Monday, March 19, 2012

What Diversity Means to Me - Featuring Danette Vigilante

I've found the discussions and blog posts, comments, tweets, and facebook updates that have been generated in response to my previous post to be heartwarming. What I've always sought is open discussion on topics, no matter how difficult. And I think that is happening. What we want is not to blame anyone or any group. That helps no one. Instead, we ask for change.

So in keeping with an excellent question from Michelle Witte as to what can we do in the short term to help this issue, I've decided to showcase a new series by a variety of authors who write diverse main characters. Some are minorities and some are not. But all of them have one thing in common - they believe in diversity in publishing. The series will go on until April 24th when I will have an interview on the Enchanted Inkpot with Stacy Whitman, Editorial Director of Tu Books and one of her new authors, Kimberly Pauley.

My first guest author is Danette Vigilante who's beautiful book The Trouble With Half a Moon was one of my favorite books of 2011. And look at her beautiful cover.

Ever since her brother's death, Dellie's life has been quiet and sad. Her mother cries all the time and Dellie lives with the horrible guilt that the accident that killed her brother may have been all her fault.
But Dellie's world begins to change when new neighbors move into her housing project building. Suddenly men are fighting on the stoop and gunfire is sounding off in the night. In the middle of all that trouble is Corey, an abused five-year-old boy, who's often left home alone and hungry. Dellie strikes up a dangerous friendship with this little boy who reminds her so much of her brother. She wonders if she can do for Corey what she couldn't do for her brother-save him.
I loved this book. It's the type of book that makes your heart hurt. And I loved how it brought NYC to life for me. It felt so much like how it was for me, growing up in a rough part of Brooklyn. This was what it felt like, sounded like, smelled like. The Trouble with Half a Moon is beautifully written and emotionally satisfying. And it gives me great pleasure to offer it in my first Diversity book giveaway.

I asked Danette if she could share with us what diversity means to her. Here's what she said:



Ellen has asked me to talk about why diversity is important to me and I’m honored to do so. I only hope I can get it out and still have it make sense.
Growing up in a housing project had a huge stigma attached to it, only I didn’t realize it until junior high school when my friends—who were either Puerto Rican, like me, or African American— and I were frequently chased home to the other side of the highway. This along with two other incidents stand out in my mind.
Once, my family and I were out to dinner (in the same neighborhood as my junior high) where we watched everyone around us being waited on while we never were. It was quite obvious why we weren’t. The second was more traumatizing. My best friend (who was African American) and I were walking near school when a group of young adult white males started yelling foul things at us. We linked arms and ran all the way home. I remember not being able to hold my head up or look their way, I just wanted to get home where nothing like this took place. That’s not saying that things were perfect in my neighborhood, but I never had to think twice about something so simple as my olive complexion or my father’s crazy afro.
Incidents like these plant seeds deep inside the tender hearts and minds of young people. It’s not always visible, but rest assured it’s there and sometimes it leaves a nagging quiet question: why am I not good enough? How can a young person grow to his or her potential with that festering inside? And who are those people to plant these things there? This is at the heart of why diversity is important to me.
I wrote the TROUBLE WITH HALF A MOON for many reasons. Though there are two that are the most important to me.
The first reason had grown deep roots while I was a young teen. I knew a little boy just like Corey, the boy in Trouble who never has enough to eat. This boy would knock on some of the neighbor’s doors asking for food.  Can you imagine a child having to take on that kind of responsibility? This boy stayed in my heart until I had enough courage to write his story and give him all the love and food he needed and deserved.
The second reason why I wrote Trouble was to show that we all have the same hopes, dreams and fears no matter where we live or what we look like. This is a seed we need to start planting in our young ones now and that’s why I think books like mine are so very important.
 Recently, I was at a party where I struck up a conversation with a four year old boy. He was smart, funny and very engaging. When I asked him about school and whether or not he had friends there, he happily named two people then, with a wrinkled nose and a knotted brow, he added a third. “But, he’s Chinese.”
Gulp!
Alarms exploded in my head and the word lesson rang in my ears.
“Really?” I asked.
He nodded in quick agreement.
“Well, does he have two ears?”
Again, he nodded.
“What about two eyes?”
He began to see the silliness of the game but played along anyway.
“How about two stinky feet? Does he have those too?”
His laughter was encouraging.
“What about a head, I’m sure he must have that, right?”
“Of course,” was his reply.
“Well, you know what all of this means, don’t you?”
He stared blankly.
“He’s just like YOU!”
He smiled then gave a big grin.
I went home happy to think that when the little boy returned to school on Monday, maybe, just maybe, he’d remember the nutty conversation he had with a crazy lady. Maybe he’d start to see the sameness and not the differences in everyone. A tall order I know, but perhaps I succeeded in planting a seed that day.
*****
Thank you Danette for this beautiful reminder of what diversity in books does. 
To be a part of "What diversity means to me" please tweet or FB or post about it and link it back to here. Leave me a comment on the blog and you'll get a chance to win Danette's beautiful book. Be a part of this movement and spread the word on why diversity is important. Change can happen. We can make it happen. All you have to do is spread the word. Thank you for being a part of this change.

