Yes, We Need Diverse Books

Everyone deserves to be seen. As a librarian, I have the opportunity to work with children, teens and adults on a daily basis. One of my goals as a public servant is to make each person I interact with feel seen no matter who they are. However, being seen goes beyond just being acknowledged in our daily interactions with others. Another component of my job is working with youth of all ages and connecting them with books that will enrich their lives and help them reach their full potential. Books are an important way to help young people feel seen. Not only do they see themselves reflected in stories and images, but they also become familiar with the experiences of others. I touched on this briefly in my blog post last month.

Connecting kids with books in which they are reflected can be problematic because there is an imbalance of representation in which a large percentage of children’s and young adult books only reflect the mainstream white experience. The current publishing industry does not reflect the rich diversity of the children in the United States. There are strides being made by such groups as We Need Diverse Books and an increase in the amount of books being published by people of color. There is a lot more progress that needs to be made and KT Horning discusses this in great depth on the Cooperative Children’s Book Center blog.

The recently published children’s and young adult books highlighted below are a celebration of diversity and capture the experiences of immigrants and their children, African Americans, the LGBTQ community, indigenous women and more. They just skim the surface of the diverse books that can be found within our collections at the Everett Public Library.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi


This beautifully illustrated Caldecott honor book is based on an experience that Bao Phi (a prominent performance poet) had as a child. It captures him and his father fishing in the early morning hours in Minnesota where his family settled after leaving Vietnam. They are fishing for food, not just enjoyment. The story captures a simple, yet poignant experience shared by father and son. Through this experience we learn about some of the struggles his parents faced in America along with some of the trauma they experienced in Vietnam. The story is illustrated by Thi Bui who also came to America from Vietnam as a young girl.

A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary/illustrated by QinLeng


O’Leary captures almost every kind of family in this picture book that begins with a classroom discussion in which each child shares why their family is special. A little girl in the class does not want to share about her family because she is afraid they are too different. The students start to share about their families and the girl begins to see how many different kinds of families there are: families with a mom and dad, families with two moms or two dads, families with adopted children, mixed families, blended families, divorced families, single parent families and families where grandma is raising the grandchildren. Eventually we learn that the girl is a foster child who happens to be very loved by her foster mother.

Love by Matt De La Pena/illustrated by Loren Long


“And the face staring back in the bathroom mirror—this, too, is love.” This is just one sentence from award winning writer Matt De La Pena’s most recent picture book. The story is both an exploration and meditation on love told through the lens of a child growing up into young adulthood. It is not just one child but many different children at various points in their lives. The children are comprised of a diverse group that includes one in a wheel chair, African American children and a Latinx family. The story portrays the complexity of love even when it feels absent and how it can be found again. The book reads beautifully like a poem and leaves the reader with much to ponder.

Sparkle Boy by Leslea Newman


Casey wants to be like his sister when it comes to wearing sparkly skirts, nail polish and bracelets. Gender stereotypes are challenged in this story about a family who is mostly accepting of Casey’s love of all things sparkly. His sister is the exception and she grows increasingly angry as he shows interest in sparkly things that are permitted by the adults in his life. Her feelings change when they are at the library and a group of boys start teasing Casey because he is wearing a sparkly skirt. She stands up for her younger brother who is visibly hurt and she challenges the boys’ views of what is acceptable attire for boys.

As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman


This young adult graphic novel tells the story of Charlie, an African American Christian teenager who identifies as queer. She has been sent to Three Peaks summer camp which happens to be an all-white Christian camp. She struggles with different aspects of the camp, especially some of the thoughtless comments or microaggressions made by the head counselor. She also has a crush on the head counselor’s daughter who assists her mother at the camp. Charlie befriends one of the other campers named Sydney and discovers they have more in common than she thinks.

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed


Maya is a Muslim Indian American who lives in a small community outside of Chicago. It is Maya’s senior year and she is increasingly caught between her parent’s expectations and her dreams of moving to New York and pursuing a career in film. Her parents came to the United States from India as a young couple and expect Maya to attend college close to home and find an acceptable Muslim young man to marry. Maya has secretly applied to NYU and is falling for Phil, a popular football player at her high school. Her world changes dramatically when a courthouse in Illinois is bombed, killing hundreds of people. The community where she has spent her entire life becomes engulfed in fear and hate, much of it directed towards Maya and her parents.

Black Girl Magic: a Poem by Mahogany L. Browne


This poem is written to African American girls and challenges the many destructive messages they receive from society. Mahogany Browne has shared it widely through spoken word and now she has partnered with Jess X. Snow to depict the poem visually.

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess by Shari Green


There are lots of changes about to happen in Macy McMillan’s life including her mother’s upcoming nuptials to a man with twin daughters. The story is written in verse and highlights Macy’s deafness but it is not the focus of the story. Instead we see a beautiful relationship develop between Macy and her older neighbor Iris. This hopeful book highlights family and friendship with vibrant characters.

