J.K. Rowling’s missteps with Native Americans and my We Need Diverse Books resolution for 2016

J.K. Rowling came under fire earlier this month for her portrayal of Native people and cultures in a series of online stories related to Harry Potter.

The collection focuses on the fictional history of North American magic as part of a larger project to expand the Harry Potter universe and its back stories. But the recent installment received fast criticism from Native Americans, who said Rowling treated them as magical creatures and a monolithic group.

The backlash speaks to the much bigger conversations to be had on how much and in what ways American Indians are represented in children’s literature. I touched on this subject briefly in my conversation with Pam Margolis, but I am by no means an expert. (But you know who is? Debbie Reese. Check out her blog.)

That’s why part of my 2016 We Need Diverse Books resolution is focused on books by or about Native people.

As I thought about my resolution back in January, I didn’t think upping the raw number of diverse books I read made that much sense, because I pretty much maxed out my reading time last year. But I did think about the breakdown of what I read last year and how I could mix it up. Continue reading

My diverse reading from March

I’m a little bit late on this one! In March, I read 31 books. Of those, 12 count toward my We Need Diverse Books resolution. That’s about 39% — a drop from February, but on par with January.

I’m now at 35 diverse books this year. If I keep up the same pace I should hit my goal of 50 sometime in May.

I’ve noticed that it’s easier to find diverse picture books when I’m seeking nonfiction and biographies than when I’m tracking down fiction titles that have generated a lot of buzz. Part of that is because those character-driven stories often feature non-human characters (like a recent favorite of mine, Gaston), but it doesn’t seem that there’s a lot of diversity among the authors, either.

That’s all anecdotal, but the stats on children’s publishing do support these observations.

Here are the diverse books I read last month. They are picture books unless otherwise noted.

March mosaic

Row 1: “Bird” by Zetta Elliott, “One Million Men and Me” by Kelly Starling Lyons, “Malala, a Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan” by Jeanette Winter

Row 2: “Listen, Slowly” by Thanhha Lai (middle grade), “John Lewis in the Lead” by James Haskins, “Draw What You See” by Kathleen Benson Haskins

Row 3: “Dizzy” by Jonah Winter, “Rad American Women A-Z” by Kate Schatz, “The Storyteller’s Candle” by Lucia M. Gonzalez

Row 4: “Port Chicago 50” by Steve Sheinkin (young adult), “Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom” by Lynda Blackmon Lowery (young adult), “X: A Novel” by Ilyasah Shabazz (young adult)

My diverse reading from February

I read 20 books last month. Fourteen were by or about diverse characters — that’s 70 percent, an improvement from last month. Twelve of those were for children, shown below. They are picture books unless otherwise noted.

February diverse reading

Top row: “A Little Piece of Ground” by Elizabeth Laird (middle grade); “A Place Where Hurricanes Happen” by Renée Watson; “Freedom on the Menu” by Carole Boston Weatherford; “Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin” by Chieri Uegaki

Middle row: “Harlem’s Little Blackbird” by Renée Watson; “Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century” by Carole Boston Weatherford; “Little Melba and Her Big Trombone” by Katheryn Russell-Brown; “Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens” by Nina Nolan

Bottom row: “Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People” by Monica Brown; “Soccer Star” by Mina Javaherbin; “The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage” by Selina Alko; “Those Shoes” by Maribeth Boelts

The two adult books on my diverse reading list in February were “On Beauty” by Zadie Smith and “MARCH: Book One” by Congressman John Lewis. The latter is a graphic novel about Lewis’ involvement in the civil rights movement and would be great for teenagers as well as adults.

March! Book one

In case you missed it, my We Need Diverse Books resolution this year is 50 books. I’m almost halfway there already — maybe I need to bump it up?

What diverse reading have you been doing?


My #WeNeedDiverseBooks resolution

The We Need Diverse Books campaign is challenging its supporters to pledge to read a certain number of diverse books this year. I am pledging to read 5o.


What qualifies as a diverse book? As the campaign challenge puts it: “Books where people of color can be first-page HEROES rather than second-class citizens. Books in which LGBTQIA characters can represent social CHANGE rather than social problems. And books where people with disabilities can be just…people.” I’ll also be making sure a majority of those books are also by diverse authors.

The campaign focuses on children’s literature, and the majority a large portion of my diverse reads will probably be picture books, but I will also be counting adult books, like “Half a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which I read at the end of 2014 and highly recommend.

Ngozi Adichie gave a TED talk on the critical misunderstandings created when we only hear one thing about a person or a place. It’s called “The Danger of a Single Story,” and it is also very worth your time.

I have some other goals for my kidlit reading this year in addition to diversity. I hope to share them in the coming days or weeks. What are your 2015 reading goals? Please share them in the comments!