We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) started as a hashtag in 2014 and evolved into a trademarked, volunteer-run, nonprofit organization in 2015, with librarians counted among the group’s strongest partners. And going forward, the support of librarians will only grow.
As WNDB’s push to bring more diversity to American readers continues, the group has as even created a position dedicated to libraries—senior v-p of librarian services—currently occupied by former librarian at the Harlem Village Academies and WNDB COO Dhonielle Clayton. “WNDB had a lot of initiatives for librarians,” Clayton says, “so we needed a real librarian to take over responsibilities and put together a team.” Clayton is also an author: her new book Shiny Broken Pieces, is due this summer from HarperCollins, the second title in her Tiny Pretty Things YA series.
Clayton says she took the volunteer position at WNDB because it allows her to do important work for diverse young readers, a passion of hers. Among her librarian-focused responsibilities at the group, she recently assembled a team to read submissions for WNDB’s first annual Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature, which last month went to the YA novel All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely; the two honor books were Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle and X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon.
Clayton oversees three other WNDB initiatives popular with librarians: the Summer Reading Series, which uses the “if you liked this, read this next” approach to promote diverse books; the End of the Year Booklist, a compilation of the top 40–50 diverse books from the year; and, in partnership with School Library Journal, the Booktalking kit, which coaches librarians, booksellers, and teachers on how to hand-sell diverse books in a more thoughtful way. The original kit was an annual printed package, but in the future it will be online so that users can choose and print pieces. And due to its growing popularity, it will be released seasonally.
Making a Difference
With a growing number of library initiatives in place, WNDB and librarians are working hard to change the conversation around diverse books, and to help librarians and others present diverse books more effectively to readers. “I’ve seen parents say to their kids, ‘That book’s not for you,’ just because it had a picture of a girl on the cover,” says Edgar-nominated author Lamar Giles, who serves as WNDB’s communications director. “When I was a boy, I never saw in books a kid who looked like me. The librarians would always recommend the same two books for me: Roots and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. But what was there after I read those?”
Clayton says one of WNDB’s core goals is to see diverse books offerings expand—something that librarians want to see as well, but which can present sticky issues in some communities. “I get a lot of questions about how to justify using your budget for diverse books when ‘I don’t have these type of people in my community,’ ” Giles explains. “My response is, these types of people exist in the world, and when children go out into the world, it would be great if they had already encountered ‘these people’ in books.”
Clayton says that another one of the ideas under discussion is a WNDB in Libraries program, to help public libraries increase their funding and bring authors from an array of communities to visit and make presentations. “I’d tell public librarians, diversify your program and get authors from marginalized groups to visit your library,” she adds, offering an empowering message: “Librarians can change the world. When you change a kid, you change the world!”
Giles agrees. “If diversity is something you’d like to see more of when you make your lists or speak to your patrons, we are here to help,” he says, urging librarians to visit the WNDB website, and to use the site get in touch with any ideas, questions, or feedback. “Include ‘I’m a librarian’ in your subject line,” he says, “and we’ll jump!”
WNDB at PLA
On Friday, April 8, the We Need Diverse Books Young Adult Author Lunch will feature a panel of YA authors and WNDB members. Moderated by founding member I.W. Gregorio (author of None of the Above, selected as a Spring 2015 PW Flying Start), the panel includes Sara Farizan (Lambda Literary Award winner for If You Could Be Mine), E.E. Charlton-Trujillo (Stonewall winner for Fat Angie), and Lamar Giles (2015 Edgar Award nominee for Fake ID). Registration is required for the event, set for the Colorado Convention Center, Four Seasons Ballroom 4, from noon to 1:30 p.m.