We Need Diverse Middle Grade: What it Means to Write Diverse Books

We Need Diverse MG
We Need Diverse MG

Artwork by Aixa Perez-Prado

I’ve been looking forward to this day with great excitement: today marks the debut post for our new series, We Need Diverse Middle Grade.

Our mission: We celebrate and promote diversity in middle-grade books, and we examine the issues preventing better equity and inclusion on the middle-grade bookshelf. We intend to amplify and honor all diverse voices.

We Need Diverse Middle Grade will post once a month, drawing on work from our own team of contributors as well as from guest authors, editors, agents, teachers, librarians, and booksellers. You can count on our presence here on Mixed-Up Files to shine a light on the stories, work, and truth of all those who are still underrepresented in this field. You’ll be able to recognize our monthly posts by seeing our WNDMG  logo: the diverse world we envision. Our artwork is by contributor Aixa Perez-Prado.

Guest Posts for We Need Diverse Middle Grade

If you’re interested in being considered for a guest post slot on WNDMG, please feel free to email: msfishby@fromthemixedupfiles.com.  Please Note: We do not pay for guest blog posts.

And without further ado, I want to introduce our first WNDMG author, the talented Saadia Faruqi. Saadia is a former MUF contributor, and she is also the author of the YASMIN series, A PLACE AT THE TABLE (with author Laura Shovan) and A THOUSAND QUESTIONS.



By Saadia Faruqi


Every time I write a post on Instagram, I chose from a number of hashtags. One of these is #DiverseAuthors and I always chose it with an internal cringe. Why do I need to be called a diverse author? What’s so diverse about me?

I’m just a person writing books about my and my children’s experiences, and for all that to have a label – no matter how well meaning – is often a source of discomfort for me. At the same time, I realize that the work I do is important, and needed. My life experiences as an immigrant, as a mom of first-generation brown kids, inform everything I do, and every single word I write. I share our family’s journey in so many different ways. So many diverse ways.

A Series of Diverse Firsts

The good news is that books about marginalized communities and identities – diverse books – are becoming more popular. When I wrote the Yasmin series, it was the first traditionally published early reader series written by a Muslim American author. It was also the first series with a Muslim girl on the cover, wearing her traditional Pakistani dress and using Islamic words like “salaam”. Nobody knew what the reception of such a unicorn among books would be.

Meet Yasmin

But the success of Yasmin and so many other “diverse” books has shown that there is definitely a huge market for them. “Diverse kids” are hungry for books that center them and their experiences. “Diverse parents” are eager to buy books like mine for their children. Teachers and librarians, even if they aren’t “diverse” themselves, are realizing the value of introducing a different culture and identity in their spaces.

Branching Out

Over the years, I’ve grown more daring. From Yasmin I progressed to writing middle-grade novels. With co-author Laura Shovan, I wrote A Place at the Table, a multi-diverse book about not one but several marginalized identities. Muslim. Jewish. Pakistani. British. Immigrant. Mentally ill. The response has been heartwarming. We’ve spoken with teachers and parents and students themselves. Everyone loves this story, because they can all see something of themselves in this book.

A Place At the TableSaadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan

((Read our interview with Saadia and Laura about A PLACE AT THE TABLE here.))

Universal Diversity

Does that mean we are all “diverse”? This is an interesting question. If “diverse” means different from the norm, then most of us are diverse in some way or the other. If diverse means unique, we are definitely all so.

My most recent book A Thousand Questions is perhaps the most unlike my other work, because it’s set in another country. This is the story of Mimi, a Pakistani American girl who spends her summer vacation in Pakistan with her grandparents. It is also the story of Sakina, the Pakistani servant girl who works at Mimi’s grandparents’ home. Both are foreign to the other. Both look at the other and see DIVERSE.


