Publishers Embrace Diverse Voices

As readers clamor for authentic voices that reflect their own lives, publishers are finding and developing diverse writers more than ever before to meet the demand. And librarians, looking to create increasingly inclusive collections, now have more options to meet the needs of their local communities.


As readers clamor for authentic voices that reflect their own lives, publishers are finding and developing diverse writers more than ever before to meet the demand. And librarians, looking to create increasingly inclusive collections, now have more options to meet the needs of their local communities. “Libraries are gatekeepers and tastemakers. We want to support their strategic mission by introducing new, diverse talent,” says Kelsey Taylor, marketing and sales coordinator for Nobrow/Flying Eye Books. “We are proud to publish debut voices from underrepresented communities.”

This season’s featured publishers continue to broaden their lists by making diversity, equity, and inclusion a top priority. “As we saw more diverse voices in fiction, we noticed that nonfiction really lagged. So, we’ve made really good strides to change that,” says Carol Hinz, associate publisher of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books, two imprints of Lerner Books. “We’re looking to offer the entire spectrum of lived experiences—stories of trauma and also stories of joy and resilience.”

Readers from marginalized groups often turn to books for empowerment, connection, and hope. They want to see their own lives represented in a truthful way. “Our creators tend to write from what they know. Even when the setting is a fantasy world, it comes from a place of identity,” says Katie Sainz, Oni Press director of marketing. “Graphic novels have the power to give readers a look into another person’s lived experiences. Readers can see the characters as the creators see them. It’s very moving to read something that is so close to a person’s identity.”

Oni Press

Oni Press continues its long history of publishing diverse and LGBTQ+ voices 25 years after its founding in Portland, OR. Since merging with Lion Forge Comics in 2019, Oni Press has continued to publish award-winning original and licensed comic books and graphic novels like Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty and A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns. Each year, Oni releases approximately 40 original graphic novels and 60 single-issue series for children, middle grades, YA, and adults.

“Amplifying diverse voices is built into the mission and history of Oni Press,” says Director of Marketing Katie Sainz. “We strive to publish great stories about lived experiences from all walks of life: race, culture, identity, and gender identity.”

A ghost falls in love with a gardener who can communicate with spirits in Taproot: A Story About a Gardener and a Ghost (New Edition), written and illustrated by Keezy Young, July 2022, ISBN 9781637150733. Oni Press’s new edition of this popular queer fantasy romance features a brand-new cover along with exclusive bonus material. In 2017, the Rainbow Booklist and The Advocate honored Taproot as the year’s best LGBTQ+ graphic novel. “We have always had a strong LGBTQ+ presence and we continue to see a lot of growth in this category,” notes Sainz. “This title has sweet, queer moments plus lush garden greenery for cottagecore fans.”

Wild Vol. 1: Or So I Was Born to Be, written and illustrated by Cristian Castelo, November 2022, ISBN 9781637150931, tells the coming-of-age story of Wild Rodriguez, a high school student who dreams of joining a notoriously violent roller derby league. Wild soon finds herself on the derby track brawling with teams like the 8-Ball Bruisers and the elegant but deadly Matadors. “The amazing character design jumps off the page. You feel like you’re right there with them in the 1970s,” says Sainz. “It’s a high-action story that—at its core—is about identity and what makes us who we are.”

A young bruja fights to preserve her ancestral powers in Season of the Bruja Vol. 1 by Aaron Durán, illustrated by Sara Soler, December 2022, ISBN 9781549308161. Lead character Althalia takes care of her beloved grandmother, while working in a paranormal museum alongside a real-life Chupacabra and were-coyote. Drawing upon Mexican traditions and folklore, this book straddles the line between the present day and a magical world. “This is a beautiful coming-of-age story about a character who is the last of her kind,” explains Sainz. “It’s based on Aaron’s experiences growing up and trying to fit in as a Latinx American.”

