I’m sure you’ve seen me talking about this EVERYWHERE else, but I’m posting this here too just to be sure. If you don’t know what #WeNeedDiverseBooks is, check out the original post on Tumblr. Then share YOUR picture that completes this prompt: “We need diverse books because ___________.”
Simple, right? But it’s not all talk. There’s another step: recommend great diverse books, then go out and #DiversifyYourShelves (more at the link above). This weekend we’re heading out en masse to buy diverse books at our local bookstores and online. If the book you’re looking for isn’t in the store, ask for it! Booksellers pay attention to books they’re not carrying get requested a lot over time. If you don’t have the money to buy a book right now, ask for more diversity (request specific titles) in your local library.
Over the weekend, a discussion of diversity in SFF magazines has been brewing in SFF circles. I don’t read many SFF magazines, so I hadn’t been aware of the discussions until Janni Lee Simner pointed someone in the discussion to Tu as an answer for finding diversity in genre. So I won’t address the specifics of a need for diversity in SFF magazines, except to say, yes, it’s important.
Rather, I feel I need to address an article, and a tweet from the author of that article, who takes the position that diversity is “superficial” and therefore unnecessary.
I couldn’t disagree more that diversity in SFF is superficial. In fact, it is at the root of some of the deepest, well-told stories I’ve read. Take Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s Andre Norton–nominated Summer of the Mariposas. It would be an entirely different story if it were set in a Midwestern town starring white girls of European descent, or set in Vancouver or Maine and crossed the U.S.-Canadian border. The entire weave of the worldbuilding is centered around the girls’ identities as both Mexican and American, and the multiple identities that “Mexican” entails—that of both Aztec ancestry and Spanish-influenced Catholicism. The magical people and goddesses the girls meet are straight out of Mexican folklore. There is nothing superficial about anything regarding the Mexican influences within the book.
Simply changing the color of a character to “blackwash” them for diversity’s sake is far from what anyone who truly advocates for “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” is looking for when we seek more characters of color, LGBT characters, etc. We’re looking for the heart-deep diversity of experiences that so seldom are reflected in science fiction and fantasy. We’re asking for the genre to deepen its idea of “what it means to be human”—a question that SFF excels at asking. Yes, we’re all human and we have common experiences, but how we answer the deepest questions of humanity’s existence vary with culture, ethnicity, religion, country, community. (Are we communal or do we seek individuality? To whom are people loyal? Who is in control? How do we judge goodness?) It has to do with power dynamics and experiences of privilege and the lack thereof, and how privilege is intersectional. And the genre is richer when we explore that full breadth, even when we have dragons and aliens as part of the mix.
Diversity in SFF is about human protagonists that not only welcome readers who might not feel welcome in the genre, but about opening up the world of the reader who isn’t familiar with the culture or personality of a protagonist from a community that hasn’t been as well represented in the past. It’s about awesome worldbuilding, excellent storytelling, and finding inspiration in places that aren’t the same old Western European tropes—tropes we love, sure, but they’ve been overplayed. There are fresh ideas and characters to be found from authors with different perspectives, in places and cultures that haven’t been as well represented.
If you haven’t noticed me talking about it EVERYWHERE, this week is Tu Books’ Friends & Family sale! We’re offering some pretty amazing discounts on our books—in particular, Cat Girl’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley and Vodnik by Bryce Moore are only $1.99 in e-book format! And all our paper books are on sale for 35% off plus free US shipping. See the sale announcement for more details.
There’s not much time left, so hurry and take advantage of the sale while it’s still available!
And please share this link on with any friends or family who you think might be interested. Books depend on word of mouth to succeed, and no books more so than those published by small presses. If you believe diversity in books for young readers is important, or you just plain think we’re publishing awesome books, please spread the word!
If you’re not really sure what you should pick to read, though, I have put together a handy guide, according to interests and mood. Find your next weekend read here!
For older readers (young adult and adult):
If you’re looking for comedy, or you’re a fan of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or you love cats, or you have always wondered what your superpower would be, read Cat Girl’s Day Off—Kimberly Pauley’s love story to Chicago, John Hughes, and snarky cats who talk. Not to mention mystery (kidnapping of a celebrity blogger, murder plots) and adventure (literal cat herding).
