We’ve been featuring guest posts from Ellen Oh, author of Prophecy over on Pitch Dark and today we’re lucky to share her final post. View her other entries on Pitch Dark: Kdrama 101, a lesson on Korean mythology and Ellen’s favorite anime films.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge book nerd. I’m pretty proud of it. Reading is an essential part of my life—like breathing, sleeping, and eating. As a child, my books were my teachers and friends and to this day, they hold a very special place in my heart. There is only one thing that I could have wished for. I just wished there had been more books that featured someone like me.
This wish became a nagging thorn in my side when I became a mom. I have 3 beautiful young girls and it was important for me to nurture their love for books. But it was still hard to find what I was looking for.
I knew what I wanted. I didn’t want a ‘princess waiting to be saved by a handsome prince’ story. That’s not the message I wanted my girls to learn. I wanted an Asian female protagonist who was strong enough to save not only herself, but the whole world. But no matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find anything like it.
So I wrote it myself.
I wrote it for my daughters and all the other girls out there looking for someone like Kira, my main character from PROPHECY. But mostly, I wrote it for the 11 year old me who once scoured every single book in the library looking for an Asian girl hero.
When I was asked to do a post talking about diversity for Epic Reads, I was going to focus on why it is important for minority kids growing up in this country to see themselves represented in literature. But I realized that this is only part of the problem. Diversity is not only for the under-represented—the truth is, diversity is important for everyone. All people need to be exposed to other races and other cultures in positive ways. All people need to learn tolerance and acceptance of differences. When we promote only a homogeneous view of society in our literature, and deem books about minorities as unsuccessful, it harms everyone. But worse, we fail in our duty to educate and inspire the minds of our children.
Diversity is important because racism still exists in the world. And racism comes from ignorance. We saw it in the racist responses from people who were upset that Rue was black in The Hunger Games. We also saw it in the racist comments made by our own media when Jeremy Lin and Linsanity became huge. I’m sad to say that I too have recently received emails that contained racist and sexist remarks aimed at both my book and my person. As an author, I don’t expect everyone to like my book and I must accept criticisms about my writing, plotting, characters, etc. But it was a shock to receive emails that were so discriminatory in nature, that they could only be categorized as hate mail. It made me realize how important this discussion is. Now more than ever, we need diversity.
Literature is one of the best ways to reach out to all children, to teach someone to care about and love a character regardless of their skin color or hair type or religious beliefs. It exposes young minds to a world outside of their own limited view and, with repeated exposure, will make such differences less exotic, less weird. It breeds acceptance and tolerance through opening their minds and hearts. We must remember that racism is not just a KKK or neo-nazi problem. Hate and ignorance transcends race. And I believe that we can combat it through education and shared experiences.
So I challenge all of you to look for more diverse books and to read and promote them! And if you don’t see enough diversity in your library or bookstore, then write the story you want to read yourself! We need new voices to represent our multi-cultural world. If you are already a writer, I challenge you to add more diversity to your own writing! Don’t be afraid to write about people of color. And when you do this, you make us a part of your experience instead of shutting us out. Help us make diversity the norm, and not the unusual. Two wonderful things will come out of this. It opens up a whole new world to all of our children and it tells minority kids that they are important too.
The following is a list of books that I believe provide wonderful multi-cultural reading experiences. This compilation is filled with books that have impacted my life in some way. They made me laugh, they made me cry, they made me hungry! I know this list isn’t complete and I would love to hear from all of you about any titles that I’ve missed. Please submit more titles in the comments below.
I hope we can keep adding to this list until the time comes when we no longer need to talk about diversity, because diversity will have become the new normal.
Diverse books that I think everyone should read:
Amazing Grace – Mary Hoffman
Lissy’s Friends – Grace Lin
Big Red Lollipop – Rukhsana Khan
We Are America – Walter Dean Myers
Yoko – Rosemary Wells
Year of Impossible Goodbyes – Sook Nyul Choi
One Crazy Summer – Rita Williams-Garcia
Kira-Kira – Cynthia Kadohata
Inside Out and Back Again – Thannha Lai
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Grace Lin
A Step from Heaven – An Na
When My Name was Keoka – Linda Sue Park
The Trouble with Half a Moon – Danette Vigilante
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
Subway Girl – Peter Jacob Converse
The First Part Last – Angela Johnson
Summer of the Mariposas – Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Monster and Lockdown – Walter Dean Myers
Silver Phoenix – Cindy Pon
Tankborn – Karen Sandler
Shooting Kabul – N. H. Senzai
The Last Summer of the Death Warriors – Francisco X. Stork
American Born Chinese – Gene Luen Yang
Huntress by Malinda Lo
The Plague of Doves – Louise Erdrich
Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel
A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
An Artist of the Floating World – Kazuo Ishiguro
The Namesake – Jumpa Lahiri
Beloved – Toni Morrison
Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
Native Son – Richard Wright
What books would you add to this list?