This morning my Youngest Son broke my heart. On the way to school, he began crying.
Me: What’s wrong, honey?
Youngest: I don’t want to go to school.
Me: Why not?
Youngest: It’s just so hard.
Eldest Son has dyslexia, and I highly suspect Youngest does as well. His reading sounds eerily similar to the way Eldest read at that age, he makes the same quirky writing mistakes and he’s missing some very basic knowledge–like how to rhyme.
Me, wanting to pinpoint the areas we need to address and work on regarding his reading: What’s hard about it?
Youngest: It’s just so hard to be so good.
Yeah, that broke the floodgate. Youngest has a simultaneously fun-loving and extremely difficult personality. He wants to have the most fun possible without getting into trouble. This makes him delightful and trying on many levels.
On Fridays, a student who listens well and follows the rules gets to chew gum. If your name appears in The Notebook, you have to stare glumly into space while your peers chomp away on Hubba Bubba.
I can only imagine how excruciating it must be for Youngest to suppress his inner urges to chat, make his peers laugh and have good, old-fashioned fun. In fact, I expect him to be cantankerous and uncooperative at night because he’s stuffed his natural tendencies deep down inside where they can’t get out. For eight hours straight! School must feel like his own personal version of hell.
Gum. Who knew it was such a powerful motivator?
Book reviews, estimated sales numbers and the acquisitions committee. Who knew they had such power over the words we write?
If you haven’t heard the #YesGayYA scuttlebutt floating around the cybersphere, I suggest you check it out. Blog posts abound and tweets on the topic are more prolific than the dust bunnies under my fridge.
#YesGayYA. Check it out. Check out how authors are being asked to suppress their inner stories in favor of more publicly palatable writing.
I’m not going to debate race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities or religious beliefs. Instead, I simply want to call to attention to the very idea that diverse children are traditionally under-represented in literature.
I think these stories are being written. I also think their perceived marketability greatly influences whether these stories make it into the hands of the children who desperately need to read about characters just like them.
No matter what your heritage, your love life, your spirituality, your mental health or your physical afflictions, you need to know you are not alone in this grim world. You need to know that people like you flourish in fiction. You need validation that you are inherently worthy.
Kids of all ages need to know they are accepted and acceptable. Not just that they are tolerated, or worse yet, completely disregarded.
I agree with Youngest. It’s just so hard to be you. It’s hard to write what we feel. It’s hard to publicly declare what we believe and it’s damn hard to read what might cause us pause.
People need affirmation, and I will not stand idly by and watch suppression. It kills me to picture little boys struggling to tamp down their inner selves so they can chew a piece of gum. It breaks my heart to think of all the diverse children seeing themselves (if at all) as mere sidekicks and supporting characters in the novels they read. It absolutely crushes me to think I may have a part in fostering the suppression of someone’s inner-most personality.
Today, I vow to write the story that begs to be written and not be swayed by public opinion. I vow to support my fellow writers who write with abandon to portray diversity in an appealing light. I vow to buy books based on the storyline and my connection to the character, rather than based on a character’s traits. I vow to encourage children, parents, librarians and others to read diverse books instead of leading them down a narrow hallway of white-washed stories.
I vow to accept my role in reaching all of our youth, not just those like me. I will not play a part in suppressing the inner you. Not if I can help it.
How about you, dear readers? Do you feel that favorable diversity thrives in literature? Do you believe that all types of kids are represented in the books they read, or do you think writers, publishers and parents can all be more proactive in validating every child?
Which types of books would you like to see more of?
Personally, I like novels where the diverse trait isn’t the novel. Rather, I love when characters are simply the sum total of their backgrounds and I can learn about their diversity through connecting with them.