Posts Tagged #weneediversebooks

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

 

STEM Tuesday — Diversity in STEM– Interview with Ella Schwartz

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Ella Schwartz, author of STOLEN SCIENCE: Thirteen Untold Stories of Scientists and Inventors Almost Written out of History.  

Mary Kay Carson: Tell us a bit about your book Stolen Science.

Ella Schwartz: Stolen Science is the story of thirteen scientists and inventors who performed ground breaking work but did not get the credit they deserved. I know first-hand just how hard it is for women to be successful in the field. We’ve made great strides in recent years, but time and again women and marginalized groups have had to claw their way to success in the sciences, only to have their discoveries stolen from them – and that’s not fair! I set out to write Stolen Science to finally give credit where credit is due!

MKC: Why did you choose to write the book? 

Ella: Picture a scientist in your head. Chances are, that scientist is white, male, and often dead. As a woman with a background in science and engineering, I very rarely got to see someone who looked like me represented in my field. That’s what I set out to fix when I began writing Stolen Science. I feel deeply that children today need to see diversity represented in the sciences. Young girls, children of color, and immigrants must be inspired by example to pursue STEM fields. I set out to write Stolen Science with that goal in mind.

MKC: Stolen Science features lesser-known individuals, many who lived in the 1800s. How did you learn about them?

Ella: When I began researching this book, I wasn’t sure what I’d find. I knew there was probably plenty of scientists who had performed brilliant work that never got the credit they deserved, but I never expected just how many stories I’d uncover! Some of the stories from the 1800s were tricky to research, but thankfully these stories are beginning to come to light. For example, Mary Anning is one of the scientists I feature in the book. I’m pleased to see a lot of recent publications on this fierce and brave scientist.

MKC: It sounds like you spent some quality time in research archives and libraries. Do you have a favorite discovery you’d like to share?

Ella Schwartz writes fiction and nonfiction books for young readers. She is always asking questions and trying to learn new things. The books she writes are for kids who are just as curious as she is. Find out more about her and her books at www.ellasbooks.com.

Ella: The research for this book was, at times, intense! One of my favorite stories in the book is on Jo Anderson, an enslaved man who invented the mechanical reaper that became the backbone of the industrial revolution. There hasn’t been a lot of research on Jo Anderson so telling his story required me to dig deep into research. I knew this was a story that deserved to be told and I was honored to tell it. But I also knew this was a big responsibility. I had to get the story right. I’m very grateful to the staff at the Wisconsin Historical Society for sharing original letters and documents on Jo Anderson that helped me form the true story of this incredible man.

MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books? Is it your background?

Ella: I do have a STEM background! I received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering and have had a twenty+ year career in cybersecurity. When I’m not writing, I work as a cybersecurity professional on federal government initiatives. I started writing STEM books because a writing mentor once told me “write what you know.” That seemed to make sense at the time. But I kept on writing STEM books because I truly feel STEM must be open for everyone. It doesn’t matter what your gender, color, background, or religion is. STEM is for you.

… – . —  – ..- . … -.. .- -.– … – . —  – ..- . … -.. .- -.– … – . —  – ..- . … -.. .- -.–

 

Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado ScientistAlexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday — Diversity in STEM– Writing Tips & Resources

 

Diversity.

It’s needed everywhere and, in particular, it’s needed across the board in the STEM fields.

This month’s STEM Tuesday Writing Tips & Resource post is short and sweet. 

We need diverse talents and viewpoints to solve our problems. We need the collective brainpower. A toolbox limited to a single hammer can pound away but limits what can be accomplished. A variety of tools can handle so much more. It has unlimited potential.

 

2011 Presidential Award for Excellence in STEM Mentoring honorees. National Science Foundation, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Diversity has always played a role in STEM. We’ve been ingrained by media, myth, and selective memory to think of STEM as white and male by default. That is an error. A mistake of perception that we must fight through in order to discover the truth is much richer than the default myth. 

Throughout history, there are examples of how important diverse thought has been in the STEM fields. Just use this month’s STEM Tuesday — Diversity in STEM — Book List as a great jumping-off point. Pick a book. Any book. Dive in.

(Me? I’m going to start with, What Color Is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem was one of my sports idols when I was a kid and his “second” career as an author takes his idol status to astronomical levels.

Creativity, innovation, and problem-solving are not unique to gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.

Anyone can have ideas.

Anyone can come up with solutions.

Anyone can contribute their uniqueness in their unique way.

They just need a place at the table. Or lab bench. Or board room. Or design meeting. Or…

 

1947 Nobel Prize winners Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori and Carl Ferdinand Cori. Smithsonian Institution from United States, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiast, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training-related topics at  www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at  www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101, are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64 and Instagram at @mikehays64.

 


The O.O.L.F Files

This month’s version of the O.O.L.F.(Out of Left Field) Files highlights resources toward training a diverse workforce for the STEM fields. 

Higher Education

The college I work at is doing good work when it comes to developing a more diverse STEM field. Here are a couple of the programs at Kansas State University.

PEW Research Report 2021

The State of STEM Education

An interesting 2020 paper from the International Journal of STEM Education

EiE’s list of organizations working to promote Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) excellence in STEM

An analysis of current STEM workforce and education data from Thomas Insights

Why STEM Diversity Matters from Wired

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for one of the most powerful molecular discoveries ever, Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPR for short. CRISPR vaulted gene-editing technologies into high gear.