Diverse Books and an Awesome Cover

Hello lovely everyone!

I hope you all know about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign that’s been happening online the last few days.  Click on that link to read all about it — I think it’s such a wonderful, uplifting, exciting idea!

(It almost makes me want to join Twitter so I can be part of all the tweeting about it, except I know that would be the beginning of me never getting anything done ever again!)

And in a wonderful case of serendipity, I just got a preview of the Spirit Animals Book Five cover which I can share with you!  Eeeee exciting!  So hey, everyone looking for a black Katniss — check out Abeke!:

Isn’t she awesome?  And isn’t this cover crazy-thrilling?  I totally LOVE IT, and not just because Abeke looks like the ultimate warrior princess, or because Uraza is so cool (and the colors! and THE SHARK!).  It’s also just been posted on the Spirit Animals message board, if you want to chat about it over there.  🙂

Of course, I can’t take credit for Abeke or Meilin or the overall great multiculturalness of the series; the fabulous Brandon Mull came up with the characters, the world of Erdas (like ours, but not exactly ours), and the overarching idea.  But it was really fun to write them and play in this world for a while . . . I really hope you guys like it!  This book will be out in October — before that (in July) is book 4, Fire and Ice, by Shannon Hale, which is SPECTACULAR, oh my goodness.

In another case of awesome serendipity, I happened to be at one of my favorite bookstores in the world on Saturday — Books of Wonder!  Why?  Oh, just this excitement:

As I mentioned in my last post, I was appearing with Sarwat Chadda and Soman Chainani, who both turned out to be hilarious, charming, and super-smart — go hear them talk if you ever get a chance!  And read their awesome books: I couldn’t put The School for Good and Evil down all week, and now I kind of want to be Parvati in The Savage Fortress (at least, I think so — I haven’t quite finished it yet, so I take that back if anything gruesome happens to her!).  🙂

Here we are with lovely Peter, who owns the store — Peter, Sarwat, me, and Soman!

This also worked out fabulously for me, since by buying their books I was able to (a) acquire books I really wanted (signed and everything!), (b) fulfill the “diversify your shelves” part of the campaign, and (c) support a wonderful independent bookstore.  Best day ever yay!

I also bought this book, because it is one of Elliot’s very favorites ever, and the library would really like it back already please, so I figured we needed to own it:

Squeak, Rumble, WHOMP! WHOMP! WHOMP! by Wynton Marsalis is so much fun to read — especially to a kid with an instrument obsession!  I highly highly recommend it!

And finally, to celebrate the campaign, I ran around the house and gathered as many of our diverse books as I could find in 15 minutes, so we could take this photo:

which really could have been better organized and arranged, I know!  But you try neatly spreading out a pile of books on the living room floor when these two rapscallions are in the room.  Clearly this must mean it’s time for rolling in books, or seizing books and hiding them around the house, or bringing out all the REST of the books and adding them to the pile!  Ack!  And then wrangling both children onto the couch and getting them to sit still for forty seconds — it’s like a flaming miracle, this picture, essentially, is what I’m saying.  🙂 (And yes, I included some of my own books, because that’s OK, right?)  🙂

I let the bears pick which books to hold up and Jonah chose:

Zoom! by Robert Munsch — holy bats, he loves this book!  (About a girl getting a super-fast wheelchair — it’s pretty terrific.)


The Fortune-Tellers by Lloyd Alexander, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman — the art in this book is SO GORGEOUS and makes me SO happy, plus the story is wonderful, too.

Elliot chose the Wynton Marsalis book and:

Corduroy, by Don Freeman, which is just one example of how a book can star a non-white character (Lisa, the little girl who takes him home) and become a beloved classic.  One of Elliot’s other favorites is The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats — same thing, so perfect and diverse in a natural way.

The kids had no idea what this pile of books was about, by the way — I don’t think they could begin to tell you what the difference is between these books and the other books in the house.  Which I think is how it should be, at least at this age — they just love them all the same.  I love that they’ll pick out books at the library and have no reaction as to whether the character on the cover looks anything like them.  (Lots of love to our local libraries, by the way, for making diverse books visible and having lots of them around for my kids to find!)

I was thinking this weekend about why I started writing diverse characters in the first place.  The first big one for me, really, was Kali . . . before I knew anything else about my Avatars trilogy (including the central premise, even), I had this image of a girl in New York City (where I was living at the time).  A girl who often wished that she could just get down the street without so many PEOPLE IN THE WAY (not that that was my daily experience, or anything).  😉

And I realize now, thinking about it, that I imagined her the way she is in large part because I was trying to avoid cliches (not always successfully, I realize that!); I was trying to come up with something interesting, and I was trying to reflect the city I saw around me every day.  Another blond, blue-eyed heroine wasn’t exciting to me — but a tall Indian girl with a long dark ponytail, tattoos, and piercings, who could destroy buildings with her bare hands if she wanted to?  Once I could see her in my head, I didn’t just want to write about her; I wanted to BE her.

And then Tigre came next — the boy in South America.  I wanted to do a story where the characters all started in different parts of the world, and South America made sense to me because I grew up there; I went to schools just like that with boys just like him (a number of whom I had crushes on, by the way!).  🙂

So that’s how it started for me, anyway . . . I guess I like writing diverse characters because they are different; they’re not the same heroes you see every day.  But of course they can be and they should be!  As I’ve said before, of course an African-American boy can find lost griffins and save a menagerie full of mythical creatures, just like he can be an astrophysicist or a famous author or president.  There was no doubt in our minds that it was the right choice for Logan’s character.

And to their credit, I have never had any pushback from any of my editors about the diversity of my characters; not even one concerned comment, ever.  I know other people have had tough experiences with the publishing world and that the conversation can be fraught and it’s a complicated issue — but I also know there are editors out there who will love and support your diverse books, so keep writing them!

And I know there are readers who want them . . . and I know there are great diverse books already out there!  Which is what makes this kind of campaign so inspiring — you should see the length of my reading list now, thanks to all the suggestions I’ve seen!  Even more books I can’t wait to read!  Hooray!

All right, I feel like I should say more profound things, but we drove back from New York today (with two COMPLETELY BERSERK hyperactive munchkins in the back, my goodness, what did somebody put in their apple juice?) and I am very extremely ready for bed.

A million thank-yous to everyone who came out to Books of Wonder this weekend!  You guys are awesome!  And hugs to the organizers of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, for deciding to do something positive and proactive that’s gotten so many people excited.  🙂


Quote of the Day:  “We spend the first year of a child’s life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down.  There’s something wrong there.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson