I’ve been seeing the #weneeddiversebooks conversation blowing up and it’s got me thinking about why I believe diverse books are important. Diversity in books allows people to see that experiences, feelings, families, hopes, values, basically all the things that make up life are shared by people no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. These stories provide us with empathy so that we can connect with these people in real life. It seems to me that the main goal of this #diversebooks initiative is to encourage readers to pick up new stories and let those stories change how they interact with the world. How magnificent is that? I stumbled upon this quote the other day from Ellen Oh in an NPR article about diversity in books:
“We need the representation, but we also need white kids to read about us, to recognize us and not push us off into the other … not to think of us as exotic or being so very different.”
While I picked this quote to include in this post, I want to make it clear this diverse books initiative isn’t just about race. It’s about gender, sexual orientation, religion, families, age, disabilities, etc. It’s sharing that no two human beings are alike for a variety of reasons. A person shouldn’t just assume anything about another individual without getting to know them.
Within the past couple of months, I have been reading comics and graphic novels like crazy! I’ve noticed that a lot of the diverse books that have been highlighted are usually novels, but there are some great graphic novels too! I live in Texas and the dog days of summer are quickly upon us. That isn’t stopping me from enjoying dinner on my porch most nights. Here are some of my favorite graphic novels as of late.
First off, A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return by Zeina Abirached. It was such a simple story about life in war time, yet packed a punch. Plus those pictures…be still my heart! So beautiful! The art style is very similar to Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, which I picked up the next day. Persepolis was a more complex coming-of-age story. I totally related to Marjane’s independence streak when she was younger.
While I was wandering the stacks, I stumbled upon the Aya series by Margueite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie. I’ve been enjoying this series about girls, their families, and the drama on the Ivorian Coast. In that same wandering of the Adult Graphic Novel section, I came across Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole J. Georges. I loved her honesty and neuroticism as she recounted her life. Theses two stories are extremely different. If a patron told me that they liked Calling Dr. Laura, I probably wouldn’t recommend Aya. But I really enjoyed both of these graphic novels. This realization made me question how I think during my interactions at the reference desk. Many times patrons will come up to me and tell me what books they’ve recently enjoyed and I go from there. But I don’t often recommend books that might be different. Stories that they might miss out on if I don’t just point them to or give a quick summary.
I have Boxers & Saints graphic novels by Gene Luen Yang on my nightstand in my to-read stack. They came highly recommended from a co-worker and I can’t wait to dive in to them. Another friend told me about reading the Ultimate Comics: Spider Man written by Brian Michael Bendis. He explained how excited he was to see Miles Morales and thought it would have been so cool if he had been exposed to a similar character when he was a younger comic book fan. Am I reading these graphic novels/comic books simply because they are diverse stories? No, I’m reading them because the stories intrigue me and I can relate to them in a variety of ways. It’s thoroughly interesting to see how this conversation is unfolding. Some are scoffing, others are ecstatic.
Check out the We Need Diverse Books panel at BookCon audio stream here.
The official website of the We Need Diverse Books initiative is at this tumblr. Most of the team are writers, but that isn’t it. They are also librarians, psychologists, teachers, publishers, etc. And of course, human beings!
Most people assume I wanted to be a librarian because I love to read. And that is partly true. However, there is so much more to my career choice than that. The library is a place of inspiration and empowerment. People apply for jobs, keep up with technology, entertain themselves, meet people, get comfortable and are exposed to new ideas. I love the stories. Not just the ones created by authors, but also the stories of our patrons. I realize I’m painting a rather idealistic perspective of libraries, but that image is what gets me excited about my job.