by Tracy Bryan
I am a relatively new children’s author, but from where I stand, (way down here looking up) there seems to have been a lot of transition within children’s literature over the last few years.
This isn’t news to any seasoned veteran of the industry, but to a novice like me, it has been quite overwhelming joining this almost circus-like trade. I seem to witness a constant flux in the publication world every week due to major changes in traditional publishing, the rise of Amazon, the growth of e-books and the emergence of vanity publishers. You can’t hold me back though, now that I’ve had a taste of it, I’m here to stay and changes I intend to (hopefully) make.
Why more changes? Although there are many beautifully illustrated and well-written books in the current children’s book market, the majority of these books lack diversity in their characters and theme. Why do we need more diversity in these books? While people, families and the world become increasingly more diverse, so does the need for books that children can actually relate to.
I belong to several writing organizations- regional and national. I attend writing conferences, follow many social media groups and try to stay current with any news in the children’s publishing industry. As a contributing and informed member of the children’s literature industry, I believe we all have our hearts in the right place and we have good intentions. My Facebook groups alone have some incredibly passionate, insightful and genuinely remarkable authors, illustrators and children’s book industry people- there is definitely a “diversity movement” that continues to grow in this writing community. Yet…where are all the diverse books?
Regardless of how many trendy literacy campaigns that are being run and how many times we use this new “buzz word”- diversity is still quite a stigma in North America and many parts of the world. We have a long way to go in society as a whole, so it may be time to kick it up a notch and inspire more diversity in the books that we write.
I myself am a straight, white, middle class, female- not exactly your first pick as an appropriate mascot or ally for people of diversity! However, I am also open-minded, compassionate, non- judgmental, daring, spirited and willing to think outside the box! I aspire to write about what matters in this world- people. There really are so many wonderful children’s books out there that do inspire and entertain kids, some even have a great message–but there could be so many more books that offer much more honesty in terms of diversity with people.
Why are there so many picture books that explain people problems and issues through the use of cute animals? To not have a more direct approach of storytelling about these difficult topics is almost a little insulting to kids. These are the same kids that are living in families of diversity, going to schools of diversity and living everyday life diversely-why wouldn’t they want to read books that are more diverse?
It’s okay to demonstrate to them that all people have problems, issues and shortcomings. We all do! The important message to these kids should be how we accept and cope with these challenges within ourselves and in others –that’s what matters. If we can teach them to accept their differences and accept other people’s differences as well, there will be a lot less discrimination, labeling and shame in the world. Diversity will be the constant.
Is this too idealistic? Maybe, maybe not… Perhaps if we start publishing books for kids that guide them in real life and with real people, they may just grow up to be well adjusted, less stressed, non anxious or depressed and be able to conquer and embrace their limitations and appreciate the same in other people.
I write mostly about self-esteem building, mindfulness, emotions and generally I try to inform kids about ways to cope with their problems and how to find simple happiness in life. Ironically, my best selling books this year have been about how to understand anxiety. That’s scary! I wish that more kids could relate to the cute animals, but unfortunately, the current children need to be reassured and to read that it’s okay to be different, in fact it’s quite wonderful!
What the children’s literature market needs are books that address all the topics that currently effect kids – regardless of how uncomfortable they are to discuss. We need to demonstrate to kids how to recognize people for who they are, not what they are. Furthermore, kids need to be reminded that all people are similar, yet so totally, awesomely different from each other- so diverse. Now let’s stop talking and start writing- let’s inspire them!
Tracy Bryan is a self-published children’s book author. She writes whimsical picture books that teach and inspire children of all ages. Tracy specializes in writing about self-esteem, life skills, social issues and diversity. To preview any of her books please visit her at tracybryan.com. Tracy can also be found at TracyBryanAuthor on Facebook.