Posts Tagged We Need Diverse Books

From the Mixed-Up Files Gets Recognized for Dedication to Diverse Books

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Are you looking for some good news to cheer about? Well, here you go: From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors is receiving some love!

What’s this about?

We all know that there are many reasons to love the Mixed-Up Files, and one big reason is our effort to put a spotlight on diverse books. Just check out our WNDMG Wednesday blog posts!

Well, it turns out a lot of people have been noticing our dedication to diverse books, and our blog is getting some love from Feedspot. Feedspot chose Mixed-Up Files as one of the 80 Best Diverse Book Blogs and Websites for 2024! That’s something to celebrate!

Here’s what Feedspot has to say about us: “Read special intros, summaries, and extracts from books and novels that revolve around the theme of Diversity and Inclusion. From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors is a team of writers and readers of middle-grade books, and their goal is to celebrate and generate enthusiasm about books for 8-12-year-olds.”


So, what is Feedspot, you might ask?

Feedspot is a content reader that can help you keep up with multiple websites all in one place. That way, you don’t have to visit each website separately to find out what’s new. With this recognition, Feedspot acknowledges the contribution of websites and blogs that recognize the importance of putting more books with diverse characters in the hands of children.  

The goal of this list is to recognize and bring more traffic to websites and blogs that are dedicated to the promotion and growth of inclusive literature. In addition to From the Mixed-Up Files, their list of 80 websites and blogs includes standouts like the Lee and Low Books blog, Multicultural Kid Blogs, and KidLit TV.


Why is this important?

You know the saying: Energy flows where attention goes. Publishers Weekly recently reported findings from the University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) regarding diversity in children’s books. The good new is that “the number of books received by the CCBC that have BIPOC authors, illustrators, or compilers has tripled since 2015.” They expect this trend to continue with BIPOC representation and to expand to a broader range identities, including differing abilities, LGBTQ+, and religious diversity.

 As you’ll find on our WNDMG page, our mission is to “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.” If you’re like us, and you have a passion for making sure that all children see themselves represented in books, check out Feedspot’s 80 Best Diverse Book Blogs and Websites and make sure to follow From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors!

Author/Illustrator Spotlight: Carole and Jeffery Boston Weatherford

You’ve in for a special treat, Mixed-Up friends! Joining us on the blog today are Carole Boston Weatherford and Jeffery Weatherford, the author-illustrator/mother-son duo behind the middle-grade verse novel, Kin: Rooted in Hope. The novel, which explores the history of Carol and Jeffery’s family tree, shaped by enslavement and freedom, has been hailed by Publisher’s Weekly as “a layered text that highlights the perseverance of the Weatherfords’ ancestors and the horrors that they endured,” and by Kirkus as “a striking work that reshapes the narrative around enslavement.” It’s out tomorrow, September 19, from Simon & Schuster.

A Summary of Kin: Rooted in Hope

Carole and Jeffery Boston Weatherford’s ancestors are among the founders of Maryland. Their family history there extends more than three hundred years, but as with the genealogical searches of many African Americans with roots in slavery, their family tree can only be traced back five generations before going dark. And so from scraps of history, Carole and Jeffery have conjured the voices of their kin, creating an often painful but ultimately empowering story of who their people were in a breathtaking book that is at once deeply personal yet all too universal.

Carole’s poems capture voices ranging from her ancestors to Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman to the plantation house and land itself that connects them all, and Jeffery’s evocative illustrations help carry the story from the first mention of a forebear listed as property in a 1781 ledger to he and his mother’s homegoing trip to Africa in 2016. Shaped by loss, erasure, and ultimate reclamation, this is the story of not only Carole and Jeffery’s family, but of countless other Black families in America.

Carole and Jeffery Boston Weatherford: The Interview

Carole and Jeffery… Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files. It’s honor to have you here! Carole: Kin is told from a fascinating array of perspectives. In addition to accounts from your ancestors, the Copper family, key figures include: Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman; your ancestors’ enslavers, the Lloyd family; an archeologist; Francis Scott Key, who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Non-human narrators are represented, too: Wye House; the Chesapeake Bay; a cemetery. How did you inhabit each character as deeply, and as authentically, as you did?

CBW: I realized after writing my first verse novel, Becoming Billie Holiday, which was in first person, that I had this ability to channel the voices of my subjects. I ask my characters to speak to and through me. It helped that I grew up visiting my great-grandparents’ house in the area. So, I was already rooted in the land long before writing Kin.

