Seeing Ourselves: All Books for All

My hope for the future of diverse children’s literature is that one day, the segregating qualifiers will fall away for good.

When my daughter was eight, I remember the two of us combing the library stacks, searching for an appropriate middle-grade book. At some point, a sympathetic librarian asked if she could help. “Well,” I said with optimism, “we’re looking for something like the junior Nancy Drew series, but with a Black or brown main character.” The librarian was stumped. She searched with us for a while, then tried online. After about fifteen minutes, she said, “Your daughter will just have to use her imagination.”

As ’Liv grew, so did her appetite for reading. While there were precious few characters of color in her books, it did not stop her from becoming a fully fledged bibliophile. Soon she announced that she wanted to become a writer too. I enthusiastically read her earliest attempts, critiquing lightly, and praising lavishly. But by the fourth or fifth story line, I noticed a pattern. “’Liv,” I asked, “where are the Black people?” Her response was simple: she didn’t see Black characters in her mind, just white characters. I was crushed.

Now that she’s a high school sophomore and budding activist, my daughter and I comb the stacks with glee: giddy at the variety of perspective, experience, and voice that is available. But will it last? In quiet moments I worry that, like the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Aesthetics Movement, the current demand for diverse books will fade and we will return to the way things were when my daughter was eight — or when I was eight. But ’Liv has hope. She believes that, just as the designations of “boy” and “girl” books have begun to fall out of favor, “BIPOC,” “LGBTQIA+,” and “diverse” books will become a thing of the past: that one day, all books will be read by all kids (and their parents) with equal enthusiasm. I’ve seen too many books disregarded because of the face on the cover to be quite so optimistic, but I keep writing just the same. You never know.

From the May/June 2023 special issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Diverse Books: Past, Present, and Future. Find more in the "Seeing Ourselves" series here.

Angela Joy

Angela Joy is the author of Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement (Roaring Brook) illustrated by Janelle Washington, which won the 2023 Walter Award in the younger readers category and received a 2023 Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Award for Nonfiction.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.