If you love rich worldbuilding, inspiration from less-well-known fairy and folk tales, sympathetic characters, and complicated, dark humor, read Vodnik—about a teen trying to avoid being drowned by a creature out of Slovak tales to capture his soul and put it in a teacup. Oh, and having to make a deal with Slovakia’s goddess of death to accomplish it.
If you’re looking for a (literal) kick-butt superheroine in a post-apocalyptic world, defending her family from despotic rulers and making the world safe for humankind, read Killer of Enemies—postapocalyptic Apache steampunk.
If you like dystopian tales with strong science fiction and human rights issues elements, read Tankborn and its sequel Awakening—hard science fiction with a romantic subplot set in a strict caste system in which “non-humans” are at the bottom rung.
Love books about reinterpreting old stories anew? Looking for a complicated father-son relationship, or love stories about genies and monsters and golem? Or a magical coming-of-age set in a rich historical time period? Read Hammer of Witches. Also the perfect classroom tie-in to a unit studying the events of 1492, particularly Columbus’s first journey westward, and particularly for reluctant readers who might need a “fun” story to get them into the history.
Read Summer of the Mariposas if you’re looking for a strong sisterhood story with no romance, a Mexican American retelling of The Odyssey, or a book that can best be described as Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants meets Weekend at Bernie’s. This is a great gentle read for your advanced older middle grade readers and young teens looking for a clean read, as well as a great classroom tie-in to an Odyssey unit.
Wolf Mark is great for readers who love paranormal romance and science fiction. It’s best described as Burn Notice with werewolves—Abenaki skinwalkers, actually, written by one of the best Native American writers working today.
Diverse Energies is a collection of 11 dystopian stories that all star people of color—if you’re looking for where the people of color are in the future, here’s one collection of tales exploring that lack elsewhere. Stories from Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon (both of Diversity in YA here on Tumblr), Paolo Bacigalupi, Ursula K. Le Guin, and more.
For younger readers (ages 8-12), we also have a couple of fun books: The Monster in the Mudball and Galaxy Games: The Challengers.
Monster in the Mudball is the perfect first “real” middle-grade novel for your readers who have just graduated from chapter books, and it makes a great read-aloud as well. I like to think of it as Warehouse 13 for kids–an artifact inspector comes to town, and Jin, our main character, has to help her find the monster that hatched from the artifact before it eats Jin’s baby brother!
Galaxy Games: The Challengers is a hilarious romp of a book that basically involves the Olympics in space. Aliens come to Earth to recruit Earth kids for the biggest sporting event in the galaxy—and our hero is mistaken for the best kid athlete on Earth because he got a star named after him for his birthday.
Sharing on this Call for Papers that was just brought to my attention. I know several people who might be interested in this (I’d love to myself, but I don’t have time to write a paper).
Call for Papers: Authenticity, Artifacts, and Publishing Patterns in Multicultural Texts
The Diversity Committee of the Children’s Literature Association is seeking papers for its sponsored panel at the ChLA 2014 Conference to be held in Columbia, South Carolina, June 19-21. (For more information on the conference, visit the ChLA conference website at www.chlaconference.org.)
We are looking for papers that address how “other” cultures are represented in translated, multi-cultural, and cross-cultural texts. Are texts considered “authentic” if they do not conform to common expectations regarding the representation of minority or foreign cultures? Do mainstream perceptions of “authenticity” realistically represent “other” cultural points of view? Does referencing quotidian cultural behaviors, which would not be noted by members of the culture itself, reflect a tendency to treat other cultures as anthropological subjects? Have certain artifacts, narrative structures and themes appeared repeatedly, and through repetition, come to signify authenticity? Have identifiable patterns come to be the publishing and literary equivalents of museum artifacts under glass?
Questions? Contact Claudia Pearson, firstname.lastname@example.org. Email your 500-word abstract and 2-page CV by 30 November 2013, attaching it in .rtf, .doc, or .docx format, and including your email and phone number.
