who are Western Abenaki or have Abenaki ancestry who are beginning to produce some very fine work for younger readers. The most recent example is Wabanaki Blues, a young adult novel written by Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel. I also have to cite Cheryl Savageau and her picture book Muskrat Was Swimming, which was recently reissued. I would certainly recommend those books to my grandkids. I hope to see more work for young readers from Cheryl in the future.

However, and this is an industry wide problem, beginning writers who are Native American are still finding it very hard to connect with publishers willing to seriously consider their work. For some reason, I have been very fortunate as far as getting my own work published. But even when I strongly recommend a younger native author to a publisher they often do not accept that person’s work. Self publishing is sometimes the only way to get a book into print. Luckily, the new options offered through on-demand makes it easier and cheaper to do that.

Joseph Bruchac is a writer and traditional storyteller from the Adirondack Mountains region of northern New York, where he lives in the house he was raised in by his grandparents. His work often reflects his Abenaki Indian ancestry. Author of over 130 books in several genres for young readers and adults, his experiences include running a college program in a maximum security prison and teaching in West Africa. Winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas, his newest book Four Directions, New and Recollected Poems appeared Fall 2015 from Mongrel Empire Press.

Native Voices Roundtable Part 1: Sharing Stories & Talking Back (Part 1 of 2)

by We Need Diverse Books

Introduction by Cynthia Leitich Smith

I remember sitting too close to the television, watching Buffy St. Marie on Sesame Street. How strange that a real Indian woman had somehow found her way onto the screen. What a blessing!

Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 5.52.29 PMAnd yet, she also was the exception that proved the rule.

Native people were rare in the popular media of the 1970s and 1980s, Native women even more so. Tiger Lily from Disney’s animated Peter Pan was arguably the best known.

If you haven’t watched it since childhood, look up the video of the song “What Makes the Red Man Red” and consider what it felt like for Native children to witness and what the takeaways were for their non-Indian peers.

Still today, as an adult, I clench up during those once-in-a-series occasions when an American Indian reference (because actors are even more unusual) appears in a storyline.

Only this fall, I found myself vaguely baffled by the “magical” dreamcatcher on Once Upon a Time, a show which has yet to feature a single Native actor/character. From a world-building perspective, how did that become a tool of Camelot’s Merlin or of the daughter of Prince Charming and, yes, Snow White?

And yet, I’m hopeful—in part because of voices like those I’m welcoming to this circle today, in part because I’ve seen Native and non-Indian children embrace contemporary Native characters and historical ones who’re depicted as three-dimensional human beings. I’m grateful not to be the only woman of my Nation writing for children (shout out to author-poet-musician Joy Harjo).

I pray that the ranks of Native voices, well-crafted Native characters, and content will grow more quickly in days to come. I’m also honored and proud to celebrate all who are here now. So let’s hear from several of the voices in the children’s/YA literature industry and community, in response to the following questions:

  1. How did you process–emotionally, intellectually, and/or on a pragmatic/outward response level–societal/media misrepresentations of Native people as a child? Did that change for you as an adult, and, if so, how?
  1. To what extent is your individual Nation well represented in the arts, including literature? Where would you point your own daughter to see her reflection or your dearest friend to be respectfully educated?

We’ll begin with author-storyteller Tim Tingle (Choctaw), then continue with author Yvonne Wakim Dennis (Cherokee/Sand Hill/Syrian), blogger and activist scholar Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo), author-illustrator Julie Flett (Cree-Metis), author-artist Eric Gansworth (Onondaga), and librarian-reviewer Naomi Bishop (Akimel O’odham/Pima), concluding with author-musician Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)–whose contemporary Native novels numbered among my mentor texts when I was a beginning children’s writer.

Cynthia Leitich Smith(Mvskoke Nation) is the acclaimed New York Times bestselling YA author of the Tantalize series, the Feral trilogy, and award-winning books for younger children such as Jingle Dancer, Indian Shoes, and Rain Is Not My Indian Name. She’s also well-published in the short story, her writing recently appearing in Things I’ll Never Say and Violent Ends. Cynthia is a popular author-speaker and most enjoys leading writing workshops for children and teens. She makes her home in Austin, Texas, and teaches on the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts.


Tim Tingle

To understand my response to misrepresentations of Native people you must consider the time and place of my upbringing. I am an old man. By the time you read this, I will be 67 years old. I was raised on the Texas Gulf Coast, far Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 5.54.02 PMfrom my Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. When I watched television as a child, we had a choice of three channels. Only three channels. Total. They were all in black-and-white and cowboy shows were very popular—shows like “Bonanza” and “Gunsmoke” and “Wagon Train.”

Out of curiosity, I recently watched several episodes of Bonanza, and was surprised and impressed by a few plot lines depicting unwarranted racism directed against Native American characters. The villains of these episodes are thieving and deceitful Anglos. However I also remember, from over half a century ago, Wagon Train as often showing savage Indians attacking innocent travellers west.

As a child we often played Cowboys and Indians, and nobody wanted to be the Indians. They threw hatchets and spears and killed everyone around them, then stole their horses and rode away hollering war cries. I didn’t want to be an Indian, either. I was Choctaw, not the kind of Indian I saw on television.

As an elementary-aged student, I had no concept that most Americans believed that all Indians were savages. I did not understand why my grandmother made all forty-two of her grandchildren promise never to tell even our closest friends that we were Indian. I never associated this with her fear that we would be considered savage, or that we might be punished for being American Indian. As I grew older, I heard stories of how she had suffered severe punishment at Goodland Academy, an Indian Boarding school, for speaking the Choctaw language.

Later, as I became junior high school age and my curiosity was awakened, I realized that although Choctaws, my people, were civilized Americans, non-Indians lumped us all together. They believed that we all wore moccasins, lived in teepees, and scalped innocent people. This was untrue. Choctaws lived in wooden houses and had an elected system of government long before the United States of America became a nation.

My Mawmaw’s warnings began to make sense. She was afraid for us, afraid of what would happen to us if anyone found out we were Indian. Only my closest friend, Charles Savell, knew I was Choctaw. His mother was Chickasaw and his mother and mine were best friends, so we shared a well-kept secret.

As I pursued my education at the University of Oklahoma at the age of fifty, with a focus on Native American studies, I discovered many hidden and little-known facts regarding Indian issues. I began applying this knowledge to my family life and history. I was always told my grandparents left Oklahoma because of better jobs on the Gulf Coast. That might be the reason, but I suspect another factor led to the move as well.

