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Help with Reading/Writing About Authentic Multicultural Characters

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Several BB's have been having an interesting discussion about many factors related to writing authentic characters of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Within that conversation, several subtopics came up. I am starting this thread for anyone who'd like to contribute to resources that might help writers. Specifically, how to convey a character's ethnicity/racial background without resorting solely to skin color descriptions, books that might be of interest and websites or blogs that collect examples of books with diverse characters or main characters of color. 

Here's the original thread: http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php?topic=63378.0
And a related thread: http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php?topic=61484.0
And another: http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php?topic=61484.0

Some things noted in the thread were Stacy Whitman's Pinterest  http://pinterest.com/stacylwhitman/

For people looking for books with Asian MC, Pooja Makhijani keeps an annotated list on her blog: http://www.poojamakhijani.com/sakidlit.html 

Lee and Low Books http://www.leeandlow.com/

The Brown Bookshelf:  A blog highlighting children's books by African American writers
http://thebrownbookshelf.com/

The CBC Diversity Committee Blog: A blog "dedicated to increasing the diversity of voices and experiences contributing to children’s literature." http://www.cbcdiversity.com/p/introduction.html

I think it could be helpful to share examples of times that a writer conveyed something about a character's background not limited solely to skin color (though in a unique context, that works). The word that came up was "organic." A couple of examples were noted in the thread. Here's my very imprompu example.

I grabbed my copy of Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. Obviously the cover gives a complete clue. In my re-reading, I didn't figure out until page 15 from the text that Buddy was African-American and it was because of what Mrs. Amos said to him, "I do not have time to put up with the foolishness of those members of our race who do not wish to be uplifted." That alone was not necessarily enough, but I had a couple of breadcrumbs that were dropped earlier that helped me connect the dots with that statement.

So jump in if you have ideas or resources on this topic. Thanks.
#1 - June 25, 2012, 07:30 PM

I was doing some unrelated research online and found a series by Sharon Draper (she wrote Out of My Mind). In the thread that inspired this new thread, there was concern about a lack of fun books, series and books for younger MG. I haven't read these, but she is a respected author and I'll try to check them out. Based on the description they seem both fun with a target age of 3-4th grade and seem to be particularly boy-centric.

Anyway, the series is called Clubhouse Mysteries and feature a Jamaican MC (which fits well for my kids). Sharon is from Cincinnati so it was interesting to me that the particular book I found featured a local spot so I will definitely look for it for my younger son and report back on what I find. Can't believe I hadn't heard of these. She has another series called Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs that seems to feature the same MC.

I remembered another series for younger MG that features a female African-American MC. One of my son's teachers strongly recommended this book and read it aloud to them in 3rd grade. It is a series called Ruby and the Booker Boys. Author is Derrick Barnes. I highly respect this teacher so I trust her recommendation. I'll see if I can check this one out too.

Finally another younger MG that I have read, liked and mentioned in the other thread--Sunny Holiday and Sweet and Sunny by Coleen Paratore.
#2 - June 26, 2012, 02:08 PM

Got this link that lists books by African American authors from a librarian friend. Covers all age groups including some picture books which someone in the other thread was looking for.

http://dpi.wi.gov/rll/wrlbph/ya_a_a.html
#3 - June 27, 2012, 10:40 AM

Wow, great list. Thanks, Jojohn!
#4 - June 27, 2012, 11:22 AM
http://www.samposey.com/
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This thread is a great resource for writers, Jojohn! Thank you for posting it! I'm going to make this sticky so that it's always easy to find for members!
#5 - June 27, 2012, 11:27 AM
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Thanks for the comment and for making it sticky, Artie. Hopefully people will come back and add to it frequently.

Thanks for the feedback Shelliep. Hope it helps people.
#6 - June 27, 2012, 11:39 AM

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Here's a blurb from Shelley Pearsall's book ALL OF THE ABOVE:

Inspired by actual events, All of the Above is the delightful and suspenseful story of four inner city students and their quest to set a math record by building the world's largest tetrahedron.