I’m sitting at home, waiting for the dizziness to stop (stupid sinuses, stupid vertigo) and thinking about last week’s and night’s episodes of Once Upon a Time. Ever since Mulan showed up at the beginning of season 2, I’ve been pondering on how diversity is handled in the fairy tale world. After all, this is a fairy tale world that includes (real) tales from China, not to mention the genie from Aladdin, so we’re not limited to the tales of white western Europe (and medieval western Europe was a whole lot more diverse than many people give it credit for). One of the seven dwarves appears Asian, the guy who plays Sidney Glass/the Mirror/Genie is black. There are a (few) others, but few who are named and whose backstory we see anything of. Though the actress who plays the Evil Queen/Regina is Latina, she’s not portrayed as Latina, so it’s hard to count that as one in the win column.
While the show has its problematic side, I am enjoying the direction the main storyline is heading in this season—going to Neverland, reuniting a complicated family across generations and adoptions, digging into the nuances of heroes and villains. The idea that Henry can have two moms who both love him, and that he doesn’t have to choose between them, is a good direction for the story to be going. And I like that they’re finally going to be confronting Emma’s emotional distance between herself and her parents, her orphan-ness, this season, because that was kind of hinted at but never really taken head-on in previous seasons. I like that there seems to be some chemistry between Emma and Hook, which will be complicated when Neil/Baelfire finally reaches them.
But I’m highly disappointed with how the show handles its characters of color. Have you noticed how many of them die or get locked away to be forgotten compared to other characters? Sidney (who disappeared to star on Revolution, never to be mentioned again), the fiance who was trying to sabotage magic and kidnapped Henry (who could as easily have joined up with their team, but no, just got killed off; granted, so did her white partner in crime). Lancelot, who is dead before we ever meet him.
We’ve got a spinoff coming up later this week (Once Upon a Time in Wonderland) and it would have been a perfect opportunity for exploring a story for one of the surviving characters of color, like Mulan, who seems to exist only as a helper character for the white characters so far, not a hero in her own right—she’s even in a love triangle with Sleeping Beauty and Prince Philip, rather than with her own love interest from her Disney story, Li Shang. We never see very deeply into her backstory—season 2 really dropped the ball on her potential. Though perhaps we’ll see some chemistry between her and Neil while Emma’s feeling a little drawn to Hook? I don’t know. Not really feeling that direction. I’d rather see her be a hero in her own right, rather than a love interest who’s only important because she helps the main characters.
I think it’s a missed opportunity in Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. And it’s also just plain confusing: instead of spinning the story of Alice in Wonderland off from the Mad Hatter we met in Wonderland (who also disappeared, never to be spoken of again—so many dropped threads in this show)—who was supposedly Alice’s father, somehow the 10-year-old daughter of the Mad Hatter in Once Upon a Time’s world morphs into a teenaged girl from Victorian England. There’s never been time travel in this world before—Baelfire spent quite a bit of time in Neverland beforeEmma was born before all the curse stuff happened, and we know about this passage of time because he landed in Victorian England before getting taken to Neverland.
But in this new spinoff, Alice’s father is a normal Englishman who has had Alice institutionalized for delusional thoughts and mental illness (i.e., she imagined Wonderland as a girl, but it wasn’t real, they claim). Whatever happened to the Mad Hatter from Wonderland who we met in OUAT who had been so crucial to the plot at one point?
And Alice is older than she was in Storybrooke. Yet the Knave of Hearts leaves during the storm when magic comes at the end of season 1 in Storybrooke, so we know it’s the same world—that is, Alice was in that town as a 10-year-old at the same time—so what’s going on?
And the genie from Aladdin was Sidney Glass, who ran The Daily Mirror, the Genie who became the Mirror because he loved Regina so much. So who is this genie? And related, why is Jafar coming into the story at all?
ETA: Also, wasn’t Cora the Queen of Hearts? Where does this new Queen of Hearts come from? I’m utterly confused about the entire premise of this as a spinoff of Once Upon a Time.