Until the late 1920s in Oklahoma, it was against the law for a member of an Indian tribe to testify against a white man in a legal hearing or trial. If an Indian witnessed a crime committed against an Indian by a white man, no matter how serious, nothing he said could ever be heard by a jury.

An elderly gentleman who became a close friend and advisor on my thesis, Jay MacAlvain, told me of the shooting death of his uncle on a train bound for Oklahoma City in the early 1920s. He was sitting peacefully at a small town where the train had stopped, when a drunken sheriff entered the train and shot him in the chest. The shooting is well-documented, but no charges were ever filed. This crime inspired my first adult novel, House of Purple Cedar, which I wrote to honor my now deceased friend.

How things have changed. Following the encouragement of our parents and aunts and uncles, my generation of Tingle cousins decided to pull back the masks and step into the light.

Chata hapia hoke.

We are proud to be Choctaw.

I wrote the book Saltypie to celebrate our family’s decision to speak openly of our Choctaw heritage.

Both the Mississippi and Oklahoma Choctaw Nations have focused so strongly on education for the past half century–of music, culture and language–that great writers and artists have emerged naturally. We celebrate and make readily accessible our Choctaw religious hymns and our chants from bygone eras. Beadwork, flute-making, and tribal clothing dating back to early contact with Europeans is common and readily available.

Our tribal game, stickball, is still played–not as an ancient ritualistic celebration, but as a highly competitive contest. The best Choctaw stickball teams travel hundred of miles seeking tournament championships.

Our history is now proudly demonstrated. The Republic of Ireland has commissioned a beautiful sculpture commemorating the Choctaw gift of monies to Irish families starving during the Potato Famine. Private Joseph Oklahombi, a Choctaw Codetalker of World War I, was awarded the prestigious French medallion, the Croix de Guerre, and his portrait is on display at Orly Airport in Paris. I feel very fortunate that for Choctaws seeking knowledge of our past, the information is published and studied on a university level.

Because of this high visibility of “what it means to be Choctaw,” great literary works for all target audiences are flourishing. Children’s illustrated titles, for pre-K through early grades, Middle Grade and Young Adult novels, and a fine number of adult-themed books have been published in the past three decades. Choctaws Louis Owens, Rilla Askew, and LeAnne Howe have gained international recognition with their literary masterpieces.

Is my Choctaw pride seeping through? I hope so.

Are Americans better informed about Native Americans? I fear not. I am often asked, when I present at public schools, if I grew up in a teepee. When I ask questions such as “What do Indians wear?” I hear the usual stereotypes in reply. We need more authors, more posters and visual depictions of modern Native Americans, and more accurate lesson plans for teachers to present the present-day reality. To quote Dr. Kevin Gover, Director of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., we must “meet them on the bridge they cross upon.” We must reach out and inform, teach, entertain, and enlighten our fellow countrymen about who we are and who we have always been—hardworking and dedicated American natives.

Where would I point my own daughter to see her reflection or my dearest friend to be respectfully educated?

For my dearest friend and my son or daughter:

I would hope to accompany, or better yet to lead them, on a journey to the Kiamichi Mountains of Choctaw Nation, southeast Oklahoma. I would start with the old boarding schools, many of which are museums, and we would stop often at quiet and wood-shaded graveyards. We would listen to the grass whisper and feel the songs of the old people wrapping around us at Jones Academy, the old capitol at Tushkahoma, and the cabins of Robbers Cave near Wilburton. And we would sip hot coffee by an open fire overlooking the railroad tracks of Spiro, near the Arkansas River.

After this life-changing journey, I would present each of my fellow travellers with a library of books to help explain why the air now hums and the clouds send greetings as never before. Greg Rodgers, whose children’s book Chukfi Rabbit’s Big, Bad Bellyache won the 2015 Oklahoma Book Award, sends his warmth from above. Chatah hapia hoke. We are proud to be Choctaws.

Tim Tingle is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and a frequent presenter at tribal events. His ancestral grandfather, John Carnes, walked the Trail of Tears in 1835, and memories of this family epic fuel his writing. Author of fifteen books, Tingle has performed at the Kennedy Center, the Library of Congress, and the National Museum of the American Indian. Tingle’s first children’s book, Crossing Bok Chitto, was an Editor’s Choice in the New York Times Book Review. Following critical acclaim for How I Became A Ghost, Tingle was featured at the 2014 National Book Festival.


Yvonne Wakim Dennis

When my sister and I lived with our Native grandparents, we were happy and felt like we belonged. Looking back, we never questioned our place in the world. We were not comfortable living with either of our parents, who divorced when Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 5.54.58 PMwe were toddlers. When we became school-age, we went to live with our mother and really felt like outsiders in the community. She was Arab-American, brown, and the subject of great gossip and curiosity in the small mainly Anglo town where we lived.

We got the message that to be “as good” as the other children, we had to be better at everything. My mother had to prove to the world that her Native-Arab-American children were the smartest, prettiest, best musicians, best athletes, most mannerly, most respected, most popular, best read, etc. Of course, we only achieved a few of those expectations!

Several times, we were asked to tell the Indian story in the classroom–just called upon with no preparation to speak to a classroom of smirking, “woo-wooing” uninformed children. It was quite daunting to us.

First of all, it was usually after some mention in our school books of bad, bloodthirsty, ignorant savages, with whom we had no connection. (I always felt simpatico with the buffalo, bears, and horses!) We did not identify with those images, and it was a source of embarrassment and ridicule for us to be connected to them by the other children.

Second, we were just kids. We were not well-schooled in the 500 years of oppression and history that Native peoples experienced.

Third, we knew that if we reported these embarrassing episodes to our mother, she’d come to school and threaten everyone from the teacher to the principal. We did not want any part of the discussions, although that changed when we got into high school.

Then I became aware of many different issues: the Black civil rights movement, Syrian and Palestinian displaced peoples, genocide of the Roma and Armenians, ecological struggles. I think all of that gave me permission to both explore and extol my own background, Native issues, and why there was never any mention of Indians in the news or curriculum.

