We Need Diverse NONFiction Books, Too!
If you’ve been paying any attention to the publishing business for the past several years, you’ll know that publishers, writers, illustrators, teachers, librarians, and parents are calling (and answering the call) for more diversity in the books we give to our children. The grassroots organization We Need Diverse Books has been instrumental in getting #WeNeedDiverseBooks into the spotlight and into editorial meetings around the country.
Both kids and adults want to see people who look like them in the books they read. Part of reading is exploring new ways of perceiving the world and using your imagination to be someone else for a while. Another part of reading is feeling less alone. It’s learning how you fit into your community and what you can do to make it better. If a child reads through a dozen books without ever seeing anyone of their own gender, skin color, religion, race, or culture, they’re not going to feel less alone. They might feel more isolated. They might wonder what roles are available to them in the larger world. If they never seen anyone with their features or history, they might not realize that they have their choice of roles.
There has been a surge of children’s literature that features characters of color, and the publishing industry is working hard to make sure teachers, librarians, and parents—the gatekeepers of children’s books—know these books are out there.
Here at Nomad, diversity means publishing an entire series on women working in science. Diversity means making sure the characters in our illustrations reflect the cultural makeup of the real world. Diversity means finding experts to read our books before press, experts who will make sure that not only did we manage to get the science right, but that we also practiced respect and inclusion when talking about different cultures and races, both past and present.
In most of our books, the real characters are the sciences that we’re inviting readers to learn about and explore. But every book features a secondary cast of characters, illustrated kids who do experiments, demonstrate different scientific facts and principles, and act out a story-within-a-story to complement the text. Some of these kids are African American, some are Asian, some are conceivably transgender, some have physical disabilities such as missing limbs and degenerative diseases. We make it a point to populate our illustrations with kids that look like those in the real world—all of them different from each other and all of them curious.
In our science books, we make sure to highlight those discoveries that historically might have been overlooked. For example, in our forthcoming book about innovators in history, we recognize and celebrate the contributions of women and people of color alongside people whose names are more familiar. Whereas many biographical collections ignore the efforts of scientists such as Daniel Hale Williams, Mae Jemison, and Philip Emeagwali, we strive to make our books inclusive.
In our social studies and language arts books, we make an effort to explore topics and time periods in ways that incorporate the experiences of all involved. Books about the Underground Railroad, the Holocaust, and Native American cultures explore key moments in history with truth, respect, and an unflinching sense of accountability.
Is this enough? No. That’s why we continue to find ways to practice inclusion in our books. We look forward to a publishing future in which diversity isn’t something to be practiced, but is the thoughtless normal, where we won't even need the call, "We need diverse nonfiction."