Don't know if this is an example of want you want or not, but it came to my mind. When I worked in an inner city school there was one day I was desperate to calm middle schoolers who were quite unruly so I grabbed this book and started reading out loud, very loud. ( I think I prayed, too) Anyway, you could hear a pin drop. No kidding. It captured them and was one very memorable experience for me and them. They looked forward to me reading this book through the semester.
#7 - June 27, 2012, 11:45 AM

Thanks Carol!. I'm also looking for fiction and non-fiction that feature math and science so this is one I definitely need to find.
#8 - June 27, 2012, 12:01 PM

This is going to be a fantastic resource for me as a bookseller. Thank you so much for starting this, jojohn. And thank you, too, for making it sticky!
#9 - June 27, 2012, 02:25 PM

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A blog I like is Reading in Color http://blackteensread2.blogspot.com/
Quote from her about page:
"Reading in Color is a book blog that reviews YA/MG books about people of color (poc). There is a serious lack of books being reviewed by teens that are YA/MG about people of color, I hope my blog is one step closer to filling in this void."
#10 - June 27, 2012, 04:11 PM
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This is great - is there a way we can get it sticky-ed?
#11 - June 27, 2012, 04:18 PM

Artemesia has already made the thread sticky. She's on the case!
#12 - June 27, 2012, 04:47 PM

Here's a link to a thread about Blueboarder Mara Rockliff's book Me, Momma and Big John and the recent PW starred review.

http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php?topic=63388.0;topicseen
#13 - June 27, 2012, 06:37 PM


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This is a great thread! I do a blog post from time to time on foreign settings as well as posts highlighting Asian Literature. Nearly everything I write (or have written so far) has had multi-raced characters.

For me when I write multicultural characters, I don't focus on their race so much as instead of the issues that these kids face. And as I'm writing about that character's story I might mention a character's skin/height/weight/ eye color but it's not like I'm hitting the reader over the head with it. Don't forget food, customs, mannerisms, and family situations.
#15 - June 30, 2012, 07:58 AM
« Last Edit: July 18, 2012, 12:40 PM by Christy »
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@ Christy--That's what we were talking about in the other thread. We are looking for organic ways to describe a character's background so that it's a natural part of the story and setting. The food, customs etc. are great strategies to develop a well-rounded character. I LOVE writing about food--the taste, smell and look of it. So often it's hard to include taste and smell as sensory details in writing. Food is a great way to do it while building character and setting. Yum. 

Thanks for joining in the conversation.
#16 - June 30, 2012, 09:01 AM

Enjoying how The True Meaning of Smekday handles the different racial backgrounds of the mother vs. the MC and the subtle commentary sprinkled throughout. I especially liked how the people in charge assumed Gratuity's mother was black which interfered with their ability to find her and I liked Gratuity's interactions with the Chief. Funny but pointed. I first realized Gratuity was black through the illustrations but wondered about her Italian last name which was quickly explained. I thought it was a great example of a multicultural (and multigalaxied!) cast where that was not the primary emphasis of the story but it came up naturally throughout in a meaningful way.

Also recently read Tortilla Sun, which I thought did a nice job of using the cultural background of the main character and the setting as seasoning throughout the story. This was a book that really used the sensory details we were noting in the above comments to build character and setting.
#17 - July 18, 2012, 10:58 AM

also malinda lo and my Diversity in YA site.

i'll be giving a talk at clarion in a few weeks exactly on
including diversity in speculative fiction, specifically.

http://diversityinya.com
#18 - July 18, 2012, 11:03 AM
Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow: 4/28/09)
Fury of the Phoenix (Greenwillow: 3/30/11)
Serpentine (Month9Books: 9/1/15)

Fantastic reference xiaotien. Thanks for including it and good luck with your presentation. I'm finishing up a MG book with a diverse cast that falls in that category so I'm particularly excited about your topic. Hooray for you for being invited to talk about the subject and thanks to you and your blogmates for the additional resource.
#19 - July 19, 2012, 06:58 AM

