Saturday, November 24, 2012

Multi-cultural books

Sorry about not posting for a week. I attended the Indiana Library Federation (ILF) meeting in Indianapolis where I spoke on Multicultural Collections, then came home to prepare for Thanksgiving. Let me just give thanks that Thanksgiving is over.

In this post I will share with you some information from that ILF presentations. Of course, I shared information on my books, Pull and Die Trying. But the main focus of the presentatiomn was a general discussion on diversity in YA fiction. How can readers find it, and why should librarians care.

Happy librarians who all left with copies of Die Trying
Multicultural literature is defined as "Materials that share 'stories, facts, and customs from around the globe' (and around the nation) that allow 'children to become familiar with diversity and to become comfortable with adjusting to the unfamiliar'" according to Venture into Cultures: A Resource Book of Multicultural Materials and Programs. I heard much the same from the 800 plus librarians at the conference.

This was the second time I have presented on this subject. My first was a month earlier, in Sanduscky Ohio, at the Ohio Educational Library Media Association (OELMA).   And this was an ultra-hot topic at the YALSA Literature Symposium, discussed at two different workshops. Librarians care. Their patrons care. And I have survey results from librarians, authors and bloggers to show just how much.

The concern is how few books in this area are being published, and how difficult it is to discover those that are.  Many librarians said they selected books for their collections based on covers and reviews. But as far
Cover Collage

 as diversity is concerned, you can't always tell the book by the cover. As you can see from the cover collage, the books do exist.Every year there are more books about an ever-widening cast of diverse characters. These include books about people of different colors, people with of different ethnicities and abilities, and  books about GLBT youth. True, many of the GLBT books have covers that keep the protagonists hidden. You can't tell by looking at it that I Am J is about a transgender teen. The covers of Five Flavors of Dumb and Crazy Beautiful don't reveal they are about people with disabilities. And the books in the Numbers trilogy show no people on the covers, nothing to reveal they center around interracial romances. 

(And please don't get me started on the American cover for The Demon's Surrender, [the cover I included in the collage is the UK cover] or the original cover that the American publisher wanted for Liar before public hue-and-cry made them change)   But there are now many books about diverse characters, from Shine Coconut Moon, about a Sikh Indian girl living in an ordinary American city, to This Thing Called The Future, that takes readers to Africa to see how similar the struggles and problems facing young people there are to their own lives.  And that fulfills part of the promise librarians have for diversity. That  "readers gain an opportunity to view concepts, events, and issues from more than just the perspective of the mainstream group. When the world is viewed from more than one perspective, readers gain insight into their own behavior."  There are a variety of ways of living and being, but that at our core, we are all so very similar.

As one librarian said, "It’s comforting and empowering for anyone to see his or her cultural experience reflected in literature. And for general population readers, it’s an essential tool to appreciating/celebrating the differences among us, as well as understanding the similarities."

Librarians want to increase their selection, and during our discussion we centered on ways to do so.  Many readers of all ages want the same thing. If you have any books you think deserve to be in any of these collections to be presented to future librarian organizations, please leave a comment. Let me know and I will check them out and present to librarians in the future.    And if you have any comments on the on-going multi-cultural representation in YA literature issue, please share. I think we would all love to hear more.

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