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz


Betty Shabazz is most well known for being the wife of Malcom X and an activist. Her daughter has written this work of historical fiction along with renowned author Renee Watson. The story chronicles Betty’s beginnings with a neglectful mother and her eventual adoption by a middle class couple at her church. She volunteers for an organization called the Housewives League and this is the beginning of her work as an activist. Not only is the reader exposed to the challenges that Betty faced as a young person but they are also given an introduction to the roots of the Civil Rights movement.

#Not Your Princess: Voices of Native American Women / edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale


This powerful book is a compilation of poems, essays, photography and art by indigenous women throughout North America. There is a lot of pain and anger manifested in this book because of the mistreatment and erasure of indigenous people. However, this book will educate teens and give them perspective on a subject that is often ignored. It is at least a start in letting the voices, feelings and strength of these women be heard and seen.

And the Winners Are…

Every year I look forward to the book awards that exist for works of adult literature such as The Man Booker Prize, The Pulitzer Prize and The National Book Award. However, the most exciting awards that I wait for all year are the ALA (American Library Association) Youth Media Awards. Yesterday, the 2018 award ceremony was held in Denver and many awards were given to distinguished Children’s and Young Adult books.

Recently, I was reading a post in a library Facebook group I belong to and a librarian had written about children’s picture books. One of her coworkers at the library told her that in his eyes picture books had no merit whatsoever. As a Youth Services Librarian and parent, I was shocked to read this. Children’s books and Young Adult literature support youth in many different capacities from emergent literacy to becoming accomplished readers. Rudine Sims Bishop writes about how children’s literature can act as both a mirror and a window. Kids can see themselves in stories, but they can also see others, expanding their view of the world and the society in which they live.

The Youth Media Awards are a celebration of the amazing literature that exists for young people throughout the United States. Awards are given to a wide cross-section of books that include both fiction and nonfiction. I have highlighted many of the award winners below. For a full listing of all of the winners, go here.

Caldecott: “Awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book.”

Winner: Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

This almost wordless picture book tells the story of a girl on her way home from school who discovers a wolf pup left behind by his pack. She embarks on a journey with the pup to find his family. The pen and ink drawings with watercolors convey a story of warmth and kindness even in the midst of adversity.

Newbery“Awarded to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”

Winner: Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Hello, Universe is told in four different voices–all sixth grade students on summer break. The book explores the friendship that develops between three of the kids while taking on other topics such as bullying and cross-generational relationships. The author maintains a sense of humor while telling a poignant story of kids making sense of and finding their place in the world.

Coretta Scott King: “Designed to commemorate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to honor Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards annually recognize outstanding books for young adults and children by African American authors and illustrators that reflect the African American experience. Further, the Award encourages the artistic expression of the black experience via literature and the graphic arts in biographical, social, and historical treatments by African American authors and illustrators.”

Illustrator Award: Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, illustrated by Ekua Holmes and written by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderly and Marjory Wentworth

Mixed media collage paintings by Ekua Holmes are paired with poems written by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth. The poems are written in the style of famous poets such as Rumi, Maya Angelou and Naomi Shihab Nye. The paintings expand the experience of the poem and are sure to inspire kids to read and write poetry. This was Kwame Alexander’s hope when he began working on this book.

Author award: Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

This multi-layered novel tells the story of Jade, an African-American teenager living in Portland, Oregon. She lives with her single mom and sometimes sees her father when he can keep his promises. Jade is an artist and she is so smart that she has a scholarship to a cutting edge private high school on the other side of town. She constantly struggles with the feeling of being broken up into little pieces whether it is at her private school or with her wealthy African American mentor. This story addresses tough topics such as race, gender, white privilege and intersectionality.

Pura Belpre“The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.”

Winner: La Princesa and the Pea by Juana Martinez-Neal

This is a diverse retelling of the classic Hans Christian Andersen story, The Princess and the Pea. The story is set in Peru and features whimsical illustrations throughout. It makes for a great read-aloud and Spanish words are found throughout the text.

Stonewall“presented to English language books that have exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience.”

Winner: The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater and Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert


This work of Young Adult Nonfiction tells the true story of Sasha and Richard. They saw each other every day during the week on the 57 bus in Oakland, California. They never spoke because of how very different they were. Sasha lived in a comfortable middle class neighborhood and attended a private school. Richard who was African American lived in quite different circumstances and attended a large public high school. One day on the bus, Richard does something that will change his and Sasha’s lives forever. This story is not just a retelling of the events. Instead, it is an exploration of gender identity, crime and justice.


Suzette has just returned to Los Angeles from her boarding school on the east coast. Home is definitely Los Angeles and she is not sure if she wants to leave again. She has a crush on a boy, here friends are there, and her stepbrother Lionel has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She is a source of support for him, but things become complicated when Suzette realizes she has a crush on the girl who he loves. His illness spirals and she is forced to reckon with herself and find a way to keep her brother safe.

