Friday, July 29, 2016

Books For and About Diverse Kids: John Parra, Don Tate, Lisa Yee, Stacey Barney, and Pat Cummings

Right to Left: Pat Cummings, Stacey Barney, John Parra, Don Tate, and Lisa Yee

In this discussion-based breakout session, we have multiple perspectives from different parts of the children's literature community:

Pat Cummings, author/illustrator of over thirty-five books for young readers (and Board member of SCBWI, the Authors Guild, and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, among others.)

Stacey Barney, Senior Editor at Penguin/Putnam Books for Young Readers

John Parra, Golden-Kite winning illustrator.

Don Tate, author and illustrator, winner of the Ezra Jack Keats Award.

Lisa Yee, author of 16 books and winner of the very first Sid Fleischman Humor Award.

Some highlights:

Stacey Barney:
"Write organic stories." Sometimes she finds that it's almost as if writers are checking off boxes for diversity with their diverse cast of characters, but "character shouldn't feel like categories."

John Parra:
"Be respectful. Show it to others who are part of those communities. Make sure authentic is how it's portrayed."

Don Tate:
"Study. Research. Vet. ...Make sure you're not exploiting the topic."

Lisa Yee:
You can write outside your experience "but you have to get it right."

The panel are telling us fascinating stories, like Lisa sharing how her Millicent Min (in 2003) was the first middle grade book with a photo of an Asian American kid on the cover.

Don shares about doing a school visit when he was asked by a 5th grade class if he only illustrates Black people, and how he asked the two African American boys in the class if they felt like they've read books that represented them - and they said no. So he turned to the rest of the class and explained that he's made it his mission, he's built his whole career, to create positive portrayals of people that look like those two boys… and the whole class clapped.

Stacey tells us about teaching (elementary and preschool and high school), and reading picture books to the kids, and how she made an effort to choose picture books that reflected their experience. "Kids are kids."

Pat speaks of her school visits, and how kids pick up books out of curiosity. She shares how she was asked once by a British author why she only does books with Black characters. Pat countered, asking the British author why they only created books with British characters…

John speaks of how he sees diverse books being published, but the awards and reviews and the best lists of the year aren't that diverse. After they've published, how do they get recognized and supported?

They cover editorial staffing (and the importance of diversity in staffing across departments, including marketing, publicity and sales), being vetted by additional experts, and much, much more.