I was just plain mad about that. It didn’t help that I was a hormonally challenged, marginalized, smart, reactive teenager from a very dysfunctional home. Looking back I think I developed coping skills: to be well-read, to pretend to be confident (I faked it), to be friendly and genuinely interested in people, to be a stellar volunteer and a Miss Goody-Two Shoes. My peers respected me and my opinion, but I was seen as a brainiac who could become quite passionate about my opinions. The kids learned to back off.

I was an avid reader and never had any books that portrayed Native folks as just “normal” contemporary people. I turned to foreign writers, African American writers or U.S. authors who wrote about foreign places. Some of my favorites were Yukio Mishima, James Baldwin, Pearl Buck, Hurston, Wright, Gibran, Tolstoy and lots of other authors who wrote depressing works. I thought my choices set me apart from my classmates. But after working with so many teen girls as an adult, I now understand that girls often choose literature chock full of pathos, drama, and unrequited love.

Of course, I loved fantasy and mystery and the occasional romance that teen girls like. But mostly, I read adult books. In those days I don’t remember any YA literature. I felt alienated from the characters in those gloomy books and had a longing to be in their world, even if it was not such a great place to be.

I sort of came to writing through the back door. Throughout school and college, I was a pretty good writer and won every contest I entered. My classmates knew I would always get the best grades on anything I wrote. But life happened and my activism took me to a career in social work. I did write, but usually articles, proposals, reports, curriculum or newsletters, and sometimes stories for my students.

While working in NYC at the Native American Education Program, a federally funded project for Native American elementary and high school students, I contracted a debilitating chronic illness and could only work part time. My life changed. I wanted to still be an activist, but I could not take to the streets or fight battles with the same ferocity. I was just too sick. I had to find a way to make a difference. A dear friend and colleague asked me to help her update a book. I did and it got me into looking at being an activist in a different way–going back to my love of writing. I am happiest when I am writing!

During my years working at Native Ed, I had enough funds and resources to purchase all the Native books I could find. I wanted our students to have a better experience than I had and to find characters they could identify with in literature. I never minded if they kept the books–I just found a way to buy more. Also, I was obsessed with acquiring curriculum developed by Native programs, educators and at one time, we had the largest repository of curriculum materials of any Title IV project. People came from all over the country and from abroad to use the library. It thrilled me to see Indian kids reading Indian authors.

There are some great Cherokee artists in every discipline. I mean just fabulous artists from Nadema Agard to Jamie Hendricks to Louis Owens to Dorothy Sullivan to Mike Wolfe to Mary Kathryn Nagle, etc. Although we may have the same representation as other groups, there is a lack of diversity within the group. There are not many resources about Urban Cherokee or those not living in NC or OK. There are too many “legend” books and too few books based in modern times.

I would guide my daughter (and did guide my real-life son!) to speak with Elders first. There is so much to learn that is not in literature. Then I would continue her education with very ancient history and present her with everything I could find from anthro to archeological to “Eurocentric accounts” to a real understanding of the Doctrine of Discovery to the latest “scientific” info which often disputes the anthropological and archeological theories. I would teach her to compare and question. Does Euro-based science conflict with traditional info? Why are the peoples who developed most of the food consumed in the world today not considered scientists? How do the historical accounts written by Eurocentric scholars differ from those written by Native scholars? Do both Native and non-Native scholars differ from traditionalists?

I would also direct her to watch television and read different newspapers/magazines and keep a log on Native people in the news. If she were really young, I would provide her with materials that I would choose, from picture books to chapter books. Some of those choices would be written by some of the authors participating in this roundtable.

If she were older, I would direct her to websites (including those hosted by the people on this roundtable) and reviews of books. I would never restrict her choices, but would certainly encourage discussion. Also, I would take her to as many live performances, museums, and art shows as possible and make sure we had a variety of Native musicians from different disciplines playing in our home. I feel it is vital to embrace the diversity of living in an international city and would introduce her to Indigenous cultures from Nunavut to Tierra del Fuego and all points in between. And most importantly, I would ensure that she had community.

I believe that the values, wisdom and science of Indigenous peoples hold the solutions to most contemporary issues, and everyone has the responsibility to learn the “soul” of this place no matter the birthplace of their ancestors. I would certainly direct a friend to the Internet. Native newspapers, language lessons, research papers are all there and mostly free. I would tell my friend that there are no more excuses for being ignorant.

The author of several award-winning non-fiction books for children and adults, Yvonne Wakim Dennis interweaves environmental justice, activism and multiculturalism into all she creates and credits her diverse family (Cherokee/Sand Hill/Syrian) for her commitment to inclusivity. Her focus is on First Peoples, but she also has written about the many cultures that make up the United States. Recent publications include: Native American Almanac (2016); A Kid’s Guide to Arab American History (National Arab American Museum Children’s Book of the Year – 2014); and A Kid’s Guide to Native American History (2010 Gold Moonbeam Award; 2010 Silver IPPY Award).


Debbie Reese

I grew up on our reservation, immersed in our dances and ceremonies. It was the norm for us there to do all of that, pretty much like it is the norm for kids in other cultures who, say, go to church on Sunday. Of course, we didn’t go to Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 5.56.04 PMchurch on Sunday. Our ways of doing things were not day-limited. I knew the Indians I saw on TV weren’t real because they looked nothing like us. I don’t think I thought much about those TV Indians as a kid. There were so many of us that my Hispanic and White classmates weren’t informed by stereotypes and misrepresentations, either.

That did change as I got older and moved around in increasingly larger circles. In high school I went on college visits with Native kids from our school, where we met Native kids from other states. And then college where I started hanging out with students from other Nations, and then grad school, where I learned even more about the diversity in Native Nations.

The downside of stepping farther and farther away from my home? I also learned that the farther I moved into spaces that were increasingly white and not-Native, that stereotypes were not even recognized as stereotypes. Specifically, I mean the mascot at the University of Illinois and the experiences of the handful of Native students there who, on top of our studies, worked to inform the campus community about why that mascot was a problem. Who we were as Native people didn’t conform to the romantic/tragic hero that the mascot depicted, and so we were dismissed as not real. Unbelievable, but true. What I experienced at Illinois became the driving force of my work in children’s literature, where I promote accurate books about Native peoples and point to problematic depictions in books.

There’s not a single book about Nambe Pueblo available–that I recommend, anyway. You will find Nambe in Huxley’s Brave New World. But the depictions of the “savages” on the Savage Reservation are incredibly problematic. Sometime I’ll write that up for my blog.

