Highlights from #WeNeedDiverseBooks

I went through the #WeNeedDiverseBooks tag on Twitter (which is trending, by the way) and picked out some of my favorite posts to share. It’s one thing for me or any blogger to write a post about the need for diversity, but it’s a whole other thing to have so many people to come together to speak up about it. This is one of the greatest things about social networking. Even five years ago, having this much attention brought to the problem wouldn’t have been possible. 2 3

 

4 5 11  Twitter   Search    WeNeedDiverseBooks

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

With perfect timing, a new campaign is rolling out this week on May 1st in an attempt to connect people concerned with diversity in books across platforms. They ask participants to take a picture of themselves or a friend holding a sign that says “we need diverse books because _____” with a personal filling in the blank. They hope to get the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks to trend on Twitter and Tumblr to bring attention to the problem.

LGBTQ Young Adult novels

#GayInYA - An infographic created by the @EpicReads community!

I’ve previously talked about the importance of representation in books, but I know my own personal repertoire of books could use some diversifying. So, here is a list of Young Adult books that have a LGBTQ character as the protagonist. While a good amount of these books are your typical “struggling with accepting yourself” type books, there are also quite a few fantasy and sci fi books that seem really interesting. I would definitely like to read some of these books, and if you have any suggestions for other LGBTQ books, please leave a comment!

Is The Hate Inevitable?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock during the past year, you’re probably aware of the soon to be released movie adaptation of The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. While I am a fan of John Green, I have thus far been mostly trying to avoid talking about him because he has enough publicity and defenders as it is. However, all of the John Green hate that I have been seeing recently has made me think about how the relationship between an author and it’s readers has changed because of technology and the internet, and how that relationship changes when a book is turned into a movie.

anon hate

Anonymous ask from John Green’s tumblr

Of course, as a persons fame grows the people with negative opinions of them are going to increase at the same rate. But it’s one thing for people to hold opinions of a celebrity and another for them to directly, verbally assault that celebrity just because they can. From this  post we can see that John Green has dealt with it pretty well, giving a response that carefully avoids being argumentative while still reminding the readers that he is still a person with feelings.

Now, this isn’t a new thing. Authors have been subject to rude opinions for as long as pens have been put to paper. What is new, however, is how accessible both authors and the hate they are receiving are. Now any schmuck with a smart phone can send a cruel at-reply on Twitter or anon hate on Tumblr. I would think that authors are a little bit safer from this than other kinds of celebrities as they are less visible than movie stars and musicians, but that relative invisibility goes away when their work is adapted into a movie. It would seem that the combination of a movies visibility and the modern accessibility of creators through the internet causes authors to see much more hate than they ever have in the past.

I’ve often talked about how the internet allows greater communities to be involved, and authors to interact with their fans more intimately, but we can’t deny the negative impacts as well. I’ve also talked about how movies affect books themselves, but I think we also need to look at how they affect the authors. It’s always a huge risk for authors to allow their books to made into films. For one thing, usually authors sell the rights to their book to production companies and retains no creative control over the film. But, if the movie is received poorly it’s the author that will have to deal with the brunt of the hate, not the directors. We saw this a lot with Stephanie Meyer, the author of Twilight. Her books may receive criticism as well, but she wouldn’t have to come under such scrutiny with out the addition of the films. Readers and critics often don’t understand that the quality of a movie has nothing to do with the author. They may be responsible for the story, but a film is a much different representation of that story than the book.

I’d be interested to know how often authors receive hate mail before the invention of the internet. I’m sure it happened, since it wasn’t uncommon for authors to receive fan mail, but I’m almost certain that the interactions that occurred before the internet could not come close to the frequency of interactions that technology allows. Since authors are so accessible, readers feel more entitled to get something from them and they feel that they have the right to demand it. Social media has caused a lot of the walls to come down between professionals and their fans which is amazing – and terrifying.

Perhaps this exclusivity, in which children of color are at best background characters, and more often than not absent, is in fact part of the imaginative aspect of these books. But what it means is that when kids today face the realities of our world, our global economies, our integrations and overlappings, they all do so without a proper map. They are navigating the streets and avenues of their lives with an inadequate, outdated chart, and we wonder why they feel lost.

The Apartheid of Children’s Literature Christopher Myers.

When I read as I was growing up, it never occurred to me to question why nearly all the kids in the stories looked like me. Why wouldn’t they? I’m normal, right? That’s what I learned from the heroes I looked up to in the books I read, anyway. . Boy protagonists may out weigh heroines, but Hermione Granger taught me that I could be smart and brave despite being (much like Hermione) a small, some what bossy, girl with messy brown hair.  It never occurred to me that there might be girls who wouldn’t learn that they could be smart and brave because when they looked at Hermione they didn’t see themselves. Now, as a young adult I realize how privileged I am to have had so many role models that I could easily identify with, because they were important to me.