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Hello-
I just got back on the boards- went back to teaching last year and got a little writing and art in but not much perusing the boards- thought this would be a great reply to  jump back in since I spent the year working with Native American Children and Hispanic children where English was a second language in their homes.
I have been teaching Native American kids for 8 years and still dont think I could "depict" their world honestly enough without help!
You have to be emersed in a culture to write about it- and it isn't a quick check to see what they eat, or what they wear or what their tradtions are, that little bit of research just feeds stereotypes.
One of my books on the back burner is on "Indian Schools" about the era when our government ripped children out of their mothers arms and took them to far off states, cut their hair and beat them if they spoke their native tongue- to take care of the Indian problem and I know if I ever do do that project I HAVE to have a Native American advisor through the whole process.
I write historical YA- so no I can't find an advisor on what the Native culture was 100 years ago- so I read a pile of personal diary accounts along with every book I can find.
Unfortunately there are not many minorities telling their own stories- which is the way it should be- but if the writer, is someone looking in to their culture, that person has a HUGE responsibility to get it "right" instead of just feed the stereotypes that are already out there.
Research libraries are great connections to a professor, librarian, advocate for that minority- and I have talk to many, via email-
I met with a Navajo libarian who went from cautioning me on writing about the Indian Schools to after I spent day in the library asking her questions and listening to her, she sat down and shared her own family's experiences.
#20 - July 19, 2012, 07:28 AM

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Julia, you're right that many minorities don't tell own stories. One of my relatives asked me, "why you want to write about such bad things?" She'd like for me to paint the roses without the thorns. Sigh.

I'm glad that when people outside the culture take the time to understand the people they write about. You must've already read Dahl's book of Alaskan Native Americans who were in a boarding school ... it's beautifully told.

Vijaya
ps; love your avatar
ps: thanks Jojohn for starting this thread and to Arty for making it sticky. Great resource.
#21 - July 19, 2012, 02:40 PM
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Thanks Vijaya- I didn't know about that book- my experience is more down in the Southwest. I'd like to look at it.
#22 - July 21, 2012, 04:39 PM

Bumping this due to related conversations.
#23 - August 04, 2012, 12:23 PM

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I've been collecting blog posts, essays, and other stuff on these topics and putting them in one place. Most are things written by PoC about their reading experiences, how hard it is to publish, etc: bitly.com/bundles/o_4qrl3vt7de/2
#24 - December 09, 2012, 06:35 PM

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Thank you, Hannah. This is a great resource.
#25 - December 10, 2012, 06:56 AM
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I've been collecting blog posts, essays, and other stuff on these topics and putting them in one place. Most are things written by PoC about their reading experiences, how hard it is to publish, etc: bitly.com/bundles/o_4qrl3vt7de/2

I posted in another section about writing about racism, but as a part of everyday experience in the midst of my paranormal romance. The story is set in the South so racism just happens, but it is not the POINT of the story. I didn't really get a lot of response from people who have done it and if it affected their ability to pitch/publish.
#26 - August 07, 2013, 10:41 AM

Just want to say that I love the Diversity in Ya blog, just spent the last hour reading and came out of it with two new books  :dancer

A terrific resource!
#27 - January 29, 2015, 05:50 AM

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I'm not sure if this is the correct thread to post this in - someone mentioned another thread for depicting characters authentically and accurately if they are not of your culture, but I'm not sure where that thread is.

I've just discovered these Diversity Boards and I love them!

I am Sappony (sappony.org) and last year, a friend (Alison DeLuca, also a writer and SCBWI member) and I did a 5 part traveling blog series called Indian 101 for Writers. Here is the link to part 5, from which you can see the whole list of posts. Part 5 is on Alison's blog. I hope this helps fellow writers depict Natives in an accurate way. http://alisondeluca.blogspot.com/2013/10/indian-101-for-writers-part-5-walking.html

Kara
#28 - February 18, 2015, 08:46 AM

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Thanks, Kara! That looks like a fantastic resource!!
#29 - February 18, 2015, 09:01 AM
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What a great thread! Thank you so much for all the great advice!
Some things I like doing to dive deeper into other cultures: listening to music of that culture/country, watching foreign documentaries and films, trying ethnic food, getting to know their art (paintings, sculptures).

Hugs! :)
#30 - September 07, 2015, 07:29 AM

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