There is one nonfiction photo essay that is about pueblo peoples in northern New Mexico. I absolutely adore that book. It is Swentzell’s Children of Clay. It is who we are, in a matter of fact way. Sadly, it is out of print. The child on the cover could be my own daughter, who had fine fair hair that color when she was that age.

And as Cynthia knows, my all time favorite children’s picture book is her Jingle Dancer, a book I wish I’d had when my daughter was dancing for the first time. Though it features a child of an entirely different nation, it conveys something that is found across our nations: the strong sense of family coming together for important moments in the lives of Native youth and a strong commitment to young people and our nations, too.

Another book I’ll point to is Simon Ortiz’s The People Shall Continue. It was published in the ‘70s and is out of print, but would be so perfect for today! In it, he starts by naming several Native Nations and things that are unique about each one. He moves on through harrowing points in our history, like boarding schools, but through all of those points, we push through, we survive–indeed, we thrive. He closes by talking about the need to come together, across race and nation, to fight greed that destroys all of us, if we let it. Coming together, as he notes, is how the people shall continue. Indeed, his message in that book is what I see within We Need Diverse Books. People coming together, across many different demographics, to fight the ills that are harmful to all of us.

Debbie Reese is tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico. A former school teacher and professor, her book chapters and articles are taught in Education, English, and Library Science courses in the US and Canada. Her blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, is her way of reaching a broad audience of people who work within children’s literature. She gives workshops and lectures widely, in person and through social media.


This roundtable will continue tomorrow with Part 2.

Emily Jenkins Donates to We Need Diverse Books

by We Need Diverse Books
November 7, 2015 (New York, New York) – We Need Diverse Books received an unexpected donation from Emily Jenkins that will be applied, in its entirety, to fund the WNDB publishing internship program.
Linda Sue Park, honorary chair of the We Need Diverse Books Internship Committee, stated, “We’re excited about being able to expand the program because of this donation. From our inaugural group of five interns, one is already a full-time employee. This program is having both immediate and long-term effects, and the donation will enhance those effects.”

WNDB Mentorship Program Open For Applications

by We Need Diverse Books

WNDB is pleased to announce that the WNDB Mentorship Program is now accepting applications!

Successful applicants will be paired with award-winning writers and illustrators recognized for their diverse publications in a year-long mentorship in the following five categories:

  • Picture book text
  • Illustration
  • Non-fiction
  • Middle grade fiction
  • Young adult fiction

Find out more here!


by We Need Diverse Books

September 21, 2015 (Washington, DC) – We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) will postpone its 2016 diversity festival.

“We’ve decided to extend the event planning window so we can focus on our current initiatives and infrastructure,” says Ellen Oh, President of We Need Diverse Books. “With programs like internships and mentorships for aspiring publishing professionals and authors, WNDB in the Classroom, and The Walter Award in full swing, taking additional time will ensure we get the festival we all envision.”


Originally slated for July 23rd, 2016, the non-profit organization’s first annual festival will now debut in either 2017 or 2018.

Cover Reveal for ON THE EDGE OF GONE

by We Need Diverse Books

One of the goals of We Need Diverse Books™ is to enable underrepresented authors to tell their own stories.

Denise, the protagonist in my next book On the Edge of Gone, is not all me—but a lot about her is me, and a lot of her story is the kind that I don’t see being told. As a teenager, I found precisely zero autism narratives that I could see myself in. While there is far more choice now, there are still frightfully few books I’d feel comfortable handing to an autistic teenager going through the same things I’ve gone through. I wanted to change that. I wanted—needed—to see more girls like me. Autistic girls. Insecure girls. Troubled girls. Girls trying to untangle what they know, feel, and have been told about themselves.

Best of all, I wanted to see a girl like that smack-dab in the genre I’ve loved my whole life.

On the Edge of Gone is set in the final stages of a mass exodus as the world tries to flee from a destructive comet … which arrives within the first chapters. It’s part spaceship sci-fi, part contemporary character study, and part disaster novel.

It will release in March 2016, and I’m so very excited to share the gorgeous cover that my publisher Amulet Books/ABRAMS created.

January 29, 2035. That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one.

Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter outside their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.

A last-minute meeting leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship, scheduled to leave Earth behind to colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But everyone on the ship has been chosen because of their usefulness. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?

When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?


On the Edge of Gone will be available for pre-order at all the major retailers soon; in the meantime, add it on Goodreads or keep an eye on the book at my website.


A lifelong Amsterdammer, Corinne Duyvis spends her days writing speculative young adult and middle grade novels. She enjoys brutal martial arts and gets her geek on whenever possible. Otherbound, her YA fantasy debut, released from Amulet Books/ABRAMS in the summer of 2014. It received four starred reviews—Kirkus called it “original and compelling; a stunning debut,” while the Bulletin praised its “subtle, nuanced examinations of power dynamics and privilege.”

Find Corinne at her Twitter or Tumblr. She is a co-founder of Disability in Kidlit.

The CBC and We Need Diverse Books™ to Partner on Resources and Programming for Publishing Internship Program

by We Need Diverse Books

The Children’s Book Council (CBC), the non-profit trade association for children’s book publishers in North America, and grassroots nonprofit We Need Diverse Books™ (WNDB) today announced their partnership on educational programming and resources for interns selected for the WNDB Internship Program, launching this summer.

The program is designed to open up the children’s book publishing industry to talented job-seekers from diverse backgrounds, providing them with an invaluable opportunity to learn about the industry through professional guidance and hands-on experience.

As part of this effort towards creating a more diverse children’s book publishing industry, the CBC will offer WNDB Publishing Interns:

  • Exclusive educational opportunities, including a luncheon with the CBC Diversity Committee, comprised of children’s book editors and publicists at top publishing houses
  • Inclusion in the CBC Early Career Committee’s summer event, connecting the interns with publishing staffers in their first 5 years in the industry
  • Invitation to a CBC Forum, a CBC-member event which provides information and discussion on current publishing trends and issues
  • Invitation to a CBC Diversity Panel, a CBC-member opportunity which brings together voices within and outside of children’s publishing to communicate the challenges they face in selling and promoting diverse books, and to work together to develop solutions.
  • Tip sheets for getting jobs in the publishing industry and making the most of their internships
  • CBC-member exclusive multimedia content, including videos and recordings of educational programming
  • Access to the CBC Early Career Committee’s ECC Newsletter, featuring interviews with mid-level publishing staffers, industry job moves, & member-exclusive news, opportunities, and invitations
  • Access to Diversity in the News, the CBC’s monthly newsletter rounding-up relevant news in children’s books and diversity

“The Children’s Book Council has been a dedicated champion of diverse books and voices since the launch of the CBC Diversity Initiative in 2012” said CBC Executive Director Jon Colman. “We are excited to team up with WNDB to further the work of creating an inclusive and representative children’s book publishing industry.”

