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.

TWO MORE POEMS ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

aaa-snoopy-gets-mailThis week I received an envelope in the mail. Upon seeing it, I sighed.

Decades ago, a writer would not have been certain what the envelope contained . A rejection?  A request from an editor to revise work?   An acceptance?   A cheque?  Who knew.

Things have changed.   Most snail-mailed replies are rejections, in Canada.  Receiving a reply e-mail can mean either rejection or acceptance.  In the case of longer works (i.e. book submissions,) a phone call is the norm, if the work is accepted.  Why? Because  the acceptance signals the beginning of the editing process between author and publisher, heralds the start of a beautiful long-term relationship (hopefully. )

So, back to MY envelope. It was pudgy.  I smiled when I felt its weight.  I figured that the editor had been kind enough to send me a critique.  Every hard-working writer appreciates a hard-working editor who actually takes the time and care to send some feedback.

But the envelope didn’t contain a rejection or feedback.

I opened the envelope to find not only an acceptance letter, but proofs.

BAM, WHAT!

The Prairie Journal has accepted two of my poems (two!), and the literary editor sent me the proofs to show me how my poems had been formatted. HOLY COW.   The journal is ready to go to print!

It was the best of surprises.

I am just thrilled to be included in this wonderful journal that will feature more work by Barry Butson, a poet I very much admire.

I can’t wait to read the journal cover to cover! From the Writer’s Digest Writer’s Market, and in reference to The Prairie Journal: “The audience is literary, university, library, scholarly, and creative readers/writers.”

So, I’m in happy dance mode.

Thank you (big hugs) to all those who are happy dancing with me.

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 …