Ben sets aside his writing career to work in a restaurant in Chef’s Kiss by Jarrett Melendez, illustrated by Danica Brine, April 2022, ISBN 9781620109045. While passing a series of cooking tests, Ben develops a crush on dreamy chef Liam. Should Ben still pursue his literary dreams? Or has he discovered a better path? “This queer romance for the YA and post-college crowd is about finding a job and navigating the real world,” says Sainz. “The story shows that life takes you in unexpected directions—and sometimes the things you don’t see coming are the best things.”

Interlink Publishing

Middle Eastern immigrants Michel and Ruth Moushabeck started Interlink Publishing in their Brooklyn basement in 1987. The Moushabecks identified a need for more diverse voices in the American book market. Thirty-five years later, Interlink is still working to bring the world closer together by publishing books from a global, cosmopolitan perspective.

“Lifting up diverse voices is the cornerstone of our business,” says Co-managing Director Harrison Williams. “Interlink has always tried to make the world a smaller place by challenging readers about what they see as ‘the other.’”

For readers ages 3–8, What Shall We Play Now? by Taghreed A. Najjar, illustrated by Charlotte Shama, October 2022, ISBN 9781623718091, shows how a single piece of green cloth provides an entire day of fun for two young girls. Using their imaginations, these girls transform the cloth into a ship’s sail, a tent, and costumes for a mermaid, a superhero, a shepherd, and a maharaja. “My six-year-old daughter found a green cloth while rummaging through her sister’s cupboard,” recalls Najjar. “I still use that original piece of green cloth when I go to schools for book readings.”

Palestinian Malak Mattar tells her story of discovering art during the 2014 airstrikes on the Gaza Strip in Sitti's Bird: A Gaza Story, August 2022, ISBN 9781623718251. This children’s picture book for ages 4–7 recounts how Mattar’s grandmother’s pet birds escaped their cage during an attack. Mattar longs to be free like those birds as she copes with life in occupied Palestine. “This book gives readers a very unique insight into how difficult it is to live in Gaza,” says Williams. “Through painting, Mattar found a way to capture the social and emotional journey she went on.”

Mystery Bottle, written and illustrated by Kristen Balouch, July 2022, ISBN 9781623718244, depicts a boy living in America, where he receives a package from his Iranian grandfather. The bottle in the package takes the boy on a magical tour of his ancestral homeland in Iran. For ages 3–7, “this is a lovely tale about how family bonds transcend political borders, mountain ranges, and oceans—and how the imagination can bring us all together,” says Williams.

The South African creators of Wanda offer another celebration of girl power for readers ages 3–9 with Wanda the Brave by Sihle Nontshokweni, illustrated by Chantelle & Burgen Thorne, September 2022, ISBN 9781623718114. Aunty Ida encourages Wanda to chemically straighten her hair at a salon. Wanda decides against it and chooses to love herself just as she is. “Some people try to fit themselves into a box that is ultimately the wrong size,” says Williams. “This book makes it okay to be different.”

For ages 12–16, Ida in the Middle by Nora Lester Murad, November 2022, ISBN 9781623719070, tells the story of a Palestinian immigrant student who experiences bullying at her school in Boston. Then, magical olives transport Ida to Palestine—and the life she would have lived had her family never left their homeland. “By facing her challenges, Ida learns that she is brave and that she can raise her voice against injustices in both her homelands,” says Murad. “I hope Palestinian kids see themselves in Ida and feel empowered to tell their whole story.”

Orca Book Publishing

Orca Book Publishing is an independent Canadian children’s book publisher whose titles run the gamut from books for babies to YA and the occasional adult release. Orca focuses primarily on Canadian authors across a wide spectrum of cultural backgrounds, gender identities, disabilities, and LGBTQ+. “Because we’re located in British Columbia, we thankfully have more exposure to Indigenous people and culture,” notes Marketing Coordinator Olivia Gutjahr. “Our mandate is to bring diverse voices to a wider audience—that includes showing images of diverse people in all our books.”