I could be wrong about the guys who play the love-interest genie Cyrus and the Knave of Hearts (perhaps they are multiracial or of Latino or Middle Eastern origin, but it doesn’t appear so), but what it seems so far is that the only person of color in the spinoff is Naveen Andrews, who plays Jafar. Given Once Upon a Time’s track record of trying to redeem bad guys, perhaps this isn’t the case of “guy of color is the bad guy,” and I hope that’s the case… and I hope that Jafar doesn’t end up dead by the end of the mini-series.
What does this mean for POC in the Once Upon a Time world? So far, not much good. I’d love to be proved wrong by this season of OUAT or OUATiW, but I have little hope that I will based upon their track record.
On a whim tonight, I looked at what movies were playing, and I was really not impressed with the selection. It seemed like a lot of badly done action movies next to sequels to movies I never saw (and though I’ve heard that the first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was fun, the second isn’t faring as well in the comments I’ve seen from friends).
I very nearly ended up going home instead of going to a movie. I hate feeling like going to a movie in the theater but not having anything to go see. But hey, there is a new episode of The Master’s Sun to watch on Hulu/DramaFever, after all, and I have plenty of reading to do anyway. Before I resigned myself to a movie-less night, I checked the theater I pass by on my way to the subway just to see if there was anything interesting. Sometimes they play indie movies I might not have heard of.
Serendipitously, a movie I’d seen a preview for months ago via K-drama friends (or maybe DramaFever?) about a Korean American guy who meets a girl in Korea and tries to have a long-distance relationship with her was actually opening tonight. Like Austenland(which you should see if you haven’t yet!), it’s an indie movie whose wider release will depend on how well it does opening weekend. It got reviewed in the New York Times yesterday, but I didn’t read the review before attending because I didn’t want to be accidentally spoiled. Turns out it was a good review without any spoilers, so you’re safe to read that one. Check out the trailer:
Wedding Palace begins with a wedding. Jason gets left at the altar when his bride, Jinny, runs off with the cake decorator. On her way out the door, she runs him over and he ends up in the hospital with multiple broken bones (and some massive old-school casts). Jason’s family thinks, “This is a sign! The family curse!”
That’s right, there’s a family curse, which puts a fun spin on the rom-com thing–the men in the family must wed before they turn 30 or they die, because one ancestor* canceled out on his bride sometime wayyy back. (The big-foreheaded cartoon style in the telling of the family curse was kind of jarring because I’m so used to Korean-style chibi (or whatever chibi is called in Korean), but it grew on you.)
And that’s where it all really gets going. Jason’s just a few months off from his 30th birthday and his parents are starting to get nervous. They start setting him up with any appropriate girl, but of course, the question is, what’s appropriate? The parents are portrayed as super traditional—they’re looking for high achievement, lots of money, traditional girl who cooks, that kind of thing. There’s this really awkward scene in which Jason’s best friend lauds how great the married life is to such a girl, because, among other things, she makes her own kimchi** and serves his every need (and talks to him in baby talk?)!
Jason decides to give up, and his parents get even more worried because family curse! But he can’t think about it now, Mom and Dad, because he has to work hard on a project he’s going to be presenting in Seoul the next day.
Seoul, you say?
Mom and Dad’s ears perk up then. He gets set up on blind dates in Seoul, too, including one with a girl who thinks “Dahmer was pretty cool.” Crash and burn. But as he’s sending off that drunk date in a taxi, he runs into a woman he met earlier that day during his presentation at work, Na Young. And the cute romance begins, contrasting first generation Korean American parents and grandparents who came over in the 70s against modern-day Koreans from Korea, suggesting that the former are actually more traditional than the latter.***
All in all, a cute rom com with a twist that you won’t see coming— after watching the trailer again, I realized that what I thought was a twist was actually in the trailer, so I won’t worry that’s a spoiler—but that you’ll realize was set up perfectly in hindsight. It has some flaws in the storytelling—moments that went on too long, that kind of thing. But it was funny and cute and well worth my time, and it was great to see a different perspective of Korean culture in the media than that of a Korean drama. I love dramas, but they have their own tropes and stereotypes, and most of them seem to have a particular point of view that is very different from the POV of Wedding Palace.
