On Diverse Books for Kids, Agendas, and More

Here at the Cybils, one of our primary goals has always been to promote a diverse range of books for kids and young adults—books that are both high-quality and high-enjoyment. Kids need to see representations of themselves in books, and it’s just as important for them to see authentic representations of people NOT like themselves. As author Mitali Perkins put it at last year’s KidLitCon in Sacramento, echoing the words of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, OSU professor emerita, books are valuable as windows AND as mirrors. And as proven by the existence of programs like This American Life, and Story Corps and our enthusiasm for websites like Humans of New York and Post Secret, we are continually fascinated by the diversity of our fellow humans’ individual experiences, whether they are “like us” or not. It is through the full complement of individual stories, like facets that make up a brilliant gem, that we collectively write—and constantly rewrite—the story of humanity and the world, for readers young and old.

With this in mind, we were disappointed to be unable to consider the recently self-published Large Fears by Myles E. Johnson for the Cybils Awards. Not yet widely available (which all books nominated for the Cybils Awards must be) we were nevertheless excited to hear about it, and wanted to point it out to our readers as another example of books which we’d love to see. Unfortunately, this book has attracted its share of controversy, as a prominent author used it as an example of what she felt was the “agenda” of writers who push for diversity. While there’s a lot of bafflement, frustration, and anger surrounding the conversation, we at the Cybils feel that there are some strong and beautiful ideas coming through as well, ideas worth amplifying and repeating.

The conversation began in response to a Facebook post by 2014 Cybils judge Edi Campbell (you can read Edi’s blog post about it, too). When things got heated, numerous writers and bloggers chimed in, a few of them Cybils folks. A few responses not to be missed:

“The mirrors I find are not in the magazines and newspapers that supposedly embody the truth. I find them in the voices of those who have been pursuing a new narrative for longer than I have, who are just as tired and frustrated with attempting to find these “thousands” of accurate books you promise us are out there for the taking.” (full post here) – Kaye M., first-round YA Speculative Fiction judge

“I wish I could say this was an isolated case, but it isn’t. There are plenty of White authors, teachers, and librarians out there who spout off like this in private or even in public when there are only other White people around. It’s time for White people to stand up to them whenever we hear comments like this — not to shut them down necessarily but to engage them in discourse. They may not be open to listening, but there are likely others in the group who will be.” (full post here) –KT Horning, past Cybils judge

“When I say that we need diverse books, that is what I mean. We need books that show people in the fullness of their humanity. ALL KINDS of people. EVERY kind of person. Including queer black boys. Not on tv or in the papers. In BOOKS. In literature. In art that lasts and matters.” (full post here) — Linda Sue Park, repeat Cybils nominee

Read. Think. Repeat.

— Sarah Stevenson, Blog Co-Editor