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There's been a lot of really good, important conversation around the lack of diversity in children's books lately:

Walter Dean Myers in the NY Times.
Kate Messner's ongoing discussion and call to action around Varian Johnson's THE GREAT GREENE HEIST on her blog.
Mitali Perkins' ongoing discussion, and her editor's confession.
The We Need Diverse Kids Books Campaign.
And Lisa Schroeder's confession and fear.

My first four books feature white female main characters. That's who I am, that's what I was comfortable with in adopting a voice for a character. But my world is not "white only"--and neither are my characters'. I've populated my books with secondary characters who are Filipina, African American, Asian, and biracial. I wanted my characters to go to schools that reflect the schools I attended, and the ones my daughter goes to.

But that's the problem: Those were secondary characters. And as awesome as it is to get email from Filipina girls who are so excited to see Millie in MODELS DON'T EAT CHOCOLATE COOKIES, Millie isn't the focus of the book (maybe she'll get her own book one day...). And it makes me sad to know that those readers don't have as many main characters that look like them. Lots of kids don't see themselves in books. This is something that the awesome Phoebe, from my writers group, reminds us of on a regular basis. As I've progressed as a writer, I wanted to take on new challenges and maybe address some of these issues.

So when I wrote MOXIE AND THE ART OF RULE BREAKING, I gave Moxie a best friend who is male and half Caucasian, half Vietnamese. Ollie is also a geocaching addict, a Wilderness Scout, a careful thinker, and asthmatic. He's fearful. He's not in good shape. He likes video games. And I fell in love with him.

So I gave him his own book.

The companion to MOXIE is Ollie's book, OLLIE AND THE SCIENCE OF TREASURE HUNTING. It comes out on July 11--barely 12 weeks from now!

And I've been super nervous about it for lots of reasons:

1. It's a boy book: the whole book takes place at Wilderness Scout camp, on an island. It's all boys (there's one female character--and she's a minor character). Could I write from a male POV? Would it be "boy" enough? Did Ollie's voice sound consistent from the first book to the second? Were his thoughts and thought process different enough from Moxie's?

2. Ollie's ethnicity. He's biracial--his mom is white, his dad is Vietnamese. Would people accuse me of appropriating Vietnamese culture? Did I get it right? How much "culture" do I need to have in there, anyway? He's not at home...he's on an island. He confronts some cultural issues directly--tells one kid that "Not all Asian kids are good at math," and patiently explains to another that although he knows origami (for his geocaches), he's not Japanese. *frets*

3. The other boys. Did I mention it's a boy book? Ollie makes totally new friends in this story: guys who are African-American, Indian, Latino, white...a mix that reflects his urban Scout troop. Did I get all their voices right? Will readers pick up on their differences, or do they all seem bland?

And on and on. Writing books has made me even more neurotic than I was to begin with.

Suffice it to say, I've been worried. But I've also been busy, so I forgot to start worrying about the reviews from places like Kirkus, or SLJ, or Booklist. On Friday, they started coming in.

I nearly threw up when I saw the message from my editor.

But--I can't share the reviews themselves til next week--the ones that have come in so far are GOOD. And they kind of do and don't address the issues and worries that I had (sorry to be vague here).

Prepub reviews are not a substitute for real world readers, however--and those are the opinions that I'm most interested in and concerned with. I want my books to show a wider view of the world, but it's a big, scary risk to write from a point of view and background that's not my own. My hope is that readers see that I'm doing what I can to broaden my scope, editors see that these books will sell--because the more we purchase books about characters with backgrounds not our own, the more editors will purchase those books--and publishing houses will be home to a wider range of writers.

So if you need me, I'll be here, biting my nails, hoping that I got it right--or close to right--and that, ultimately, you like my book, and Ollie. Because we need more books with kids like him in them. Because we need more diverse writers. Because taking the risk is worth it. Every time.


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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
deenaml
Apr. 28th, 2014 11:29 pm (UTC)
Oh yay! I can't wait to read Ollie's story!
bostonerin
Apr. 29th, 2014 03:34 am (UTC)
Thank you!!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

News

• MOXIE AND THE ART OF RULE BREAKING (Dial 2013) was highlighted in the Atlantic Wire's Summer Reading Roundup!

• TOTAL TRAGEDY was named to the master list of Massachusetts Children's Book Awards 2013-2014

• New book alert! MOXIE AND THE ART OF RULE BREAKING will be in stores July 11 2013

• NOTES FROM AN ACCIDENTAL BAND GEEK is out in paperback! And it's on the Texas Lone Star List!

• TOTAL TRAGEDY has been named to the Texas Lone Star list as well as Kansas' KNEA Reading Circle catalog (with a starred recommendation)

• TOTAL TRAGEDY is out in paperback! Ask for it at a bookstore near you.

• TOTAL TRAGEDY has gone into its third printing! Thanks to everyone who bought it!

• MODELS has gone into its fifth printing! Thank you!!

• Have you seen the TT trailer? Go here & check it out:
http://bit.ly/b5xeGw


• Disney's Family Fun Magazine and Girl's Life mag both loved TT! Check out the reviews in their February issues!

• I've signed stock recently at the following stores:
- Barnes & Noble, Framingham, MA

• Booklist says, "Some sisterly bonding, the sweet flutterings of a first romance, and a creatively contrived comeuppance for the mean girls make [TOTAL TRAGEDY] a cheerful read for younger middle-schoolers."