The Magic of Scratchboard Art

Jeffery: While we’re on the subject of illustrations, Kin features more than 40 black-and-white pieces of scratchboard art. Can you tell Mixed-Up Files readers more about this medium? What made you choose scratchboard for this particular book?

JBW: Certainly! Scratchboard art is a distinctive and evocative medium, offering a visual dance between darkness and light. At its core, scratchboard is a form of direct engraving where the artist scratches off dark ink to reveal a white or light-colored layer beneath. It’s a medium that requires precision, foresight, and an intimate understanding of light and shadow.

For Kin, I felt that scratchboard was the perfect choice because it mirrored the book’s underlying themes—the contrasting narratives of hardship and hope, of oppression and freedom, of the dark past and the light of progress. Much like our own stories where we strive to find clarity amidst confusion, scratchboard art involves meticulously carving out light from the darkness. It’s about finding and showcasing beauty, no matter how deeply it’s buried. The medium’s inherent contrasts and textures brought depth to the narrative, providing readers with not just a story to read, but an experience to feel.

Additionally, the tactile nature of scratchboard echoes the raw, visceral emotions and historical touchpoints present in Kin. Just as the book delves into the intricate tapestry of ancestry and legacy, the scratchboard technique, with its layers and intricacies, became a metaphor for the multifaceted journey of discovery and understanding.

(For more on the fascinating medium of scratchboard art, click here.)

I Call Their Names

Carole: Much of the material for Kin came from the Lloyd family’s ledgers, including the names of your ancestors, which you call out frequently—almost like an incantation: Yellow Molly; Chicken Sue; Prissy; Daphne; Old Suckey; Charity; Nurse Henny; Barnett; Peg Shaw… How do these names resonate with you? 

CBW: Wye House, the Lloyd’s flagship plantation, was once home to more than three hundred enslaved people. Their marginalized voices begged to be amplified and their stories to be told. I invoked the names of the enslaved residents of Wye House. Perhaps that was my way of asking their permission to channel their voices and conjure their stories.

Remembering… And Forgetting

Carole: Early on in the book, you reveal that your great grandfather never talked about his father-in-law, Isaac Copper, who fought in the Civil War after his enslavement at Wye House. You then pose the question: “Was forgetting less painful than remembering?” Could you elaborate on this?

CBW: I don’t know whether my great-great-grandfathers told my great grandparents about enslavement. History can be heart-rending—even traumatizing—especially when it comes to enslavement. As one formerly enslaved woman said in the 1930s, “My folks don’t want me to talk about slavery.” Sadly, many firsthand recollections of enslavement vanished before ever being passed down. On one hand is a reluctance to recall painful memories; on the other, the grief over what is forgotten or unknown. I wish I had inherited more stories.

Poetry in Motion

Jeffery: In addition to being a children’s book illustrator, you’re a performance poet. How has your experience as a poet guided your work as an illustrator—and vice-versa?

JBW: My journey as a performance poet has deeply enriched my perspective as an illustrator. Engaging in spoken word and poetry, I’ve been exposed to the raw, unfiltered emotions of an audience, and I’ve felt the weight of words in a room—the palpable tension, the riveting silences, and the roaring applause. This intimate dance with emotions and public vulnerability has emboldened me in my artistry.

It’s often said that public speaking is a fear greater than death, and if that’s true, then through my countless performances, I’ve confronted and embraced that fear many times over. This recurrent act of braving the stage has translated into an audacious spirit in my illustrations.

Art, much like poetry, is an act of audacious vulnerability. It necessitates the courage to mar a pristine canvas, to take risks, and to lay one’s soul bare for the world to witness. My poetry has taught me to speak, while my illustrations have taught me to visualize; and together, they’ve allowed me to weave narratives that are both visually and emotionally resonant. The synergy between both realms is profound—while my poetry gives voice to my emotions, my illustrations provide them a visual stage.

Fertile Ground for Creativity

Carole: You wrote many of the poems for Kin on your family’s farmstead in Copperville, Maryland. What was this experience like for you? Did this rural location help you feel connected to your ancestors in any way?

CBW: I sense ancestral spirits there. My great-great grandfather Phillip Moaney co-founded Copperville during the Reconstruction. The village is less than two miles from Wye House where my forebears were enslaved. My family’s small farm in Copperville is fertile ground not only for agriculture but also for creativity.

African Homecoming

Carole and Jeffery: In 2016, you travelled to Africa to learn more about your ancestors—some of whom descended from royalty. How did this trip deepen your understanding of your family’s history? How did it affect you personally?