Printz: “The Michael L. Printz Award is an award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature.”

Winner: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour


Marin has started her first year of college and is trying to forsake her best friend Mabel. Before her grandpa died, she and Mabel were starting to fall in love. Her grandpa’s death pulled her into a deep grief and she realized the many things he kept from her while he was raising her: pictures of her mother who died surfing when Marin was just a baby; stories and memories of her mother; and his own grief. She left for college immediately after his death without telling anyone including Mabel and her parents. But now Mabel has come to visit for winter break and Marin is challenged to open her heart and let those who love her come back into her life.

Under the Radar: Short Fiction 2017

Short fiction has been on my mind a lot this year, both reading it and writing it. Many years ago, my minor as an undergraduate at the University of Washington was creative writing. Over the years, the time I have dedicated to this art has dwindled. This year I decided to reconnect with writing and take a short fiction workshop at the Hugo House in Seattle. It was an inspiring class and I had the opportunity to complete writing exercises, readings and a new piece of short fiction. I was reminded of why I enjoy short stories so much: the accessibility; the compactness that often contains something so profound; and the ability to finish reading something from start to finish in one sitting.

2017 brought us many powerful collections of short fiction and some common themes. Many of these collections are by women; some collections are Gothic and macabre, teetering on horror; some are strictly realistic and one or two will make you smile, if not laugh. So in no particular order, I present you with some of the most excellent short fiction collections of 2017 along with some of my own ramblings.

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Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado’s stories start off based in realities most women are familiar with: a marriage, a shopping mall, an inventory of what appears to be past relationships. Machado deftly twists these realities and suddenly you are in a world that you might only dream of and often these dreams turn into nightmares. The stories feature a variety of women: one with a permanent green ribbon tied around her neck and the husband who wants to untie it, women suffering from a disease in which they slowly fade away, and one woman who watches those around her die of a terrible plague.

Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides

One of my all time favorite novels is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, so I was excited to learn of his most recent collection of short stories. The first story in his collection is called Complainers and spans the life of a friendship between two women, Della and Carol. The story is a commentary on the lives of Della and Carol and the emotional neglect that has been shown by their husbands and sons. Eugenides has an astute vision of the human psyche and human nature.

The Veneration of Monsters by Suzanne Burns

Suzanne Burns creates incredible atmosphere in her stories about our modern day lives, but they are not stark depictions of everyday reality. Instead, there is a lovelorn vampire, a man who is a mere figment of a woman’s imagination, and a woman who is so consumed with attracting a vicious predator that she becomes one.  The stories definitely have a Gothic edge to them, but there is humor too.

Funny Girl edited by Betsy Bird

If you need to laugh out loud, then pick up this book and read it or better yet, read it out loud to a kid. This is a children’s collection of hilarious stories written by various children’s authors including some of my favorites: Cece Bell, Raina Telgemeier, Rita Williams-Garcia and Shannon Hale. My eight year old daughter devoured it and she said I must write about the story Over and Out by Lisa Graff. The story is about a younger sister and an older sister, an older sister who has hit her teen years. The story involves walkie talkies, a pink bra (that belongs to the teenager) that falls in the toilet (while the younger sister is going to the bathroom) and the arduous task of cleaning a now soiled pink bra.


Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay is well known for her collection of essays, Bad Feminist and her memoir, Hunger. If you have enjoyed either of these books, then I highly recommend reading her short fiction as well. Each exquisite story in this collection features a diverse cross-section of strong women who have endured all that life has brought to them. Some have experienced unimaginable childhood trauma, others have lost children, and some are in terrible marriages while others are in loving relationships.

Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy, edited by Ameriie

This Young Adult collection is comprised of 13 different fairy tales and myths, mostly told from the villains point of view. The stories are written by a talented cast of Young Adult authors that include Nicola Yoon, Marissa Meyer and Adam Silvera. The interesting part of this collection is that each story is paired with a booktuber’s (passionate readers who upload videos of themselves to Youtube discussing books) commentary.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout is well known for her novels that include Olive Kitteridge and My Name is Lucy Barton. She writes masterfully about family dynamics and the constant struggle of finding out who we are. My favorite story in the collection is called Sister. It chronicles the return of the adult Lucy Barton (from My Name is Lucy Barton) to the home where she grew up. She has not seen her brother and sister for seventeen years and the pain that exists between them is palpable. As difficult as many of these stories are, there is warmth and some hope at the end of each one.

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

This collection of short stories is Mariana Enriquez’s English-language debut. Each story takes place in Argentina and is a commentary on both Argentina’s past and present. There is nothing light about the stories and sometimes the darkness verges on horror. The subjects range from three girlfriends who revel in self-destruction and another is about women who start setting themselves on fire in protest of the pervasive misogyny and abuse inflicted by men.