WNDB President Ellen Oh says of the collaboration: “We are thrilled to be partnering with the CBC on our pilot internship program. Not only do we need diverse books, but a diverse and dedicated workforce.”

Read the full announcement here.

WNDB Walter Dean Myers Award For YA 2015

by We Need Diverse Books



About the Walter Dean Myers Award

The Walter Dean Myers Award, also known as “The Walter,” is named for celebrated children’s book author Walter Dean Myers (1937-2014), who was widely known for his prolific body of work for children and teens. Walter Dean Myers was a lifelong advocate for diversity in books for young readers, and a National Book Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. His legacy can still be seen in the thousands of lives he touched, including those of readers and authors alike. WNDB seeks to honor his memory by establishing this award in his name.

There will be one winner of the Walter Award for YA. There will be 1-3 honors awarded. The Walter Award winner will be announced in February 2016.


  • Submissions must be written by a diverse author and the submission must be a diverse work.
  • A diverse work constitutes: a YA work written by a diverse author featuring a diverse main character. In stories in which there is no main character, the work must address diversity in a substantial capacity.
  • Work must be an original work published in the United States for the first time in 2015.
  • Work may have been originally in another language and translated, but the first English publication date in the United States must be 2015.
  • Work must be determined to be in the young adult genre for an audience of ages 13-18.

What is meant by diverse?

Authors must identify as one or more of the following. The main character of the story must also identify as one or more of the following:

  •       Person of color
  •       Native American
  •       LGBTQIA
  •       Person with a disability
  •       Marginalized religious or cultural minority in the United States.

Please note:

  • If the work is such that there is no main character, the subject matter must pertain substantially to diverse experiences and content.
  • Socio-economic status and class do not qualify as diverse for the purposes of this award.
  • Any submission received that does not meet these requirements will not be read.

Submission Guidelines

Publishers are invited to submit eligible titles for consideration to the Walter Award judging committee. One physical book must be provided to each of the thirteen members of the judging committee. Please contact to receive the addresses. One additional copy must be provided for the administrator of the Walter for our alternate judge for a total of fourteen [14] books. When publishers submit works, they must supply information regarding which book[s] they are sending. Such information includes: (1) a tally of the books included in the shipment along with the publication dates for each book; (2) the diversity of the main character or the overall diversity of the work, and (3) the diversity with which the author identifies. Publishers must submit physical copies. Physical copies may be a finished book or an ARC.

Self-published authors are invited to email (1) an e-reader-compatible electronic submission, (2) the diversity they identify with, (3) the diversity of the main character of the book or the overall diverse subject matter of the work, and (4) a brief summary of their work to

To maintain a professional boundary between judges and authors, no author, their family member, or their business partner may directly send any materials to a judge. If the structure of your publishing house requires the author, their family member, or their business partner to send the work to judges directly, please follow the guidelines for self-published authors.  If any author, their family member, or their business partner sends a work to a judge directly, that work will be disqualified.

Please note: The last date to mail eligible titles is November 1, 2015. Entries must be postmarked by this date to be eligible for consideration.

We look forward to your submissions! For additional information, please check our website as we will be putting up a FAQ section and the Walter Award manual soon. In the meantime you may direct any questions you have to

The We Need Diverse Books Short Story Contest

by We Need Diverse Books

The We Need Diverse Books Short Story Contest

We Need Diverse Books (“WNDB”) is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. WNDB is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality. We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. Our mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.

WNDB is proud to announce that Phoebe Yeh, VP/Publisher of Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House, has acquired publication rights to the Middle Grade WNDB Anthology, working title “Stories For All Of Us.” Ellen Oh, President of WNDB, will edit the anthology, which will have a January 2017 release date. Contributing authors include: Kwame Alexander, Sherman Alexie, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Pena, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Rachel Renee Russell, and Jacqueline Woodson.

The anthology will be in memory of Walter Dean Myers and it will be inspired by his quote: “Once I began to read, I began to exist.” Every new story contribution to this anthology will be by a diverse author.

WNDB is proud to announce that the anthology will have one story reserved for a previously unpublished diverse author. WNDB will fill that slot via a short story contest. The winner will be included in the anthology and will receive a payment of $1000 US.

General Rules

  • Entries will be accepted after 9:00AM EST on April 27th until 5:00PM EST on May 8th, 2015. Any submission made prior to or after the entry period will not be considered.
  • Entry is free.
  • Submissions will not be returned.
  • All applicants must include a 75 word bio and headshot.
  • Winner will be announced on June 15, 2015.

Short Story Rules

  • All submissions (short story or illustrated story) must be in English and never before published in any medium, print or digital.
  • Submissions must be no longer than 5000 words.
  • All submissions must be electronic and sent to the following email address:
  • All submissions must also be appropriate for a middle grade audience, ages 8 to 12.
  • If your submission is illustrated, it must be in a graphic novel format, but no longer than 10 pages.
  • Illustrations must be submitted electronically. Do NOT mail hard copy submissions to WNDB. They will not be reviewed, nor will they be returned.


  • Open to diverse writers from all diverse backgrounds (as defined above). Applicants must include this information in their bio.
  • Open to diverse writers who have not been published in a traditional print fiction book format, including self-pubbed, independents, small and medium publishing houses, in all genres whether for the children’s or adult market.
  • EXCEPTION – Short story publication credit in a magazine, literary journal, or periodical will not disqualify the applicant.


  • First prize winner will receive an award of $1000 plus their entry will be published as part of the WNDB Anthology to be released by Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House Children’s Books in January 2017.
  • Two runner-up winners will receive honorable mentions and awards of $250 each.


Any submissions sent in before the entry period will be deleted, the email address flagged, and the author automatically disqualified.


Who can apply?