CBW: The purpose of our African homecoming was to share our debut collaboration, You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen. At the time, we had not begun work on Kin. Off the coast of Dakar, Senegal on Goree Island, we toured Maison des Esclaves (The House of Slaves). Shortly after our return, I learned from an art exhibition that my great-great grandfather descended from royalty and was known as the Royal Black. That knowledge filled me with pride and inspired me to research our roots.

JBW: The trip was NWA NWA, which means incredible, amazing, magnificent!  I felt like I was returning home. Getting to stand on the Goree Island I could feel the power of my ancestors and the light of their smiles. It returned something to me that I cannot explain.

It’s All in the Research

Carole: As a follow-up, what sort of research did you do for Kin? Without birth records, marriage licenses, and death certificates available to trace your family’s genealogy, it must have required a tremendous amount of time, patience, and skillful detective work.

CBW: I was researching family history long before I envisioned Kin. Once, I began work on the book, I studied plantation ledgers, letters, military records  archeological reports, the landscape and material culture to reconstruct my ancestors’ milieu. I also read Frederick Douglass’s firsthand account of enslavement at Wye House. Last but not least, I visited the burial ground for the plantation’s enslaved residents. Amidst unmarked graves in a grove of trees, I broke down and cried.

Jeffery: How did the research affect, and enrich, your artwork?

JBW: The research process has been instrumental in shaping the authenticity and depth of my artwork. By delving deep into historical accounts, personal narratives, and cultural contexts, I’ve been able to tap into a reservoir of emotions, experiences, and textures that might have otherwise remained elusive.

Family Affair

Carole and Jeffery: This isn’t your first children’s book collaboration, but I suspect it’s the most meaningful. How has Kin brought you closer, both as collaborators and mother and son? Also, how has this project differed from other books you’ve created together?

CBW: Kin was truly a family affair, conceived with collaboration in mind. Kin is the book of our hearts, an offering to our ancestors and to our offspring, born and unborn.

JBW: We have been working together for a long time, this book has allowed us to dive into family history on an entirely different level and share that experience with the rest of the family.

On the flip side, how do you handle disagreements when it comes to creative decisions? Does the mother-son dynamic ever get in the way? When it does, what are your strategies to resolve the problem?

CBW: I can’t recall a disagreement, maybe because I’m the boss. Joking! Seriously, I consider myself an illustrator’s author. My words are evocative enough for illustrators to express their vision for the art. I was blown away when I saw Jeffery’s art for Kin.

JBW: We don’t particularly argue about the process, to be honest–just about chores that need to be done for tidying up spaces. Kidding. I don’t have many chores from my mom anymore. All jokes aside, it’s been a wonderful experience working with her, and going all over the world to enrich the youth.

It’s Personal

Carole: You have written more than 70 award-winning books, but my research reveals that Kin is your most personal one yet. Was there a watershed moment, or inner force, that impelled you to share your family’s history?

CBW: In late 2016, I went to an exhibition of Depression-era paintings by Ruth Starr Rose, a white artist who came of age at Hope House, the former plantation where my great-great grandfather was the gardener. I was awestruck that Rose’s paintings depicted my relatives, whom the curator referred to as Maryland’s founding families. I suspect that one painting shows my father as a boy. The exhibition also featured a photograph of my great-great grandfather, whose face I had never before seen. The exhibition underscored for me the significance of my family’s history.

Carole and Jeffery: Thank you for chatting about KIN today. I know your book will resonate with readers as much as it did with me.


Carole Boston Weatherford

Carole has written many award-winning books for children, including You Can Fly, illustrated by her son Jeffery; Box, which won a Newbery Honor; Unspeakable, which won the Coretta Scott King award, a Caldecott honor, and was a finalist for the National Book Award finalist; Respect: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, winner of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award; and Caldecott Honor winners Freedom in Congo SquareVoice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement; and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. Carole lives in North Carolina. Visit her at

Jeffery Boston Weatherford

Jeffery is an award-winning children’s book illustrator and a performance poet. He has lectured, performed, and led art and writing workshops in the US, the Middle East, and West Africa. Jeffery was a Romare Bearden Scholar at Howard University, where he earned an MFA in painting and studied under members of the Black Arts Movement collective AfriCobra. A North Carolina native and resident, Jeffery has exhibited his art in North Carolina, Georgia, Maryland, and Washington, DC. Visit him at

Author Spotlight: Ciera Burch

Today, we welcome author Ciera Burch to shine in the Author Spotlight. Her MG debut novel, Finch House, is out September 5th from Margaret K. McElderry Books. But first…

A Summary 

Eleven-year-old Micah has no interest in moving out of her grandfather’s house. She loves living with Poppop and their shared hobby of driving around rich neighborhoods to find treasures in others’ trash. To avoid packing, Micah goes for a bike ride and ends up at Finch House, the decrepit Victorian that Poppop says is Off Limits. Except when she gets there, it’s all fixed up and there’s a boy named Theo in the front yard. Surely that means Finch House isn’t Off Limits anymore? But when Poppop finds her there, Micah is only met with his disappointment.

