Opinion

We need more diverse books

The stats are in: We need more diverse books! Check out the #weneedmorediversebooks campaign.

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Photo: iStockphoto

When I think about the books I loved as a child and as a teen, I think about the characters that inspired me, the stories that took me to places I never knew about, and the magical moments that happen when a reader finds the right book.

Read more: Kids’ books we love>

But I don’t think about diversity. And that is a terrible thing.

According to the University of Wisconsin, only six percent of books contain diverse characters. And that pitiful statistic is exactly why we need the #weneedmorediversebooks campaign.

At May’s annual publishing conference, the organizers decided to open a day to the public—but the inaugural BookCon had an all-white male lineup (plus Grumpy Cat). In response to this lack of diversity (other than a cat) some writers, including Ellen Oh, banded together to start #weneedmorediversebooks, which in turn has become a phenomenon.

Authors and avid readers have taken to Twitter and other social-media outlets with pictures and stories that express their desire for more diversity in their reading: They want more protagonists of colour and less stereotypes, less emphasis on heterosexuality, more powerful females in science fiction and fantasy, and just more of everything and everyone. Well-known authors such as Jodi Picoult have gotten involved, too.

It’s a joyous moment when you recognize yourself in a book. Our world is becoming more diverse, and more colourful—everyone should have that moment of “Ping! I get that person, that person is me.” But so many people are left out of that light bulb moment. And there are so many stories that aren’t being told.

The #weneedmorediversebooks Tumblr page is filled with reading suggestions for people of all ages. You should bookmark it if you are looking for books for youself or your kids.

Tim Federerle, author of Nate Better Than Ever, tweeted yesterday that he had yet another appearance cancelled—likely because of the gay character in his books. On the #weneedmorediversebooks Tumblr page he says:

This is why the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is so important. Because this happens too many times to diverse pubbed authors and white authors who dare to write diversely. Our books are “too gay,” “too black,” “too hispanic,” “too oriental,” “too ethnic”—but they are usually couched in words like “there are concerns,” “our students can’t relate,” “problematic material,” “too mature,” “beyond their comfort level,” “will create issues,” etc.

There are so many reasons to love this campaign. The movement is about making the world more tolerant, more reflective and more interesting. And people are getting fired up about books and talking about the importance of reading.

I know that the books of my youth helped shape who I am. I wish they had been more diverse. I am hopeful that the books of tomorrow will reflect this generation a lot better. In the meantime, I have some reading to do.

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman.  

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