We recognize anyone from a diverse background, including but not limited to, LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities currently marginalized in North America.

What should the story be about?

It can be about anything as long as it relates to the prompt “Once I began to read, I began to exist” and a diverse experience. The story must also be appropriate for a middle grade audience, ages 8 to 12.

What about a submission in verse?

We accept submissions in free verse only.

What about entries that are a combo of both text and graphics? For example, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid format? Are they acceptable?


Do the winners get free copies of the book? How many?

The winner will receive 1 copy of the Anthology when it is published.

Are joint authors for a project okay?

As long as both authors are diverse as defined above. Joint authors will share any prizes given by WNDB.

Is non-fiction acceptable?


Does having a mental illness qualify as having a diverse background?

WNDB recognizes mental illness as a disability and therefore part of our definition of diversity.

What genres are eligible? Fantasy, historical, contemporary, etc?

Submission can be of any genre as long as it is MG (middle-grade).

My self-published book is no longer in print/on the market. Does this disqualify me as an author?

If we can search your name and find a published book online anywhere, you will be disqualified.

Does the exception for a short story publication credit extend to a credit in an anthology series?

The exception only applies to short story credit in a magazine, literary journal, or periodical.

If I’m white am I disqualified?

If you self-identify as a diverse person from one of the definitions stated above, you are still eligible.

If I’m disqualified for this anthology, will I remain eligible for for future opportunities?

We cannot say at this time.

Do authors have to be over 18?

Parental consent will be required upon signing of contract if the winning author is under the age of 18.

What if I’m already published in a language other than English?

Previously published authors in any language are not eligible. The only exception is if the published work is a short story credit in a magazine, literary journal, or periodical.

Can international authors apply?

As long as your submitted work is in English and you are not a previously published author.

What if I have a question not covered in this FAQ?

You can email questions to While we can’t answer every email personally, we will post any new and relevant questions directly to this FAQ.

New Year, New Resolution: Are You Up For the Challenge?

by We Need Diverse Books

New Year’s Resolutions are tough. Believe us, we know.

IG-100-pledgeWell, this year’s going to be different.


Because this year, we’re going to do something different. This year, we’re going change the world.


By pledging to read, 5, 10, 15, 25, or even 100 DIVERSE books.

Books where people of color can be first-page HEROES rather than second-class citizens. Books in which LGBTQIA characters can represent social CHANGE rather than social problems. And books where people with disabilities can be just…people.

By reading these stories, we can promote compassion and understanding, instead of prejudice.

Let’s change the hearts and minds of our generation by promoting diversity in our libraries, classrooms, and bookstores. And as a result, let’s change the world we live in.

Now, THAT’S a resolution everyone can get behind.

Are you up for the challenge? Download your badges here:

For Your Twitter:

I pledge to read: 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 50, 100 diverse books

For Your Tumblr:

I pledge to read: 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 50, 100 diverse books

For Your Instagram:

I pledge to read: 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 50, 100 diverse books

Tweet us at @diversebooks with the hashtag #WNDBResolution to show off your badges. Happy reading!

An Open Book Foundation

by We Need Diverse Books

WNDB is proud to partner with An Open Book Foundation for our WNDB in the Classroom initiative. So we thought it would be a perfect time to highlight this extraordinary company.

1. What is An Open Book Foundation and how does it help to promote literacy?

An Open Book Foundation connects books, children, and authors sparking children’s desire to read.

There is no way to measure what it means to have a famous author talk to you, look you in the eye, greet you, sign your name in a brand new book and place it in your hand.

An Open Book Foundation, founded by Dara La Porte and Heidi Powell takes children’s and teens’ authors and illustrators to disadvantaged schools in the DC metro area.  After an interactive presentation, AOB gives each child a copy of the author’s book to take home, which the author signs and personalizes.  This book is often first the child has ever owned. AOB also gives a copy of the author’s book to the classroom and all of the author’s books to the school library.

Children are always excited to receive their new books. We’ve seen kids kiss their books upon receipt, and start reading their new books in the signing line. On occasion, students grab their book back from the author, barely allowing it out of their hands long enough to get it signed!

About 25% of all AOB events feature a diverse book or author.


2. How did An Open Book get its start?

When Heidi and I were working together at Politics and Prose, we spent years talking about addressing three related issues:

– Only a privileged few of children in DC had access to the fabulous children’s authors and illustrator’s talks given at the store during the school day.

– Author like Linda Sue Park told us they sometimes had the opportunity to speak at disadvantaged schools, but were frustrated that they got the children all excited about reading her book, but did not have books to give them.  Did we know of anyone who would subsidize books for these students?

– Teachers were asking our advice about what books to buy, then spending their own money on books for their classrooms.

In the fall of 2010, a potential board member and friend gave us a small start-up grant and an introduction to a lawyer who helped us incorporate pro-bono.  Dara took classes at the Foundation Center on how to start and run a nonprofit. In May 2011, David Weisner launched An Open Book’s first event.



(Dara La Porte with student.)

3. What was the most challenging part of getting AOB off the ground?

Fundraising has required the greatest learning curve.  Heidi and I have been in the children’s and teens’ book business for a long time and I am a former teacher so An Open Book is a logical extension for us in those areas.  But, I think most nonprofit founders would give the same answer!

4. What has been the most fulfilling part of working for AOB?

The authors and illustrators!  Heidi and I knew that the children’s and teens’ authors and illustrators we met are talented, interesting people. We are continually blown away by the depth of the generosity of the men and women who come with us to the schools.

The look on the children’s faces and their cheers when we tell them that they are getting a new book to take home.  The great questions that they ask.  Their sheer joy and curiosity.  Their hugs!

The appreciation of the teachers, librarians, principals and staff in the schools that we serve.   They want the children to get the most out of the experience and their books as much as (even more if that’s possible!) than we do.


(Meg Medina and student)

5. Do you see the AOB formula working in other cities?

It would be wonderful if children in other cities had access to author events and books.

6. What was the most unusual author event you ever hosted?

That’s a tough one.  Eloise Greenfield rapping at age 85 comes to mind.  But then, without rapping, she held her 3rd grade audience rapt for 45 minutes, and that is pretty amazing for a poet at any age!

Then there’s the time we were folk dancing at a Washington School For Girls with Siena Siegel, Mark’s wife, when they came to present To Dance.