As a child born into an entirely white family it didn’t seem out of the ordinary to me that the worlds I read about were almost entirely white, even though people around me were of all different colors. It’s obvious that over time I’ve been trained by various media to picture the default character as white, because (I’m rather ashamed to say) for example, it wasn’t until the movies that I realized the Rue in the Hunger Games was black. She’s explicitly described as having dark skin, yet for some reason that didn’t make her not-white in my mind. Looking back, I can’t believe I was so naive and I can’t believe that I considered it to be perfectly normal for there to not be a single person of color in my imagined reality of this book I was reading.  The consequences for me is that it gave me a skewed view of reality and has kept me shielded from the reality of others oppression, but how has it affected my peers who are of color? I’ve had the privilege to see myself everywhere I look in media, so I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to not be represented in the books I read. But I also can’t imagine what my life would be like now  with out those role models, both real and fictional.

There are a lot of different things we can blame for the lack of representation of minorities in fiction, such as lack of minority authors or demographics. All of those things are factors to be sure, but the main culprit is our culture. There are plenty of women and men of color who are authors, but white men are still over represented in the New York Times best seller list. Are the publishers biased? Are the publishers biased because they are reacting to a perceived to be biased audience? It’s a very complicated situation, and I don’t think there is any way to find a singular cause other than simply hundreds of years of prejudice. Representation is important in all media, but I think it’s especially important in children and young adult literature, because those are the stories and characters that will truly stick with a person as they grow up.

Think about all of your favorite novels and stories from when you were young and count how many people of color were in them. Did you ever notice how few there were before?

Rainbow Rowell is a Young Adult author who has gained popularity in the last two years after her books Fangirl and Eleanor and Park gained much critical acclaim. Much like Maureen Johnson, Rowell is very connected to her fanbase and fandom culture. It’s important that young readers can connect with the authors they are a fan of so easily. Having role models that are approachable and shown to be similar to them in turn makes the idea of writing more accessible to them as well, especially for young girls. These two women are supernodes of the Young Adult literature community because they not only connect to many other authors in the genre (like John Green and Cassie Clare) but also connect to the community in general.

My Experience With Wikipedia: Animorphs edition

I recently learned how to edit Wikipedia articles, so I decided to use my new found skill to bring some expertise to a series that may not receive much love these days. I’m a fan of the Animorphs series, but I don’t know many other people who have read them, so as I expected, the Wikipedia page was some what lacking.

The series is 54 books long just in the main series, and there is actually a page that summarizes each book, but I was surprised to see that the general plot summary section on the main article only had about two sentences. There was a notice stating that this section could use some expansion, so I decided that would be the easier thing that I could tackle. I added a lot to the summary, and tried to capture some of the essence of what I like about the series. Editing this was very simple, because there was no formatting involved. I didn’t have to add any links to other pages or headers or lists. I also added a couple things to some of the character bios. For instance, I saw that recently some one edited the minor characters to include the character of David. They explained that (spoiler) he betrays them, but fails to explain how David came to join the Animorphs or why he would have the ability to morph, which if you’ve read the series, is kind of an important plot point.  I also capitalized the word “Andalite” because it is the name of a species and thus a proper noun.

Animorphs   Wikipedia  the free encyclopedia

My additions to the Plot Summary section of the Animorphs Wikipedia article

Obviously, Animorphs isn’t as influential of a series to popular culture as Harry Potter or The Hunger Games so it makes sense that the page would be less closely monitored because less people will be looking at it than those franchises. It follows that the more popular a topic the higher clearance is needed to edit a page on Wikipedia. As far as I can tell, this is true since I can edit the Animoprhs article with zero credentials but I do not have access to The Hunger Games edit page.  Since this is the only Wikipedia article that I’ve edited, it’s hard to really say what the Wikipedia community is like. I can tell that the website it’s self is trying to be inclusive and encourage anyone to participate in the collection of knowledge. For one thing,  it’s probably the only site that doesn’t require you give them an email address to get an account that I’ve ever joined.  There are pages that only members can access that look like Wikipedia articles but aren’t, such as a user’s page and talk pages. Talk pages confuse me, but since there isn’t a comment system on Wikipedia they seem to function as a kind of forum to discuss things.  This is probably more important for pages that are under greater moderation, but it adds an element of collaboration that I previously didn’t know existed.

 

I think that it is really neat that the world can work together to curate knowledge and that anyone can access that knowledge for free. Any one can edit it, but it’s also constantly being cross checked by other users. Wikipedia is especially useful for readers, because it is an easy way to access information about a book or series of books in an efficient way. I couldn’t begin to count how many times I’ve looked up the name of the next book in a series, or the order of a series, the name of a character or an author on Wikipedia. It’s really kind of mind boggling to me that any given sentence I read on Wikipedia could have been written by literally anyone, a famous researcher or a middle schooler, with out any weight given to the source. The community seems to be pretty inviting and dedicated to presenting accurate, accessible information. Hopefully, my edit will kept among them.