I must say, though, my favorite character had to be Halmoni (Grandma). First she has a heart attack when she learns Na Young’s secret, then she escapes from the hospital and convinces a couple of Latino guys in a car outside the hospital—in excellent Spanish—that she needs a ride to stop a wedding. SO CUTE. Watch the movie for Halmoni alone, even if a rom com isn’t your thing. And I love Margaret Cho in anything.
After the movie was over, the director Christine Yoo—this is her feature film debut—came out and did a Q&A, so I was pretty lucky to have run into this screening tonight! She talked about the challenges of making an indie movie, of finding the funding they needed and of finding distribution, of trying to get it into film festivals and not making it, and how this weekend was all-important to whether the movie would get a wider release.
I raised my hand and asked if she’d seen interest in the movie from K-drama fans, and she turned it around on me and asked how I’d found out about it, because she hoped that was the case! I hope that DramaFever fans are talking it up to each other–I’m going to go check after posting this.
And that’s where we get into the diversity in the media part of the post. Ms. Yoo is third generation Korean American, and a woman. She said that something like six percent of the academy of directors (or whatever it’s called—I missed the name) are women, and we’ve talked here and elsewhere about how bad representation is across the board for minorities in the movies and TV. She spoke of the opposition she faced at getting the film out there, that higher-ups questioned what kind of universal appeal a movie about Korean Americans and Koreans with an all-Korean cast could have in the US, and even tried to get her to cast the best friend as a white guy for that “appeal.”
It’s a problem across the board—not just in movies and TV, but in the Tony Awards, and—as we know—in children’s books. It’s why I started Tu Books, and it’s why Lee & Low is in business in the first place. And she spoke to exactly the thing we’ve been discussing across the L&L social media: If we want diverse media to happen, we need to be sure to support it. Word of mouth is supremely important, as is supporting a new movie like this in its first weekend so it lives to see another weekend. I’d also say the same for TV, books, etc.—which is why I’m giving Sleepy Hollow a few more weeks before I make a final judgement on it, because it really is doing great at the diversity, and it’s a very beautifully made show, even if it’s weaker in other parts. The more we support diversity by putting our money where our mouth is, the more of it we’ll see getting a chance to continue to be made—and the cream will rise to the top. Too often, Hollywood seems to have the idea that movies flop because “women don’t sell” or “minorities don’t sell” when they only give one movie a chance, but no matter how many flops starring white men, they never say “white men don’t sell.” So it’s an uphill battle and we can make a difference as consumers just by supporting the good ones—and even the medium-quality ones—with support, with word of mouth, and so forth. So this is me, doing what I can, and I hope that you’ll take a chance on this one. If not this one, then on The Butler (which I haven’t had a chance to go see yet) or Austenlandor any other movie or TV show which might not make it without our support.
*well, not direct line, obviously, because he died before he had the chance
**I’m not sure the making-her-own-kimchi thing is all that different from most Korean women I’ve known from Korea who have been my roommates and friends, but maybe I’m just friends with more traditional people? After all, most of my Korean friends are Mormon, and Mormons tend to be pretty traditional about their cultures in many ways.
***Again, not sure how true that is more widely, but among the Koreans I know, that doesn’t seem to be the case, and Korean dramas (which are such a reflection of reality, I’m sure!) imply that there’s certainly at least a strong contingent of more traditional Koreans as well, though perhaps not stuck in the 70s, as the main character thinks of Korean Americans.
Side note: I just realized—thanks to a congratulatory email on LinkedIn, of all things—that I’ve now officially been at Lee & Low Books for 3 years, almost to the day (I believe I started on March 5, 2010, but my memory is fuzzy). YAY for Tu Books! Yay for diversity in science fiction, fantasy, and mystery for young readers!
And to celebrate that—diversity in books for young readers, that is—we’re starting a Twitter chat that we’ve dubbed #diverselit. Tomorrow—Thursday, March 7, 2013—will be our first #diverselit chat on Twitter, and I hope you’ll be able to join us, in which I and my coworker Hannah, who is Lee & Low’s marketing manager, will be talking about Diversity 101, which covers all those frequently asked questions such as:
Who can write what?
What does “POC” mean?
What is privilege and why does it matter?
Why is diversity in books for young people a problem, and why does it matter?