7. What was the most memorable author event you ever hosted?

There have been 200 of them!  Each is unique and memorable.

8. How many author events do you do in a year?

Last year, which was our third, we hosted 92 events.

9. What is the key to having these events run smoothly?

Functional AV equipment!  It’s every presenter’s biggest worry.  We always bring our own as a backup.

Seriously though, An Open Book matches authors with the interests and curriculum of the school. That’s where our knowledge of schools and books becomes vital. For example, we took Padma Venkatraman , who was talking about her new book A Time to Dance, to a performing arts charter school.  On the other hand, we took Bob Shea to a Headstart program that we knew would be open to unrolling a huge length of paper across many tables and letting all of the children go for it with crayons with Bob.

Of course, we also have protocols to assure that everything is organized and set up in the proper order. By the day before the event, everyone involved has an email telling him or her exactly what to expect.


(Chris Myers with students.)

10. Why do you think We Need Diverse Books?

An Open Book Foundation was founded because we want to promote and improve literacy among the disadvantaged children we serve, 99% of whom are minorities.  When young children see themselves in an author or illustrator or in the pages of a book, you can feel them engage and see them sit a little taller.  I first saw this at an event with Monica Brown and 150 children of over 70 nationalities. How proud they were to hear her talk about the immigrant experience and see themselves and their families reflected in her stories.

Teenagers drop their guard when an author, a character, or a book cover resembles them.  You see students change: some begin to sit up, others lean forward, many look at the author; you can see can feel the disinterest dissolve and their minds and hearts opening to what is being said.

Mentoring is a huge part of An Open Book’s Diversity in the Classroom program   Not only has it never occurred to many of our students that a person wrote the book or drew the pictures, that the person looks like him or her is eye-opening. It is fabulous to watch a 4th grader realize that he or she has options in life, and being a writer or illustrator is one of them!

Artist Spotlight – Vanessa Brantley Newton

by We Need Diverse Books


The lovely Vanessa Brantley Newton is a self-taught illustrator, doll maker, and crafter. Her passion for children’s books began when she came across Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats as a child in the 1960s. Snowy Day marked one of the first representations of black children in picture books, and seeing a character that looked like her and lived in a neighborhood like her own was a turning point in Vanessa’s life. Vanessa celebrates self-love and acceptance of all cultures through her work, and hopes to inspire young readers as Keats did for her and a generation of children. Growing up in a musical family who loved to sing, Vanessa’s illustrations are as fun and whimsical as a beautiful melody. Her style is influenced by retro art and fashion from the 50s and 60s. She is the author and illustrator of Let Freedom Sing and Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table, and has illustrated numerous children’s books including One Love & Every Little Thing, words by Bob & Cedella Marley, and Presenting Tallulah written by Tori Spelling. Vanessa currently makes her nest in Charlotte, NC with her husband of 20 years, their daughter, and a very rambunctious cat named Stripes.image

Vanessa is absolutely fabulous and wonderful and created this beautiful artwork for WNDB which you can receive as part of the WNDB Art Poster if you donate to our Indiegogo Campaign.


We are so lucky to have had Vanessa be a part of our WNDB Art Project. For more information on Vanessa and her amazing art, please look her up on her website

Artist Spotlight – Duncan Tonatiuh

by We Need Diverse Books


Duncan Tonatiuh (toh-nah-tyou) is the author and illustrator of four picture books: Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin, Diego Rivera: His World and Ours, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale and Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegragation.

His books have received multiple awards and honorable mentions, among them the Pura Belpré Award in 2012, the Tomás Rivera Mexican-American Children’s Book Award in 2012 and 2014, Pura Belpré Honors in 2011 and 2014 and an Américas Award Honor in 2014.

Duncan was born in Mexico City and grew up in San Miguel de Allende. He graduated from Parsons The New School for Design and from Eugene Lang College in New York City in 2008. His work is inspired by Ancient Mexican art, particularly that of the Mixtec codex. His aim is to create images that honor the past, but that address contemporary issues that affect people of Mexican origin on both sides of the border.

Duncan is another one of our wonderful and generous artists who took time out of his incredibly busy schedule to create beautiful art for WNDB’s Indiegogo Campaign. You can get his art in our beautiful notecards or our Holiday art poster if you donate to our campaign. Just see how gorgeous it is!


For more information about Duncan, and to see his beautiful work, please go to his website at

Artist Spotlight – LeUyen Pham

by We Need Diverse Books

This is LeUyen (Pronounced Le Win) Pham:


Even though she is stunningly beautiful, she prefers this picture of herself instead:


LeUyen is not only lovely and incredibly talented, she’s also a wonderful person who is dedicated to diversity and WNDB’s mission. She’s created this beautiful piece which is featured on our wonderful WNDB Art Poster (you can get with a donation to our Indiegogo campaign), as well as on our new WNDB bookmarks, which you can also get if you donate to our campaign.


Isn’t it beautiful? LeUyen’s biography should read as follows: LeUyen Pham is the illustrator of over fifty children’s books, with titles including the best-selling “Freckleface Strawberry” series with Julianne Moore, God’s Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as well as her own self-authored Big Sister, Little Sister. Etc, etc. But LeUyen would rather share with you this bio instead:


Isn’t she awesome? For more information, please check out her beautiful art at And stay tuned for more Artist Spotlights!


We Need Diverse Books Needs You!

by We Need Diverse Books


WNDB announces the Walter Dean Myers Award and Grant program, launches inaugural Indiegogo campaign.
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Last week, WNDB was proud beyond words to announce the Walter Dean Myers Award and Grant program, named after the beloved award-winning author. This week, we’re launching our inaugural Indiegogo campaign (note that the site will go live at 10/23 at 9pm EST at to help fund “The Walter” and our other exciting initiatives, including our Diversity in the Classroom program, our Educational Kits for teachers, librarians and booksellers, and our 2016 Diversity Festival.And this is where we need your help to spread the word. Thus far, our all-volunteer team has done amazing things on moxie and individual donations alone, but we cannot reach the next level by ourselves. We would appreciate anything you could do to signal boost and bring awareness to the campaign.

