My Pledge to Young Readers: Diversity, tolerance and Inclusion

Like so many Canadians, I watched the recent American election with horror.   I felt a sense of shock as you-know-who won state after state.   It hit me on multiple levels.  It’s been five days since the results were made known.  In that time, I had to come to terms with what that meant to me as a writer of children’s books.

Books are powerful tools.   They teach as they entertain.  They become friends and they live-on in memories.   Stories encourage, transport us and nurture character.

ruby-bridges   Today, I went to the library and took out several books for my seven year old daughter to read.  One is called, Ruby Bridges Goes to School by Ruby Bridges.  It is about segregation.  Another book which we borrowed is titled Tolerance by Connie Coldwell Miller.  Now, more than ever, it is essential that we discuss racism with our children. It is a difficult subject, but it is one that cannot be ignored or put off.

As a children’s book writer, I realize I have a responsibility during this highly turbulent time.  Acts of discrimination and sexism are increasing.  Swastika graffiti is on the rise.  Minorities are being threatened, and the threats are very real.

Recently, I read a cautionary article about minority characters.  The piece advised against including characters of different cultures simply to include different cultures.

I am sensitive to cultural appropriation, and I understand that culture should not be used to marginalize or stereotype or denigrate.  But I refuse to segregate my characters, to commit literary apartheid.

 

milo-and-jazz
Milo and Jazz by Lewis B. Montgomery

I live in a multicultural country, and I believe in its diversity.  And the more I think about it, the more I believe it is imperative that I include that diversity in what I write.

So often, I browse through early chapter books and see princesses and fairies and girl protagonists with fair skin, blue eyes and blond hair.  Surely, we are more than this?  What does this say of our diversity, our national commitment to inclusion?  Do best friends need to have the same skin colour, religion, family background?  What are we saying to our readers when characters only play with their own ethnicity?  Aren’t these questions we should be asking ourselves?

So, here is my vow to young readers:

1) The characters in my books will come from a range of cultures.  They will each have their own unique personalities, and I will do my best to respect both traditions and beliefs.

2) Some of the characters in my books will have both a mother and a father. But some will have just a mother or just a father.  And some will have two fathers or two mothers.  Love is love.

3) I will include women firefighters and male nurses. Some dad’s will stay home, and some mothers will be managers.   My characters will enjoy activities based on their interests, not on their genders.

4) Some of my characters will have physical or developmental challenges. Some may be in wheelchairs and some may use service animals.

5) One of my next books deals with bullying and gender roles. I feel strongly that villainizing a bully does not belong in early chapter books.  My stories will allow for change, self-realization, sincere apologies and healed relationships.

As writers, we have a responsibility to our readers. And our stories must embody our commitment to diversity, now more than ever.

Thank you.

CRUEL TO BE KIND, WRITER VERSION

As a fiction writer, I know that I must put my main character through a series of life trials. The protagonist must suffer.   The reader wants someone to root for, someone with an indomitable spirit.

As I write for children, I need to remind myself that the protagonists in early chapter aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaheidi-spyribooks must also face difficulties, foes and hardships.   And the conflict must escalate into a moment of crisis.  Think of your favourite children’s book .  I guarantee is it chockfull of challenges.

Mother-Me and Writer-Me had to come to terms with my need to make an eight year old girl miserable, lonely, stressed and exhausted. Those of us who write know how real our characters can feel to us. But the biggest mistake that any writer can make is to make everything easy-peasy for our characters.

 

Writer-Me understood how the aaaaaaaaaaa-clovers-luckcharacter grows through challenges, whether the challenge be a school bully, a house fire or the death of a beloved pet. But the Mother-Me wants to coddle my heroine, give her good grades and prevent her from stepping into the messy dog poop of life.

I am so very grateful that I was given the opportunity to rework my story. Writer-Me told Mother-Me that my character is strong enough to experience loneliness, fatigue, failures and frustrations.  Her  growth  and perseverance made my happily ever after all the more meaningful.

Yay for rewrites and the editing process.   Stay tuned as I cruelly throw curveballs at my next young heroine.  Watch as she rises to the occasion and handles each skill-building stressor like the  third grade Super Girl that she truly is! Can you hear her?  She said, “BRING IT ON!”

 

Cheers!

DONALD TRUMP & THE SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF

Fiction writers know that what we pen must — at the very least—sound believable. It’s the “Truth is stranger than fiction” scenario. The reader must willingly go where our story leads them.  If it sounds so out there, so beyond the realm of possibility, then the reader will discount your story, give it a big ole “F”  Now, a good writer can easily achieve that suspension of disbelief.  Which means that what is written may be far off the scale of realism and possibility, but is written in such a way that readers take that tremendous leap of faith and jump down your rabbit hole, or Mary Poppins themselves into a chalk drawing.

 

donald-trumpI’ve been thinking about Donald Trump. I’ve been thinking that if I were to write a novel  based on the current USA political party leaders that I would NOT be able to offer my readers suspension of disbelief.

 

So, we have a man who is an open racist and misogynist who may be voted in as the next president. And this is 2016.  And the last president was — finally — elected because of his platform, not his skin colour.  Think about it.  Think about writing a novel that features a man just a breath away from the most powerful position in the world who says he will PUNISH  ADULT WOMEN for having an abortion, who is cuddling up to a superpower who has outlawed homosexuality, hired hitmen to kill journalists and then there is of course that plane that was shot down in the Ukraine with a Russian missile.

Now, this presidential candidate has been caught in lies, let it slip that he doesn’t pay taxes (actually states that trying to find loopholes proves he’s smart –screw ethics, who needs them) and basically says when a woman says no, she doesn’t really mean it.

Even fiction couldn’t sell this guy as the next president. Readers would roll their eyes, stop halfway through the first page and chuck that paperback right into the closest garbage can.

Still, I can see him in a reworked fairy-tale… as the dragon or … the wolf who cross-dresses in Granny’s bonnet.   He’d make an awesome ‘Joker’ or ‘Lex Luther,’ right?

Naw. Even the Joker wouldn’t t set off a nuclear missile or re-launch the demographics which led to the holocaust.  So, best to leave this crazy villain where he stands.  At the doorway to Hell, refusing to tuck his tail between his legs …