If you’re an expert, join in the conversation and give us your perspective. If you’re a newbie to all of this, come to learn. Everyone, come to discuss! I will be tweeting from Tu Books’ twitter, and Hannah will be tweeting from Lee & Low’s twitter, so be sure to follow us both.
If you don’t know how a Twitter chat works, check out this handy guide to hashtag chats. Not on Twitter? You can follow along by searching #diverselit on Twitter itself or on http://www.tweetchat.com, but to participate in the chat, you need a Twitter account, which is pretty easy to set up. Hope to chat with you tomorrow!
We’re finally going to have an official cover reveal soon of both of Tu’s spring titles—Awakening by Karen Sandler (the second book in the Tankborn trilogy) and Hammer of Witches by Shana Mlawski, who is a debut author. I’m so excited about both of them! We’ve gotten some great blurbs in from some really awesome authors, too, which I’ll share here when I link to the cover reveal for Hammer of Witches.
More on that soon! But here’s a little more about the books, to whet your appetite:
Once a Chadi sector GEN girl terrified of her first Assignment, Kayla is now a member of the Kinship, a secret organization of GENs, lowborns, and trueborns. Kayla travels on Kinship business, collecting information to further the cause of GEN freedom.
Despite Kayla’s relative freedom, she is still a slave to the trueborn ruling class. She rarely sees trueborn Devak, and any relationship between them is still strictly forbidden.
Kayla longs to be truly free, but other priorities have gotten in the way. A paradoxically deadly new virus has swept through GEN sectors—a disease only GENs catch. And GEN warrens and warehouses are being bombed, with only a scrawled clue: F.H.E. Freedom, Humanity, Equality.
With the virus and the bombings decimating the GEN community, freedom and love are put on the back burner as Kayla and her friends find a way to stop the killing . . . before it’s too late.
Hammer of Witches by Shana Mlawski
Baltasar Infante, a bookmaker’s apprentice living in 1492 Spain, can weasel out of any problem with a good story. But when he awakes one night to find a monster straight out of the stories peering at him through his window, he’s in trouble that even he can’t talk his way out of. Soon Baltasar is captured by a mysterious arm of the Spanish Inquisition, the Malleus Maleficarum, that demands he reveal the whereabouts of Amir al-Katib, a legendary Moorish sorcerer who can bring myths and the creatures within them to life. Baltasar doesn’t know where the man is—or that he himself has the power to summon genies and golems.
Baltasar must escape, find al-Katib, and defeat a dreadful power that may destroy the world. As Baltasar’s journey takes him into uncharted lands on Columbus’s voyage westward, he learns that stories are more powerful than he once believed them to be—and much more dangerous.
Have you been waiting for the right time—for example, a holiday promotional event—to buy a Tu Book or two? We’ll be sending out a special holiday discount to all our e-news subscribers, so sign up for our e-news to be sure that you’ll be in on the action.
You’ll see on that link that there are four options on the e-news: one for everything, one that is targeted for authors and illustrators—including publishing advice and contest announcements, another that focuses just on the books themselves, and another for teachers and librarians that includes classroom helps and links to resources on our site. You can sign up for all of them, or just one or two.
And the discount coupons don’t just come during the holidays—each e-news comes with discount codes just for e-news subscribers.
If you’re in New York City and have the time (i.e., you’re not out volunteering or salvaging your own home) the A Is for Anansi conference at NYU this weekend is still on, despite the university being shut down for the week after the hurricane due to flooding and electrical outages. That is now taken care of and they’re getting back on their feet, and looking forward to discussing literature for children of African descent on Friday evening and all day Saturday.
There’s an RSVP number at that link, but if that isn’t working (I’ve heard there might be troubles with it), don’t worry—just show up. The conference is free to the public, so anyone may come.
I’ll be on the fantasy/science fiction panel on Saturday, along with Nnedi Okorafor and Zetta Elliott, which I’m really looking forward to. We’ll be talking about the scarcity of fantasy/science-fiction books featuring children of African decent and how we hope to fix that. I hope you can make it!
November 9-10th, 2012
Location for all programs: Kimmel Center-NYU,
60 Washington Square South, E&L Auditorium, 4th Floor