November 18, 2017

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A Focus on Diversity and Savvy Blogging Drive KidLitCon 2014

Mitali Perkins

Author Mitali Perkins speaks at KidLitCon 2014.

Diversity was front and center at the 2014 Kidlitosphere Conference (KidLitCon) held in Sacramento, CA, on October 10–11. For the first time, the conference had a theme: “Blogging Diversity in Young Adult and Children’s Lit: What’s Next?” Inspired by the “We Need Diverse Books” campaign, the event raised a number of issues, including “looking at yourself to make changes.” This made for lively and impassioned discussion among the authors, bloggers, and publishers at the conference, now in its eighth year.

As bloggers mixed, mingled, and met for the first time, attendees were excited to finally connect faces with names. It was also clear right away that many wanted the bloggers to go outside their comfort zone and get a little more righteous. Much of the conversation focused on children’s literature scholar Rudine Sims Bishop’s observation that stories serve as windows and mirrors for young people—giving them a view and understanding of other types of experiences or validating their own by showing a similar world. Many participants said that diverse children still need more books that act as “mirrors” reflecting their own experience.

Author Tanita S. Davis (Mare’s War, 2009, Happy Families, 2012; both Knopf) opened the event with a warm welcome, telling attendees they were “people of good will and intelligence” and that “we, in this room, are going to do something” about the lack of diversity in children’s and young adult books. Breakout sessions followed, one focusing on finding a blogging voice and a passion, and the other on locating and reviewing the best diverse books for children and young adults. The next sessions offered insight into independent publishing as a way to get more diverse books into the hands of readers, along with suggested social media tips that can bring more attention to blogs.

KidLitCon logo2

A flyer for the conference.

“Getting Beyond Diversity and Getting to the Story” was the afternoon’s topic. The idea was to be more mindful of plot and narratives in books with diverse characters, not just the fact that they feature variety. For example, handing a Mexican girl a good book saying, “You’ll like this, because there is a Mexican girl in it” is not a good way to get people to read diverse books, according to author and co-presenter Jewell Parker Rhodes (Sugar, 2013, Ninth Ward, 2010, both Little, Brown). Rhodes likened the scenario to recommending broccoli: there should be a good story first, rather than simply presented to a potential readers as “good for you.”

During an author mix and mingle sponsored by Lee & Low Books, Stephanie Kuehn (Charm & Strange, 2013, Complicit, 2014, both St. Martin’s Griffin), Sarah J. Stevenson (The Latte Rebellion 2011, The Truth Against the World, 2014, both Flux), Kathryn Otoshi (Zero, 2010, Two, 2014, both KO Kids), Rhodes, Davis, and others were on hand to chat about their writing and diverse books more broadly.

“Through storytelling you can change people’s minds,” author Mitali Perkins reminded the audience during her keynote speech. Perkins also called on others bloggers to “look below the waterline” when considering stories and diversity. What’s on the cover? Who is the foil? Is the beautiful girl in the book blonde and blue-eyed? Is the sidekick the token black kid?

During a Skype session, author Shannon Hale (Dangerous, Bloomsbury, 2014) described her high school experience, during which, due to the student makeup, she went from being among the racial majority to the minority, a situation she liked. “All children deserve to know that they are worth a story,” Hale said.

The We Need Diverse Books campaign presentation by authors emphasized that book bloggers and diversity debates are a strong combination. Freelance writer Martha White moderated this panel, featuring Mike Jung (Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities, Scholastic, 2012), Karen Sandler (the “Tankborn” trilogy, Lee & Low), and S.E. Sinkhorn (Chasing Shadows, Black Mountain, 2010). White also played devil’s advocate by asking why we need this campaign at all, while also providing a history of how the “We Need Diverse Books” hashtag was started. During a lively discussion, everyone who either asked questions or voiced an opinion received a “We Need Diverse Books” button.

The final event was affectionately referred to as “the angry” panel, with participants saying that they were “mad as hell and not going to take it!” Four panelists, including a teenager, discussed issues in diversity aside from race and culture, including sexuality, body image, socioeconomic status, and more. The panelists also called attention to certain movements, such as response to the whitewashing of Liar (Bloomsbury, 2009) by Justine Larbalestier and supporting the “Monstrumologist” series (S. & S.) by Rick Yancey, which bloggers had rallied around in the past. These movements proved that bloggers do have the power to evoke change, they emphasized. The panel urged bloggers and readers to be loud and to voice their displeasure at the lack of diverse books. The participating authors also challenged everyone in room to audit their reading and see if they notice patterns and biases.

This dynamic weekend got the organizers thinking of topics for next year’s KidLitCon in Baltimore. It’s not to be missed, particularly if you’re a blogger about children’s or young adult literature.

Faythe Arredondo is a teen services librarian for Tulare County (CA) Library and has been working with teens since 2008. She focuses on finding innovative ways to get (and keep) teens involved in the library and always seems to find herself knee deep in some crazy project dreamed up by her teen advisory group.

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Comments

  1. Faythe! It was amazing to meet you — I regret not really sitting down and talking as much to people as I wanted, but am looking forward to doing that next time (when I have nothing to do with being in charge). Next time we’re hopefully going to get some more action committees and momentum from this time – because diversity is an all-the-time topic, no matter what our theme. ☺

  2. What a great summary of the conference, Faythe. Thank you so much!

  3. Faythe, thanks so much for this fantastic writeup! I wish we’d gotten more of a chance to talk, and I wanted to tell you I really enjoyed your comments on the panel. They hit very close to home. Here in Modesto, we see some of the same issues with poverty and access among the more rural populations and children of farm workers, in addition to those families who were simply hit hard by the recession and still struggle. It was great that you brought that up in the diversity discussion.

  4. Faythe, this is such a great summary of the conference! It was lovely to meet with you and other panelist. The discussions were indeed lively and each topic brought out so many interesting conversations around diversity. Not to mention making some fantastic friends as well :) Thank you for writing about it! Looking forward to the next one in Baltimore.