Weird Rules to Follow by Kim Spencer, October 2022, ISBN 9781459835580, takes place in the coastal fishing town of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, during the 1980s. Eleven-year-old Mia, an Indigenous girl, lives with her churchgoing grandmother, binge-drinking mother, and a rotating number of aunts, uncles, and cousins. In this book for middle-grade readers, Mia notices how her life is different from her non-Indigenous neighbor, including how she is treated by teachers and shopkeepers. “This slice-of-life story is presented as a series of vignettes,” says Gutjahr. “As Mia transitions from tween to teen, she starts to recognize the signs of prejudice and racism.”

Award-winning Indigenous author Monique Gray Smith offers loving aspirations for children in I Hope, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard, September 2022, ISBN 9781459825932. This heartwarming picture book for ages 3–5 delivers nurturing messages from parents, grandparents, and other caregivers like, “I hope that you are kind” and “I hope you love to learn.” Grimard’s touching illustrations feature children and adults from diverse ethnic backgrounds. “Anything that Monique creates comes from her Indigenous point of view,” says Gutjahr. “Monique has an incredible way of getting these beautiful feelings across with the perfect words.”

Lerner Publishing

Lerner Publishing Group has a six-decade-long tradition of publishing diverse authors. Recently, the company created a 603-title catalogue on their landing page dedicated to diversity, including Coretta Scott King Award winner Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s Bad News for Outlaws and Hmong American author Kao Kalia Yang’s A Map into the World. “We want to bring as many new voices to the table as possible,” says Amy Fitzgerald, editorial director of Carolrhoda Books, a Lerner imprint. “There are lots of underrepresented groups in publishing like BIPOC, neuro-diverse, disabled, and other forms of diversity to bring into the mix.”

Not Done Yet: Shirley Chisholm’s Fight for Change by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by Nina Crews, November 2022, ISBN 9781728420080, describes Shirley Chisholm’s historic journey from overseeing preschools in New York City to running for local government, Congress, then president of the United States. The main text is suitable for a kindergarten read-aloud, while the backmatter offers older readers ages 5–10 more information about Chisholm’s life and legacy. “Tameka Friar Brown felt a strong connection to Shirley and tells the story in an authentic, engaging way,” notes Carol Hinz, associate publisher, Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda imprints.

Four Minneapolis-based authors from four different ethnic backgrounds collaborated to create Where We Come From by John Coy, Shannon Gibney, Sun Yung Shin, and Diane Wilson, October 2022, ISBN 9781541596122. This visually striking picture book for ages 5–10 looks at family, history, and identity from four points of view: Dakota, Korean American, Black and Irish American, and Irish and Scottish American. “This book touches on the full scope of human experience and explores the commonalities we all have,” says Hinz. “It’s also a wonderful mentor text for students writing about their own history and identity.”

A 12-year-old girl experiences hearing loss in Hear Me by Kerry O’Malley Cerra, September 2022, ISBN 9781728420745. Rayne struggles socially and academically as her hearing worsens, even with aids. Her parents push her to get cochlear implants, but Rayne wants to know about alternatives. Rayne combats her own internalized ableism, while discovering that she can learn ASL and build a community of her own. “When the author had hearing loss in her early teens, it took her a while to realize that something was different,” explains Fitzgerald. “There are a lot of ways to live in the world as a person with hearing loss, so we consulted with a medical professional to give an accurate portrayal.”

Nobrow/Flying Eye Books

Nobrow/Flying Eye Books publishes comics and graphic novels, plus illustrated fiction for emerging readers and comic lovers. For young readers seeking authentic voices, Nobrow/Flying Eye Books is committed to promoting diverse creators, characters, and subject matter. “Readers who are grappling with their identities want to relate more personally to the story,” says Marketing and Sales Coordinator Kelsey Taylor. “We’re not the experts. The readers are the experts. We are listening to what our readers want and need.”

Trans creator Joris Bas Becker makes his graphic novel debut with Kisses for Jet, May 2022, ISBN 9781913123031. Set in 1999, this “coming-of-gender” story shows what it was like to be transgender before supportive information was widely accessible online. The main character, Jet, lives in a boarding school where he navigates typical adolescent challenges like making friends and having sex for the first time. At the end of the book, Jet talks to a doctor about medically transitioning. “There are not a lot of transmasculine stories reflected in the media,” notes Taylor, “so, this book is important for visibility and trans representation.”