By the next day, Poppop is nowhere to be found. After searching everywhere, Micah’s instincts lead her back to Finch House. But once Theo invites her inside, Micah realizes she can’t leave. And that, with its strange whispers and deep-dark shadows, Finch House isn’t just a house…it’s alive. Can Micah find a way to convince the house to let her go? Or will she be forced to stay in Finch House forever?

Interview with Ciera Burch

MR: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Ciera. It’s always exciting to have a debut author on our blog!

CB: Thank you for having me!

MR: Could you tell Mixed-Up Files readers about Finch House?

CB: Of course! Finch House is a horror middle-grade novel about a young girl, Micah, whose curiosity draws her to an old Victorian house that she’s been forbidden by her poppop, her grandfather, to go near. When he goes missing, she’s drawn back to the house to search for him, and she discovers mysteries about the house, the people who used to live there, and even things about her own family’s past.

Victorian Inspiration

MR: What was your inspiration behind the novel?

There are so many inspirations behind Finch House—my own poppop’s basement, my attitude on change, my love of horror as a genre despite being easily frightened. One of my biggest inspirations, however, was my love of Victorian houses. There was a neighborhood near mine growing up that was full of them, and every time we drove past my eyes would be glued to the window. I loved imagining what the houses looked like on the inside and who used to live in them and, for some of the scarier ones, what ghosts or witches might exist inside. That curiosity never left and eventually manifested into Micah, who’s even more curious than I was as a child.

A Dark Room, Creaky Floorboards…BOO!

MR: What is it about the genre of spooky MG that appeals to you most? Were you into ghosts, haunted houses, and the supernatural as a child?

CB: Oooh, what a great question. I think it’s probably the courage that the characters possess. I was, and still am, a bit easily spooked but getting to read about characters who are brave in the face of scary things is always fun to me. Plus, I love the atmosphere. A dark room, creaky floorboards… it always gets my heart racing in the best ways.

I wasn’t quite as into them as a child as I am today, but I did enjoy the Goosebumps books. I always tried to pick the ones I thought might be less scary based on the cover. Those, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark always had me up reading until way too late…and then burying my head under the covers to hide from all the monsters.

Breaking the Rules

MR: Micah, the main character of your novel, knows that Finch House is strictly off-limits—but she dares to go inside anyway. What is it about rule-breaking that is often so enticing? And what does this say about Micah’s character that she ignores Poppop’s instructions?

CB: I think it’s the sense of self that it allows you. After all, it’s typically someone else who has set the rules—Poppop in this case. In choosing to break a rule, you’re making your own decisions. Your own rules, even! There’s something thrilling about that, especially as a kid, the aspect of being in charge of yourself and doing what you want to do regardless of what anyone else has said or told you to do.

As for Micah personally, I think it shows a good portion of her stubbornness—she wants answers and she’s going to get them whether or not she’s been told otherwise. I think she craves the knowledge that her usually very open Poppop won’t give her in this particular instance. And honestly, she also just thinks it’s fun. At first, anyway.

(For more spooky fun from the Mixed-Up Files archives, click here.)

Poppop: Fact versus Fiction

MR: Speaking of Poppop, I’m guessing this character is based on your own grandfather. Can you tell us about him? How is he similar to the fictional Poppop? How is he different?

CB: He is! Oh, man, I love talking about my Poppop. He’s great. He’s the most adorable man in his 70s that you’ve ever seen. He has a single gold tooth, forever wears his Navy hat, and chuckles in answer to just about anything. In terms of similarities, he and the fictional Poppop look pretty much alike and they both go networking! I also think they share a sense of comforting quiet. Unless he’s telling a story, my Poppop isn’t a huge talker but he’ll listen to you and I think both Poppops do that well. They also both spoil their granddaughters! In terms of how he’s different, my Poppop can probably be a little grumpier sometimes.

Writing for Different Readers

MR: In addition to being a writer of middle-grade fiction, you write YA (Something Kindred, out Winter 2024 from Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers) as well as short stories. What is the secret sauce for writing with different readerships in mind? The biggest challenge? The greatest reward?