I choose to set A Thousand Questions in Pakistan because I wanted to explore how we are all different, yet the same. How we tend to look for differences in others and forget the similarities. I wanted my readers to see how one can travel half-way across the world and still find people who are exactly like us in terms of their feelings and their dreams and their fears.

Diverse Books are Just Good Books

Although A Thousand Questions is a perfect example of a diverse book, it actually is the opposite in terms of what it hopes to achieve. It shows how we are similar, alike, comparable. It shows that maybe what we think of as “diverse books” are actually just good books. Amazing stories about amazingly diverse experiences that we can all learn from, whether we are adult or kid readers.

My stories are “diverse” only because they’re outwardly different. They may be set in a different country, or the characters may speak a different language, or eat foods you’ve never heard of. But under the skin, these stories are universal in nature. Similarly, I may have brown skin or wear a hijab or speak Urdu, but underneath all that I’m a human being just like you. I’m a writer just like any other.

I hope that my books – all diverse books – bring home this essential message to readers.

Author Saadia Faruqi

Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist and author. Visit her website at www.saadiafaruqi.com.

Diversity in MG Lit #21 Political Activism

We are in the final throes of the 2020 campaign, and I want to highlight some non-fiction books on activism in a variety of forms.
Enough is Enough: how students can join the fight for gun safety by Michelle Roehm McCann (Beyond Words Hillsboro, OR 10/2019) There is only one good thing about the closure of schools due to the pandemic—just one—and it’s this, there hasn’t been a mass shooting at a school since March. It’s the first spring in more than 20 years without multiple mass shootings at American schools. What I appreciate about this book is that it doesn’t vilify hunters and target shooters. Rather it shines a light on data behind why America’s death rate from gun violence is 4 to 6 times higher than every other country in the world. There are interviews of many young gun safety advocates and plenty of practical advice for how to get involved in the issue.
One Person No Vote: how not all voters are treated equally by Carol Anderson This is a young readers version of Anderson’s acclaimed book about voter suppression. It could not be more timely. This one is a bit dense for young MG readers but it will open their eyes of the older readers in a powerful way
Kid Activists: True tales of childhood from Champions of Change by Robin Stevenson, illustrated by Allison Steinfeld. This is the latest installment in a popular series which includes Kid Inventors, Kid Scientists, Kid Authors & Kid Artists. It features activists from history as well as contemporary times. Frederick Douglas, Malala Yousafzai, Harvey Milk, Dolores Huerta and many others. The text is straight forward and includes a generous size font and illustrations making this a good choice for younger MG.
Sometimes People March by Tessa Allen is a picture book about demonstrations and protests. The text is very spare and the illustrations invite lingering. Both contemporary and historical protests are depicted and there’s more information in the back matter.
Into the Streets: a young person’s visual history of protest in the United States by Mark Bieschke is a look at political, human rights and labor protests. This one is fully illustrated and best for the older end of MG.
You Call This Democracy: how to fix our government and deliver power to the people by Liz Rusch She unpacks the most difficult aspects of American politics, how can a person who lost the popular vote win the presidency? Why are so many people disenfranchised? Why does money have so much political influence? Who draws the boundaries of voting districts? Tough questions and here are clear and concise answers to steer you through difficult times.
Dictionary for a Better World: poems, quotes, & anecdotes from A to Z. by Irene Latham & Charels Waters Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini.  This one is harder to describe. It’s a collection of meditations, beautifully illustrated on words like Ally, Compassion, Respect, Kindness, Nature, Voice, Witness. It’s a book to treasure and talk about.
I Voted: Making a choice makes a difference by Mark Shulman and Serge Bloch is an introduction to the act of voting and what it means. This is for the very youngest readers and is more balanced and bipartisan than almost anything I’ve read this year. I’d use it with 1st to 3rd graders.
Letters from Young Activists: todays rebels speak out is not for kids but by kids for adults. So if you’re looking for inspiration or worried about the future, curl up with a cup of coffee and listen to what young activists have to say. It’s awesome!