The Adventures of Team Pom: The Last Dodo by Isabel Roxas, October 2022, ISBN 9781838740559, is a comic for middle-grade readers by Flying Eye Books’ first Filipino American creator. The diverse characters live in a fictionalized Queens, NY neighborhood inspired by the actual Astoria. In this sequel to Squid Happens, Roberta and her friends work as junior naturalists at New York’s Museum of Natural History. Roberta confronts the evil rats as they conspire to transform people into dodo birds. “There’s so much witty, zany, absurd humor packed into this series, plus nostalgic references for adult readers,” says Taylor.

Baker & Taylor/Paw Prints Publishing

Baker & Taylor recently announced the creation of Paw Prints Publishing to expand their 193-year-old book distribution and library services company. Paw Prints currently focuses on books for ages 3–10 but plans to add middle grade and teen titles to their list. Next year, they will launch Kitten Creations, a sub-imprint that will help libraries publish books created by youth writing workshops.

A young girl wants to perform in the school talent show despite her disability in Mighty Mara by Carina Ho and Jesse Byrd, illustrated by Monica Paola Rodriguez, May 2023, ISBN 9781223186306. In this title for readers ages 4–8, schoolmates scoff when Mara signs up to dance in the talent show. Much to her delight, those same kids help her onto the stage for her smash hit dance. “Carina Ho is an AAPI woman who uses a wheelchair,” notes Bensur. “She’s also a professional dancer and musician who travels the world to perform.”

Sunny Days by Jesse Byrd, illustrated by Anastasia Ku, June 2023, ISBN 9781223191461, features a Black protagonist before and after a hurricane hits her neighborhood (for ages 4–8). Martine’s community unites to rebuild while she starts giving sunny days their own names. “Jesse’s family’s experience with Hurricane Katrina was the impetus for writing this book,” says Bensur. “He’s one of the most positive, happy, lovely people I’ve ever met and that shines through this inclusive, feel-good narrative.”

For readers ages 4–8, Filipino-American culture and folklore take center stage in Bunso Meets a Mumu, written and illustrated by Rev Valdez, August 2023, ISBN 9781223186399. Bunso’s family tells him that if he misbehaves, the mythical Mumu will come and get him. Bunso overcomes his fear, meets Mumu face-to-face, and discovers that Mumu is actually a sweetheart. “This is a great way to learn about a different culture and makes for a fun read-along,” says Bensur.

In October, hunger activist and reigning Mrs. Worldwide Misty Lee Coolidge will appear at SLJ’s Day of Dialog 2022 to promote We All Stir the Pot: To End Hunger! by Coolidge with Bobbie Bensur, November 2022, ISBN 9781223183343. This story follows a zucchini’s journey from farm to food pantry. Readers ages 3–7 will also learn about food insecurity and socioeconomic diversity.

Reycraft Books

Reycraft Books publishes original and licensed works from creators around the globe who have authentic stories to tell. Reycraft’s passionate team wants children of underrepresented identity groups to see their stories on library bookshelves.

“We believe every child deserves to see themselves on the page. It speaks to power and empowerment,” says Acquisitions Editor Winsome Bingham. “We embrace different cultures and help diverse storytellers find their place on the page and in the world.”

For readers ages 11–15, Blood Brothers by Rob Sanders, July 2022, ISBN 9781478869276, tells the story of three hemophiliac brothers who endured ostracism and hate at the start of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Set in small-town Florida, the Johnston brothers are expelled from school, the scouts, and even church. “This novel-in-verse is ripped from the headlines,” says Associate Publisher Wiley Blevins. “We need to buy stock in Kleenex with this book. I cry every time I read it.”

An eight-year-old Black girl leads her own protest march in Say Their Names by Carol Brewer, illustrated by Adrian Brandon, August 2022, ISBN 9781478875697. This picture book (for readers ages 8–14) that is meant to be read aloud is a powerful call to action inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. “No matter how small you are, you can do big things,” says Bingham. “The girl in this story wants to see change. She demands it because it is her future.”

