Posts Tagged We Need Diverse MG

WNDMG Wednesday – Celebrating Juneteenth

We Need Diverse MG
We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado 

Celebrating Juneteenth

School is out for most students around the nation, which means that for many, learning about and celebrating Juneteenth won’t happen as organically as, say, Martin Luther King Day does.  But for families and educators committed to embracing the fulness of our history and the holidays that mark it, we’ve put together some resources for teaching and talking about Juneteenth.

image of the juneteenth flag- blue and red with star in the middle

About Juneteenth Independence Day

Juneteenth just became a national holiday in 2021, but Black Texans have been celebrating it since 1866. The holiday gets its name from the day enslaved Texans learned of their freedom – June 19, 1865 – more than two months after the April 9 end of the Civil War freed all enslaved people. At first, the holiday was confined mostly to Texas. But as families moved to other states, they took their traditions with them, highlighting the day with picnics, music festivals, and family gatherings.

Today it remains a celebration not just of emancipation but of Black culture and tradition. Juneteenth is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Day was recognized in 1983.

crossed flags - US and Juneteenth

Reasons to Study Juneteenth

In addition to celebrating emancipation, Juneteenth is an opportunity for all Americans to learn about the twin legacies of slavery and segregation, as well as the construction of institutional racism. While the story of racism and bias in this country is painful, it is an intrinsic part of who we are as a country. We can empower future generations by teaching them the truth about where we started and urging them to do better than we did, to imagine a better future. We tell our children to make good choices when it comes to behavior, school, and morality, it seems reasonable that we could encourage them to make better choices to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable world.

Juneteenth Resources:

If you’re interested in guiding your middle-grade readers to learn what Juneteenth is all about and what the day symbolizes for our country, take a look at these booklists and lesson plans.

Booklists

The New York Public Library

Feminist Books for Kids (Blog)

Harper Collins Publishers

Teaching for Change (multiple booklists arranged by category)

From the Mixed-Up Files …of Middle-Grade Authors

Lesson Plans

The National Museum of African-American History and Culture

Brave Writer (Blog)

We Are Teachers

Care.com

 

text Juneteenth in red black and green with flying birds graphic underneath

KIDLIT UNITES AGAINST BOOK BANNING

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Kidlit Unites Against Book Banning

More than 13,000 MG and YA authors and illustrators have signed a letter condemning the current wave of book banning. The letter, written by Newbery Honor author Christina Soontornvat,  calls on Congress, state leaders, and school boards to act now to protect students and their right to access a diverse selection of books.

“This current wave of book suppression follows hard-won gains made by authors whose voices
have long been underrepresented in publishing.” (From Soontornvat letter)

Demonstrating the resonance of this message with children’s book creators, most of the thousands of signatures on this letter were gathered in under 48 hours. The letter is now posted on diversebooks.org and includes signatures from a handful of contributors from our blog here at From the Mixed-Up Files … of Middle-Grade Authors.

 

badge logo for We Need Diverse Books - text with pink brush marks at top and botto

“When books are removed or flagged as inappropriate, it sends the message that the people in
them are somehow inappropriate. It is a dehumanizing form of erasure …. At a time when our country is experiencing an alarming rise in hate crimes, we should be searching for ways to increase empathy and
compassion at every turn.” (From Soontornvat letter)

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

On May 18, Soontornvat sent the signed letter to the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, which is investigating book banning in schools. On Thursday, the subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over civil rights and equal protection laws, held its second hearing on the subject and formally introduced the letter into its record.

((Interested in reading more on the fight against book banning? Click here.))

((Want a list of banned books you can support? Click here.))

 

WNDMG Wednesday- Guest Post – Waka T. Brown

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around
We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

WNDMG Wednesday Guest – Author Waka T. Brown

We at WNDMG Wednesday are thrilled to host our guest post writer, author Waka T. Brown. Waka’s piece in honor of AAPI Heritage Month is a spot-on look at the importance of representation in middle-grade books, and we’re so grateful she took the time to stop by our blog.

Author Waka T. Brown–My Journey

Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, everyone! I’m honored to write a blog post this month for “From the Mixed-Up Files… of Middle-Grade Authors.”

With two middle grade novels which prominently feature Asian American main characters under my belt (and two more under contract), I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect and share what my journey as an Asian American author has been like thus far.

Being Sabrina Duncan

I’m curious how many Asian American children of the 70s and 80s are out there who remember “Charlie’s Angels.” Not the 2019 reboot with Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska. Not even the 2000 one with Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, and Cameron Diaz. I’m talking about the one with Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, and Kate Jackson. Way back when, my friends and I sometimes played like we were the Angels—fighting crime and beating up the bad guys. I always played the character of Sabrina Duncan because… she had the darkest hair of the trio. Like me.

Television star Kate Jackson white woman with short black hair wearing red shirt

It Felt Presumptuous

I grew up reading and loving books by Madeleine L’Engle, Lois Duncan, Beverly Cleary, L.M. Montgomery, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder (just to name a few). I might not have looked like any of their main characters, but I identified with the spunky, smart, and resourceful girls featured in almost all their stories.

Book Cover for Little Women 4 white women wearing 19th century dresses seated together on a couch

I never once thought about what it might mean to read a book with girls on the cover who looked like me. I didn’t even know that it was an option. It felt presumptuous to even want that. After all, until I left home for college, I only knew fewer than a dozen Asian Americans outside of my family. I assumed there weren’t many of us at all, and TV, films, books all seemed to support what I assumed was true.

