|Linda Sue Park|
A SINGLE SHARD. A recent title, A LONG WALK TO WATER, is a New York Times bestseller, and her picture book XANDA'S PANDA PARTY received three starred reviews. She's a master of both forms.
In 2003, Linda Sue was asked by School Library Journal to list three children's books that had meant a lot to her when she was a child. One of the books had an African hero, one had an African American boy as a hero, and the third was set in India. It had been 40 years since she'd read them, but the came back to her immediately.
"What these books showed me was that you didn't have to be white to be a hero."
Linda Sue thinks anybody can and should be able to write about anybody or anything. But not all viewpoints are created equal. "If you are a member of the minority group, you are intimate with the dominant culture," she said. "You live in it. The reverse isn't necessarily true."
To write about something, you need a "passionate, personal stake" in it. Study a culture deeply. Learn a language (one writer she knows has learned 14 languages in the course of his research). There might be months or years of research into the culture, where you immerse yourself in it. Good intentions don't go deep enough. Not researching enough demonstrates a lack of respect. "That is what you are doing if you are not putting the time and the work and the passion into the story you want to tell."
When we write incorrectly about cultures, people feel disrespected, and readers get wrong information in their heads—and sometimes this wrong information never comes out.
Also, when it comes to the sales potential of books with non-white characters, Linda Sue doesn't buy the notion that non-white people aren't a viable market. If they're not reading, then they are a huge, untapped market.
"Go hire whoever marketed 'Dora the Explorer,'" she said.
She had a plea for people who've read a diverse book they like: Even if you can't buy it, tell a librarian you loved it. That librarian will buy it and tell others, and that will really help a book succeed.
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