Acclaimed Native American writer Joseph Bruchac captures the essence of famous Indigenous leaders in Voices of the People, a collection of poems matched with images by various artists, October 2022, ISBN 9781478875161. Bruchac’s poems, illustrated by tribally enrolled artists, introduce readers nine years old and up to prominent Native Americans like prima ballerina Maria Tallchief and Cherokee chief Wilma Mankiller. “We went through a long process to find the artists and pair them with the right poems,” recalls Blevins. “We found a whole world of Native American art that’s so unexpected and so relevant.”

Mama's Days by Andi Diehn, illustrated by Ángeles Ruiz, December 2022, ISBN 9781478875994, features a girl who uses storytelling to navigate her mother’s mental health challenges. The girl’s tale conjures up a princess, a queen, and a misunderstood dragon with unpredictable emotions. “We think of diversity as a big umbrella that includes different life circumstances,” says Blevins. “More kids and people than you think are dealing with issues like mental health.”

In a departure for Reycraft, the publisher’s art and editorial teams created the “How-To-Draw” series for ages 7–14. The first two installments are Let’s Draw People, April 2022, ISBN 9781478876137, and Let’s Draw Animals, April 2022, ISBN 9781478881858. Featuring some of Reycraft’s favorite illustrators, including C.G. Esperanza, Cbabi Bayoc, Rashin Khieriyeh, Lian An-Lin, Wook Jin Jung, and Ángeles Ruiz, this series gives a highly diverse group of illustrators the chance to share their tricks and tips, drawing what they know. It brings something new to drawing books, which traditionally have been very Eurocentric.

“We touch things that other publishers are scared to touch,” explains Executive Editor Eileen Robinson. “We work with these writers [and illustrators]. We know why they write. We want to help them build their careers, not just do one book. And it takes a diverse team like ours to do that.”

Norwood House Press

Woman-owned Norwood House Press publishes informational and fiction books to help children in grades pre–K-8 succeed in school and life. “Every season, we make a conscious effort to present diverse characters and diverse topics in our books,” says Jocelyn Edwards, marketing manager. “We understand how important it is for kids to see themselves in a book. It makes a big difference in their lives.”

Norwood’s new series, "Voices From Around the World," is written by Indigenous or native authors from four Pacific Island nations and one state, introducing their cultures to readers in grades 3–6. Each book covers history, geography, culture, and traditions with sidebars, fun facts, an island map, and authentic vocabulary words for an immersive experience. This series includes individual books about Fiji, Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga, and New Zealand.

Expert on Fijian archaeology and the current secretary-general for the Pacific Islands Museum Association, Tarisi Vunidilo tells the story of Fiji’s 332 islands in Fiji (Voices From Around the World: Pacific Islands), August 2022, ISBN 9781684507504. “A recurring theme in these books is the importance of family and of passing down traditions,” says Edwards. “Instead of Westernizing for tourists, Pacific Islanders are embracing and showcasing their authentic cultures. They want to make sure traditions live on as elders pass away.”

Hawai’i (Voices From Around the World: Pacific Islands) is written by Trisha Kēhaulani Watson-Sproat and Matthew Kawaiola Sproat, August 2022, ISBN 9781684507498, a married couple who were both born and raised on Oahu. An expert on traditional ecological knowledge, Trisha was the first native Hawaiian woman to earn two doctorate degrees. Matthew is a master woodworker and award-winning traditional Hawaiian musician. “Kids will learn about the ‘aloha spirit,’ which means compassion and kindness for people, animals, and the land,” says Edwards.

Citizens of the World

Palestinian-Jordanian author Taghreed A. Najjar, whose publisher is Interlink, shared these final thoughts with School Library Journal: “I attended a boarding school in Jerusalem in the late 1950’s. By devouring books at the library, I learned a lifelong lesson that people are all the same. We may look different. We may have different ideas about things. But there are more similarities than there are differences. So, I feel that reading diverse books helps make us into citizens of the world.”



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