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10-21 Sarah Raplee – Author of “Blindsight” Psychic Agents Series, Book One

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

Hi everyone!
I am YA author B. A. Binns , writer of contemporary and realistic fiction for teens. My tagline says it all - Stories of Real Boys Growing Into Real Men - and the people who love them. 


As a YA author of color (AOC) I have grown used to being unnoticed at writer's conferences. There is a reason I have stopped attending the national RWA (Romance Writers of America) conference, and have never gone to SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) although I am a long-time member of both organizations. I listen to editors, reviewers, readers and even other authors talk about how colorblind they are. All too often colorblind ends up equating to I don't even notice books about characters of color, or their authors.

During February, the CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center) listserv took on the topic of diversity in books. CCBC is part of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (my old alma mater, although I graduated from the school of agriculture - seriously, I remember my Soil Science class fondly). The listserv filled with messages about the lack of diversity with more than 90% of the children's, MG and YA titles in the US featuring white protagonists. All too  many of the ethnic "extras" in these books are 2-dimensional, caricatures, or stereotypes.  And most are written by white authors.  I and other ethnic writers recounted the frequent experience of sitting at a conference booksigning and seeing people stop to talk to the authors on my left and right and practice that colorblind thing when it came to me.

It happened again at a booksigning last month. I am ever-hopeful and tried to reach out to the prospective buyers walking down the YA aisle. And it almost worked. Two white teens stopped,
picked up my books and read the back-covers. I admit I designed blurbs specifically to appeal to the teen eye. The brother and sister headed off to corral Mom, obviously the keeper of the funds. Mom came close enough to see me and to spy the black characters on the covers of my books. And that was that. I could see the kids pleading with her, but she would not come close enough to look at the books herself or to purchase one.

I almost went over to promise her there was nothing in the pages to damage her kids. Instead I sat, smiled, and watched her heard them away.

As I said, I am not the first YA or MG author of color who has experienced this, seen or heard white parents explain to their kids that "those books are not for you." And I hear how publishers and booksellers say there is no problem with so many titles featuring white casts, that kids of color should be colorblind because those books speak to universal themes and that is more important than them seeing themselves in the pages.

The books that interested the kids were:


  • a teen dealing with the aftermath of domestic violence that left him in charge of his younger siblings and worried about his own future (Pull, a 2012 YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers)
  • teen boys in conflict with their fathers (Being God)
  • an GLBT teen dealing with the loss of his boyfriend and feelings of being the only one of his kind (Minority Of One)
Obviously dangerous topics that could never have universal appeal.

For another side of the issue, checkout my post about what happened at a different conference, Romance Slam Jam 2014 - http://barbarabinns.com/2014/05/look-at-kids-and-see-why.html

That's why I support the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.  To get more books like these in kids hands.

I hope you will consider doing the same.

6 comments:

Judith Ashley said...

Fantastic post, BA. And anyone else who reads this be sure to click through to her Romance Slam Jam post! Well worth it to read about such an inspiring and awesome event.

B. A. Binns said...

Thank you, Judith. These are the things that make me hopeful for the future of publishing YA and Children's books.

Sarah Raplee said...

Thank you for telling us about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. This is so, so true. I'm going to click through to your Romance Slam Jam post now to get cheered up.

Pamala Knight said...

I'm going to plan better and be able to attend this conference sometime soon. I'm on the yahoo listserv and every time I read the line up and then the aftermath of the conference, I'm always sad I didn't go.

Very glad you had a good time and very sad about the woman who couldn't open her mind to diverse books even though her kids clearly did.

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Great post, B. A. I was so sad to hear your story. I've read Minority of One and there are so many universal things that helped me fall in love with the characters. There shouldn't be any division of majority and POC books or authors.

Pippa Jay said...

It's really sad to hear about a mother discouraging her children from buying books. I encourage my kids to read anything they might be interested in, providing it isn't too far above their reading age (they're still too young for adult books, but my eleven year old is already reading YA). They love Doctor Who, and a lot of the covers feature his companions, some of whom have been people of colour, so it definitely wouldn't be something that would put them off, and that I wouldn't discourage them from.