As the issues of race, gender, identity and culture percolate in a society that increasingly aims to be inclusive, so does the realm of children’s literature. It’s a discussion that the Wisconsin chapter of the Society of Childrens’ Book Writers and Illustrators has taken on in the form of a diversity initiative.
Its also an issue close to the hearts of two Wisconsin writers. Miranda Paul is author of several picture books, the most recent of which is Whose Hands Are These? Fellow author Bridget Birdsall’s latest young adult novel, Double Exposure, takes on both sexual identity and race.
For Paul, who has an interracial family, having a book be diverse doesn't necessarily mean that the subject of the book is diversity. She explains her children's reaction to her book Water is Water, a book with interracial characters about the water cycle.
"My children looked at it and said 'wow! It's us in a book' and they were so ecstatic about it," she says. "I knew at that moment that they hadn't seen themselves in books as much, even though I surround them with books. Here was a book that had them swimming and playing with animals and doing the things that they love to do, and they really saw themselves and the power behind that. Its remarkable when they see that they can be the main characters in a science book."
Birdsall's latest book, Double Exposure, is about an intersexed teen making her way in high school. Birdsall says that it is valuable to have books available "that not only show these kinds of characters that are diverse in all sorts of ways...but that idea that we are more alike than we are different, because we share a human heart."