Looking for Meaningful, Positive Representation

So, what does it mean to grow up without meaningful, positive representation? When I was a teenager, beautiful equaled Christy Brinkley. When kids told me I was ugly, part of me wondered if they had a point. After all, I never saw models like me gracing the covers of Seventeen. When I never encountered stories about people like me, I internalized that maybe our stories don’t matter.

Magazine Cover Seventeen Magazine actor Brook Shields on cover

However, when I arrived in California for college for the first time when I was 18, it was with a bit (a lot) of culture shock that I realized I was not alone. I had never experienced a diverse environment like that one before. I joined the Asian American Student Association. I met Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipina, and South Asian friends. During study breaks we watched episodes of “Beverly Hills 90210,” and I wondered to myself where all the Asian people were. It took place in California, after all, and what I saw represented in media didn’t look anything like the diversity that now surrounded me.

“Asian Leads Don’t Sell”

Yet, when I started writing (screenplays mostly), my characters still didn’t look like me. “Imagine a bankable star,” I was advised when I created my characters. I wrote shallow, frothy romcoms that I thought would have mass appeal. When nothing came of them, I decided to throw previous advice out the window and wrote a teenage Roman Holiday-esque story… with two Asian leads. I would like to say this is when my big break came, but alas no. I was only able to get one person in the industry to even read it because, “Asian leads don’t sell.” Maybe at the time people truly believed that. But part of me thought (like my character Annie in Dream, Annie, Dream), How do you get to be a big name/bankable star if you’re never cast? After a disappointing reception to my attempt to create some Asian American representation, I went back to writing my standard fare for a while… but then again, I decided on a project, a far-fetched project. A memoir about 12 year-old me called While I Was Away.

Book Cover for While I was Away - profile sketch of an Asian girl with a small village in the background

Waka T Brown at 12 years old, photo of young Japanese girl in plaid shirt

Waka T. Brown at age 12

Even though a lot of people were dismissive of this endeavor and echoed my own concerns such as “Memoir? And middle grade? Good luck, that’s gonna be a tough sell,” and “you need to have an established platform to sell something like that,” I wrote it anyway. No one bought my more “commercial” writing, so why not? I wanted to get the memories down before they faded for myself. For every negative remark, there were also encouraging ones, like “You should definitely write that story” and “That is the story only you can write.” And those were the ones I hung on to.

((Like reading memoirs and ready to find more? Read this Rosanne Parry’s roundup of Diverse MG Memoirs))

Plus, there were other promising signs urging me not to give up. Crazy Rich Asians was a box office smash. Bookstore shelves looked a lot different from when I was a little girl. I caught up on years of reading, including works by Grace Lin and Kelly Yang. And despite a number of rejections that pointed toward my story’s lack of marketability and/or relatability with a wider audience, While I Was Away eventually sold at auction in a 2-book deal.

movie poster for movie "Crazy, Rich Asians"

How people have embraced my first book since its publication in January 2021 has truly blown me away. It was an Oregon Book Award finalist, one of New York Public Library’s Best Books for Kids of 2021, a Bank Street Children’s Best Book of the Year for 2022…

Dream, Annie, Dream

But, I definitely feel my work as a writer isn’t finished. With my second book, Dream, Annie, Dream, I tackle the issue of representation head-on. Even though it’s a work of fiction, many of the experiences were drawn from my own. Although some of the topics and incidents in it might feel uncomfortable, it is my hope that young readers are drawn to my main character Annie Inoue like I was drawn to Sara Crew, Laura Ingalls, Anne Shirley, and Jo March.

Book Cover for Dream Annie Dream, young Asian girl with basketball and books and pencil as "dreams" floating around her head

They’ve Needed This Story for Decades

While I truly feel my books are for everyone (even teenaged sons who have yet to read their mother’s second book… cough, cough… you know how you are), I appreciate that what each reader gains from them is their own. Some readers have let me know how they related to certain incidents. Some have mentioned that they just enjoyed the story. But the ones that I hold the most dear have been the ones who tell me that they’ve needed this story for decades.

For me personally, representation has come a long way from “the dark-haired Charlie’s Angel” to these two books.

Book Cover for Dream Annie Dream, young Asian girl with basketball and books and pencil as "dreams" floating around her headBook Cover for While I was Away - profile sketch of an Asian girl with a small village in the background

It’s my sincere hope that more stories, diverse stories, stories about events we’ve never heard of continue to surface. And that as readers, we continue to embrace them all with open hearts and minds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Headshot author Waka T. Brown - Asian woman seated on couch, smiling

Waka is a Stanford graduate with a B.A. in International Relations and a Master’s in Secondary Education. While I Was Away (Quill Tree/HarperCollins 2021) is her debut novel.

Dream, Annie, Dream (Quill Tree/HarperCollins 2022) is her first work of historical fiction.

More About Waka T. Brown

In addition to writing middle-grade stories, I enjoy writing screenplays. I wrote and co-directed the short film Double Tap (Official Selection, 2018 DC Shorts and Portland Film Festivals) and my feature-length screenplays (comedies, romcoms, & animated features) have been 2nd-rounders at AFF, placed in the semifinals of PAGE, and quarterfinals of Screencraft writing competitions.

I’m currently an online instructor with the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE). I teach about U.S.-Japan relations to high school students in Japan, and have also authored curriculum on several international topics. Recently, I was honored to receive the U.S.-Japan Foundation and EngageAsia’s national 2019 Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher award.

I live in the Portland, Oregon area with my husband, three sons, and my naughty yet lovable shiba Niko. I have a lot of hobbies such as running, art, baking, and playing guitar.

Connect with Waka:

Twitter

Instagram

Website