How can you help? We know that not everyone has the resources to donate, so we’ve tried to make it easy for anyone to participate:

  1. Feel free to share this e-mail with your family and friends, including a personal message describing why the campaign is important to you!
  2. Use Twibbon to add some WNDB flair to your avatar (
  3. Participate in our cue card contest to emphasize why you #SupportWNDB, whether it’s for yourself, because of a family member, or because of a diverse book that changed your life. Create your own sign or use the templates we’ve created ( and submit pictures to our Tumblr. The photos with the most reblogs will win a WNDB prize pack.
  4. Join us on Twitter for #k8chat on Thursday, October 23rd at 9pm EST. At the same time, we’ll send out an e-mail update announcing the “soft-launch” of our Indiegogo campaign so members of our mailing list will be able to get first crack at some of our incredible perks, including:
    • journals signed by our advisory board
    • critiques from top agents
    • 5 prints signed by Dav Pilkney (of Captain Underpants fame) and
    • limited edition WNDB holiday cards which will include artwork by six diverse  artists, including team member Don Tate (right). So we can get the cards to you by December, we’ll have a small print run of 500 sets that will be available for the first two weeks of the campaign ONLY.
  5. Use the #SupportWNDB hashtag in a Twitter hashtag party this Friday, October 24th at 1pm EST, and please RT to your heart’s delight!

Truly, anything you can do to spread the word will help. We so appreciate your support – we’ve said it before but we’ll say it again: We’re a grassroots organization, so by definition, we owe our success to you.

Thank you,

The We Need Diverse Books Team






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Awards Plea/Request

by We Need Diverse Books

The end of the year is coming, and that means awards season! Judges are busily reading books, librarians are compiling lists, and editors at the big magazines are discussing which books will go on the year’s best-of lists. We’ve seen some astonishing diverse books and authors this year, and the We Need Diverse Books team is beyond excited to see which books will rake in the praise.

The team wants to address the librarians, editors, bloggers, and judges involved in this year’s judging. You have some tough decisions ahead–good luck! We’re hoping you’ll keep in mind a few things:

  • Diverse books–particularly those from smaller publishers and midlist authors–often slip off people’s radars. Sometimes, they never make it on people’s radars in the first place. It’s important to read widely and to actively seek out content by and about people from underrepresented groups. Who knows–you just might find a gem worthy of the next Printz or Newbery!
  • Sadly, not all diverse books are created equal. Many of them are absolutely wonderful, but just as many are authored by people unfamiliar with the underrepresented group they’re writing about. These books may promote misconceptions, which are often difficult for those outside that group to recognize. Many extremely problematic books have won awards or received one or more starred reviews. What seems like an insightful, sensitive book, may actually contain dangerous or hurtful stereotypes. For people in a position to provide a huge boost to books, it’s extra important to go beyond gut feeling and do your research. Do you know what people from the group being portrayed say about this book? Do they have any concerns about the portrayal?

Of course, there is no single definition of what “problematic” is, which makes it even more important to evaluate multiple opinions from diverse viewpoints. Aside from your basic Google search, we suggest resources like Disability in Kidlit, American Indians in Children’s Literature, Bisexual Books, et cetera. Don’t forget that many blogs which don’t necessarily focus on diversity may discuss books from that angle, and many individual reviewers may post their thoughts on their personal blogs or Goodreads account.

Another option is simply to reach out to people in the know; if you’re uncertain about  book, someone on the WNDB team will be happy to put you in touch with someone who can help.

You have a huge influence on the world of children’s fiction, and we can’t wait to see this year’s winners!

Cover Reveal: ENDANGERED

by We Need Diverse Books


We Need Diverse Books Cover Reveal

Endangered – Releasing April 21, 2015

The WNDB team is proud to host the cover reveal of Endangered from HarperCollins Children’s Books, by our very own Lamar Giles!

Her name is Lauren, but everyone calls her Panda.

What they don’t know is that behind their backs, she also goes by Gray. As in Gray Scales, the photo blog that her classmates are addicted to because of the secrets Gray exposes: a jock buying drugs, a teacher in a compromising position, the richest girl in school shoplifting. But no one knows Panda’s the vigilante photographer behind it all. At least, she thinks no one knows—until she gets a note from the Admirer, who’s not only caught her red-handed acting as Gray, but also threatens to reveal everything unless Panda joins her Admirer in a little game of Dare or . . . Dare.

Panda plays along. Anything to keep the secrets she’s protected for years.

But when the game turns deadly, Panda doesn’t know what to do. And she might need to step out of the shadows to save herself . . . and everyone else on the Admirer’s hit list, including some of the classmates she’s loathed and exposed for years.


Lamar “L. R.” Giles writes stories for teens and adults. He’s never met a genre he didn’t like, having penned science fiction, fantasy, horror, and noir thrillers, among others. He is a Virginia native, a Hopewell High Blue Devil, and an Old Dominion University Monarch. He resides in Chesapeake, Virginia, with his wife. Go follow him on Twitter: @LRGiles

Congrats Lamar! We can’t wait to read it!

We Need Diverse Books Exclusive Cover Reveal: X, A Novel – Releasing January 6th, 2015

by We Need Diverse Books

Kekla_Magoon Ilyasah Shabazz
We Need Diverse Books Exclusive Cover Reveal:

X, A Novel – Releasing January 6th, 2015

The WNDB team is proud to host the exclusive cover reveal of X, A Novel, by Candlewick Press, a book we are so excited about!

Candlewick Press announces the publication of the FIRST young adult novel based on the coming of age of a boy named Malcolm Little.

Co-written by Malcolm X’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, and award winning young adult author Kekla Magoon, this riveting and revealing novel follows the formative years of the man whose words and actions shook the world.

Timed with the 50th anniversary of his death, X follows Malcolm from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today.

“Malcolm inspired me with his eloquence, his wisdom, and his thirst for truth and righteousness. This powerful, page-turning story tells us how he discovered these qualities within himself.” – Muhammad Ali

“Powerful and charming—makes you see things in a whole new way. One of the best books I’ve read in quite some time.” – Chris Rock

We Need Diverse Books Announces Incorporation as a Non-Profit and Inaugural Advisory Board

by We Need Diverse Books

Today, the WNDB team is super proud to announce that we are officially not just a hashtag! We’ve filed for nonprofit status and are moving forward to continue our advocacy for diverse books! Couldn’t be more humbled to have Jacqueline Woodson, Grace Lin, Matt de la Peña, Cindy Pon and Cynthia Leitich Smith on board for our Advisory Board!