Love and Loss in Children’s Literature” is a panel featuring authors who will rock it: Jenny Han (The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy), Gene Luen Yang (current U.S. ambassador for young people’s literature), Francisco X. Stork (The Memory of Light), Anna-Marie McLemore (The Weight of Feathers), Sherman Alexie (Thunder Boy Jr.), and Leigh Bardugo (the Grisha trilogy). The panel, moderated by Sona Charaipotra, is sponsored by the nonprofit organization We Need Diverse Books, and will meet to at 10:45 a.m., in room W475.
“We don’t want to be just the diversity panel,” says Jennifer Baker, WNDB’s programming coordinator. Love and loss are universal themes, she notes, made richer by being interwoven through “marginalized cultures.” Tackling big themes is a big step forward for the organization, which was launched on May 1, 2014, about a month before the inaugural BookCon was held in New York City. Here’s a time line of how WNDB has been shaking things up.
April 10, 2014
After ReedPop announces BookCon’s initial author lineup—Daniel Handler, Jeff Kinney, James Patterson, and Rick Riordan—and bills it as an “unprecedented, power-packed panel” of “the world’s biggest authors,” social media explodes, railing against the all white male lineup.
May 1, 2014
The controversy over BookCon’s initial lineup coalesces with a three-day social media campaign in which organizers urge people to post photos of themselves holding up signs and using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks.
May 8, 2014
ReedPop acts quickly to quell the controversy and adds a black female author, Rachel Renee Russell, to the “power-packed panel.” ReedPop also invites WNDB’s leaders to put together a panel addressing diversity issues.
May 30, 2014
WNDB’s panel, “The World Agrees: #WeNeedDiverseBooks,” features an A-list of prominent children’s book authors, representing an ethnic variety of both men and women, including Jacqueline Woodson, Grace Lin, and Matt de la Peña, as well as WNDB’s founders, speaking to a raucous, standing-room-only crowd.
July 30, 2014
Calling itself We Need Diverse Books, the group announces that it has dropped the hashtag and incorporated as a volunteer-run nonprofit. The organization launches a project in collaboration with the National Education Association’s Read Across America program and the literacy advocacy organization First Book to promote multicultural books and authors in schools.
October 15, 2014
WNDB rolls out its new logo and announces that it is launching an awards program for established authors called the Walter Award, and a grants program for up-and-coming authors and illustrators, called the Walter Dean Myers Grants. Both are named in honor of Walter Dean Myers, a children’s book author who was an outspoken proponent of more diversity in book publishing.
December 10, 2014
WNDB raises $340,000 in an Indiegogo fund-raising campaign that goes wild after Daniel Handler, as emcee for the 2014 National Book Awards, made comments deemed by many to be racist about Jacqueline Woodson, who had won the award that night for Children’s Literature for her book Brown Girl Dreaming.
May 30–31, 2015
The second BookCon, held in New York City, offers two panels on diversity in literature; one panel focused on diversity in science fiction and fantasy, while the other focused on diversity in YA literature. Both panels feature both bestselling authors and emerging voices, and draw large crowds.
February 24, 2016
PW reports that Angela Thomas, one of five of the initial recipients of the Walter Dean Myers Grants, received a six-figure advance from Balzer + Bray for her debut novel, The Hate U Give, after a lively auction by 13 houses.
January 18, 2016
WNDB announces that the inaugural Walter Award for outstanding children’s literature is going to All American Boys, a YA novel by Jason Reynolds, who is African-American, and Brendan Kiely, who is Caucasian.
March 18, 2016
The Walter Award is presented to Reynolds and Kiely at an awards ceremony, followed by a reception at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Christopher Myers, Walter Dean Myers’s son, is the emcee.
This article appeared in the May 14, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.