Off the Shelf | #WeNeedDiverseBooks Swims Together, Packs the House

DBR_SwimTogetherEach Spring, Book Expo America (BEA) serves as a temporary playground where authors, publishers, editors, book sellers and readers gather from across the country to “geek out” together over books and reading. Imagine BEA is a time portal that momentarily halts all activity outside the convention center while attendees breathe freshly minted stories, drink the fizzy promise of ARCs (“advance reader copies,” preview editions of upcoming releases), and line up at buffet tables serving the chance to meet favorite authors.

BookCon is a designated day for readers at BEA, a sort of “conference inside a conference.” When BookCon announced plans in April for a special authors’ panel, the reaction took an unexpected and powerful turn. A core group of authors, publishers, and others in the book world noticed that the announced panelists looked a lot alike. They wanted to hear from a variety of voices. After all, there are many different types of fish… um, kids, who read books even though they share reading in common! And kids look for a variety of qualities, characters, and stories they can relate to as they read.

What happened next? They put their voices together and asked others to declare #WeNeedDiverseBooks. During May people shared pictures of themselves on social media holding signs with the reasons kids — and everyone else — need diverse books. These tweets (below) shared by a youth services librarian in Mississippi, best-selling author Jodi Picoult, and St. Paul, MN children’s bookseller, Red Balloon Bookshop, are just a few examples from over 162 MILLION impressions #WeNeedDiverseBooks has generated worldwide so far!

How are people making a difference? Well, first remember that Deep Blue Readers alerted you back in April to the recent wave of conversation about diversity in kids’ books. Thanks to people — kids and adults — sharing online, the wave grew strong enough that BEA added a special #WeNeedDiverseBooks discussion panel to the conference schedule. Conference officials had to send folks away because attendance was standing room only! On Saturday 5/31 people live-tweeted from the meeting room and even recorded the audio for people who couldn’t be there.

Now what? Everything we’ve shared so far is just the start of what the team at #WeNeedDiverseBooks plans to do. During the BookCon panel they announced they will:

  • Collaborate with National Education Association’s Read Across America program and First Book to draw attention to multicultural books and authors though the Diversity in the Classroom initiative
  • Develop the first Children’s Literature Diversity Festival, to be held in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2016

And others, like School Library Journal and Lee & Low Books are chiming in, too. Just think: all of this and more came about after only one month! What a great example of the amazing things that can happen when people who love books swim together, just like the characters in this scene from Pixar’s Finding Nemo!