CB: Honestly, I just try to stay true to the story and to the characters. They are usually about the age of the general readership—kids or teens or adults, etc—but I don’t tend to think too much about that when I’m writing. I’m focused on what my characters’ lives are and whether they are coming across as genuine and if the situation they’re in fits them—or doesn’t fit them.

I think the focus on readership is important, of course. If I’m discussing grief in MG versus YA, I’m going to go about handling things differently, but I don’t ever really censor myself based on who’s reading because that feels limiting for both me and my readers. I try to tell the best story I can for my characters first and foremost to do them the justice they deserve. That’s where both the biggest reward and biggest challenge comes into play for me: creating authentic, fully fleshed-out characters who people can relate to in any age range or format or genre.

One City One Story

MR: As a follow-up, your short story, “Yvonne,” about a queer woman of color who reconnects with her biological grandmother, was selected as the 2019 One City One Story read for the Boston Book Festival. Can you tell us about that? What was it like to be chosen for this prestigious opportunity at such a young age? (You were only 23!)

CB: I’d honestly forgotten about it after I submitted the story at first! I was in grad school for my MFA at the time and working two jobs, so I was very busy and I had a spreadsheet of what story I’d sent to which contest or magazine and when. So I didn’t stress about them all, once I marked a short story down, I tried my best to forget about it. When I got the email, I was at work, at the indie bookstore, and tried super hard not to freak out at the register! I took a quick break to call my mom in the stairwell and from there…everything got real.

Being chosen for that was more than a dream come true, it was something I hadn’t even dared to imagine for myself. So, it was really amazing to have my very diverse, queer story be celebrated by the entire city from the newspaper to the radio to all the languages that it was lovingly translated into. It was such a wonderful experience that I’ll never forget, especially because it just reaffirmed my goals in life: I can write professionally while telling diverse stories and be successful at it.

Path to Publication

MR: Can you tell us about your path to publication? Was it smooth sailing or bumpy seas?

CB: It was pretty smooth. I waited until my manuscript, which was also my master’s thesis, was ready and then I started by querying an agent who had reached out to me during the One City One Story whirlwind and a few other agents on my spreadsheet. I was signed pretty quickly and I was lucky enough that I was talking to editors and was offered a book deal for my YA very shortly after that.

Ciera’s Writing Routine

MR: What does your writing routine look like? Do you have any particular rituals?

CB: I’m such a big type-A person that it’s really shocking that I don’t have a routine! It used to be whenever I could find the time; on my lunch break, after a closing shift, on my phone on the metro, etc. Typically, at night since I’m a big night owl. But these days, I like to take a few hours a day or two a week to write at a café or library during the day and the rest of the week it’s me typing away on my couch or at my desk.

MR: What are you working on now, Ciera? Enquiring Mixed-Up Files readers want to know.

CB: I’m currently working on my second middle grade! I don’t know how much I can say but it involves a summer camp, missing campers, and a particular cryptid native to my home state.

 We All Scream for Ice Cream

MR: Before I let you go, I must share that we have something in common: We’re both ice cream lovers. What’s your favorite flavor? (I know… it’s like being asked to pick your favorite child.) Also, you have a favorite ice cream haunt? (sorry!).

CB: Yay ice cream! My absolute favorite food group. Hmmm…a favorite flavor is so hard! I’m going to have to go with a good old classic and say Mint Chocolate Chip. Perfect blend of mintiness with just a hint of chocolate. Favorite ice cream haunt in Boston was probably J.P Licks (or the Scoop N Scootery for late night writing cravings!) and now in D.C I’d probably go with Larry’s Homemade Ice Cream.

Lightning Round

MR: And finally, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack? (besides ice cream) Dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s!

Coffee or tea? Neither, actually! Strictly a hot chocolate girl.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? No way!

Superpower? Flying!

Favorite place on earth? Scotland!

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be? A copy of Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, my stuffed bunny, and a hair tie!

MR: Thank you for chatting with us, Ciera. It a pleasure, and I’m sure MUF readers will agree!

CB: Thank you so much for having me! These were such fun questions to answer.


Ciera Burch is a lifelong writer and ice cream aficionado. She has a BA from American University and an MFA from Emerson College. Her fiction has appeared in The American Literary MagazineUnderground, the art and literary journal of Georgia State University, Stork, and Blackbird. Her work was also chosen as the 2019 One City One Story read for the Boston Book Festival. While she is originally from New Jersey, she currently resides in Washington, DC, with her stuffed animals, plants, and far too many books. Learn more about Ciera on her website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.