Seeing Ourselves: Listen to the Kids

Christina Soontornvat on a school visit. Photo courtesy of Christina Soontornvat.

When I do school visits, I always show a slide filled with covers of diverse fantasy and sci-fi. I love the reaction from the kids — they point and gasp and whisper to their friends about which ones they have read. Children of many different backgrounds shout out, “I love that book!” As a child, I never read a book with a hero who looked like me, so it’s incredibly joyful to see how many more stories today’s kids have to choose from and how much they all love and connect to diverse books. Because of my experiences as a young reader, there was a time earlier in my writing career when I worried whether my books would connect with a “broad audience.” The kids are the ones who taught me not to worry about that anymore.

I definitely believe that we have work to do to make publishing more inclusive, but spending time with young readers makes me so hopeful for the future. They are fair-minded and open-minded, and they are hungry to read all sorts of incredible stories. For the most part, I do see the publishing industry responding to that demand.

My hope for the future is that the children’s literature field recognizes that the change we see is still nascent and that it will take sustained, long-term commitment to uplifting diverse voices before our field is truly equitable. As long as we keep listening to the kids, we’ll be going in the right direction.

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.

Christina Soontornvat

Christina Soontornvat is an award-winning author, engineer, and STEM educator. Her many works for children include picture books and the Diary of an Ice Princess chapter book series (Scholastic). Her middle grade fantasy novels, A Wish in the Dark and The Last Mapmaker, plus nonfiction title All ThirteenThe Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team (all Candlewick) were each named Newbery Honor Books. All Thirteen was also a 2021 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction Honor book and The Last Mapmaker received a 2023 Walter Honor in the younger readers category.

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