The importance of spotlighting #ownvoices titles

I’ve written a bunch here about the #weneeddiversebooks conversation and organization since it emerged in 2014. Last year, a related conversation around the authorship of diverse stories was spurred by a suggestion from YA writer Corinne Duvyis. Since then, people have been using the hashtag #ownvoices to  share book recommendations that are written by people from the same diverse group/s as the characters.

Highlighting such titles doesn’t mean that people can’t write outside their own experiences and groups, but it does recognize the importance — for both dominant and minority group audiences — of hearing from marginalized voices themselves. It also acknowledges the institutional barriers that diverse authors face in getting published and publicized in the first place.

You can find tons of great reading suggestions by searching #ownvoices on Twitter. Also, for the month of September the Reading While White blog is featuring a daily review of an #ownvoices book. That’s given me some exciting titles for my to-read list, such as “Little White Duck,” a graphic memoir by Na Liu about  growing up in China in the 1970s.

And if you’re still wondering about the issue of writing outside your own experience, I love YA author Lamar Giles’ response to that in this post on BookRiot.

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3 Children’s Books to Read After You’ve Seen ‘Selma’

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Selma civil rights marchers’ arrival on the steps of the Alabama state capitol in Montgomery. If you haven’t yet seen the movie “Selma,” about struggle for African-Americans’ voting rights, you should. If you have seen it, here are three books to read with your kids (or for yourself!) next.

1. “John Lewis in the Lead,” written by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson, illustrated by Benny Andrews

This picture book biography provides more detail on the life of one of the main characters in “Selma”: John Lewis, a 25-year-old organizer who went on to become a U.S. Congressman representing Georgia. When watching “Selma,” it wasn’t apparent to me that Lewis had been at the lead of a range of other nonviolent resistance actions before stepping onto the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This book is a good introduction to those other events in the Civil Rights Movement. The narrative is unfortunately written rather passively, but I liked seeing illustrations by Benny Andrews, an African-American artist about whom another picture book bio was recently published.

John Lewis in the Lead

2. “March” by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

I mentioned “March: Book One” in my February diverse reading post. I haven’t read  Book Two. Both are graphic novels, also about the life of John Lewis, but for older kids and adults. Book One covers Lewis’ youth, his first meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., and his involvement in Nashville’s lunch counter sit-ins. Book Two focuses on his involvement in the Freedom Rides, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the March on Washington. There is supposed to be a third volume in what will then be the “March” trilogy, and I’m guessing it’ll feature the march from Selma to Montgomery.

March! Book one March Book Two

3. “Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom” by Lynda Blackmon Lowery as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley

This middle grade book tells us, in first person about the experiences of the youngest participant in the Selma march. The drama of the movie “Selma” is all about the attempts to march, but in Blackmon Lowery’s narrative we get to see details of the march itself, like where they slept and what they did when it rained. I was impressed that the voice sounded like a teenage version of the author, although she is of course far from that age now. I also liked getting to read about her impressions of some of the other participants, like Viola Liuzzo, an activist housewife who was shot by the Ku Klux Klan shortly after the march.

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom

Your turn: What are your favorite books about the Civil Rights Movement and its many participants?