21 comments:

Kristen Kittscher said...

I'm so glad you're starting this series, Ellen. Danette, you've started it off beautifully. Looking forward to listening in on more in the weeks to come --

Charles Gramlich said...

A great series and a great idea!

Bish Denham said...

Thanks for this Ellen. And Danette, how sad and frightening that you had experience those things growing up. But then... on the flip side, you have been able to translate it into a story. Wonderful.

Jaye Robin Brown said...

Loved your lesson for the little boy Danette. How perfect. I think often kids hear stuff from other adults then it mirror it back to new adults to gauge feedback from that new adult. Seems to me like you handled it with flying colors.

Jennifer said...

Wow, Danette, what a post. So glad you wrote that -- and your book! This is a great series, Ellen, an important discussion to keep having. I'm looking forward to what's coming next!

Mike Jung said...

A terrific, revealing, and altogether lovely post, Danette, thank you! And thank you, Ellen, for this series - there's so much to discuss, and so much value to the discussion.

Joanne Johnson said...

Great post and great series topic. Thanks for being open to discussing this important topic.

DeenaML said...

Love this topic and series! The SCBWI journal this month talks about diversity in kidlit as well. Thanks Danette and Ellen!

Katie DeKoster said...

What a well written, relevant post - and discussion series! I hope many, many people choose to join in on the conversation. Danette, thank you for writing the kind of books that help kids to know they're not alone!

Larissa said...

I LOVE this blog series. Excellent post Danette!

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Thank you everyone for all of your support! I hope more people come and open this conversation up even further.

I would also love for librarians and teachers to enter this contest to win Danette's book because it is just such a lovely book!

Michelle said...

I love how Danette said, "Maybe he’d start to see the sameness and not the differences in everyone." It's a beautiful sentiment. I also appreciate how she used humor and a light touch with the little boy. I'm reminded again that kindness does so much more to change attitudes than any eloquent or angry rebuttal ever could.

There are several people in the kidlit community I really respect because of the kind and gentle way they tackle tough issues. Whenever one of them comments or disagrees during a discussion, it inevitably moves in a healthy, productive direction. Ellen and Danette are two excellent examples of that. It's something I'm still working on (obviously), so I appreciate when I see others who do it so well.

bibliolinks said...

As a librarian in a Title I school where 88% of the kids speak a language other than English, I love recommending Danette's book to kids. We need more of these on our shelves!

Julia Karr said...

What a great start to a much-needed discussion (series). Thanks Ello and Danette! I'm looking forward to reading more...

anesbet said...

What a lovely, lovely post, Danette! I have THE TROUBLE WITH HALF A MOON ordered and on its way, and I can't wait to share it with my children.

And I'm so happy that this will be an ongoing series--thank you, Ellen, for keeping this incredibly important conversation going. Grateful to you!

AnneN

Danette said...

Thank you all for reading. Your comments have done my heart good.

A big thank you to Ellen for allowing me to be a part of something so very important.

Christina Farley said...

I love this idea for a series in that we get snapshots of diversity in such a real form. Danette, I love how you are taking something that was so hard for you and making it into something that can make a difference in other's lives.

Andrea Mack said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Danette. I'm going to look for your book. And Ellen, I'm a follower now so I can read the rest of this series - such an important topic!

Giora said...

Hellen, the best way to promote diversity is to focus on one book with diversity and promote it till it'll become a best seller. Once a Diversity Book becomes a Hit like Harry Potter, Twilight or Hunger Games ... then Diversity will hit the Holy Grail.
In the meantime, tell everyone to vote for Heejun Han on American Idol. If he'll win, it will open the door for more Asian characters in books. Just my take.

ivanova said...

I really like this post, and I was glad to learn about The Trouble With Half A Moon.

Ani Louise said...

What a wonderful start to this series! Danette, that's a great game you played with the 4 yr. old. I hope you're right that it planted a seed in his mind. Books and conversations can both have that effect.

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