More Diverse YA Books = More Diverse YA Movies

I had intended to share another excerpt from my MFA paper, but a more pressing concern, or real world example expressed itself to me and I felt compelled to write about this instead. While we here at RiC focus on diversity in YA literature, it must be mentioned that the need for diverse characters is even more important when we look at the number of YA books being turned into movies. Those of us who are already reading diversely are able to balance out the pervasiveness of the dominate culture in movies with our literature, but what about the kids who aren’t as well versed, whose only exposure to literature is from the movies that are made from books?

This question popped into my head recently through an assignment I gave my students for our first unit. We are studying the elements of fiction and instead of having the entire class read one book, I thought it would be fun to have the students choose their own book, have them read something they are interested in. Last year when I did this, I had a number of students asking me for recommendations and you know I encouraged diverse texts. This year, not so much, and well, sadly most of the books the students chose were novels that hit the big screen in 2014. The books my students have chosen….

The_Fault_in_Our_StarsCatching_fireDivergent_(book)_by_Veronica_Roth_US_Hardcover_2011

ifistayThe_Maze_Runner_cover

I want to just let you think about something for a minute….my student population is 60% Hispanic and 40% African-American, and those 5 books are what most of my students chose. Let it sink in that none of my students are able to see a reflection of themselves as the hero, the love interest, in any of these stories. It was during a class activity when the students had their books out that I started to get irritated with the situation. I feel that if stories that featured characters of color were seen as “marketable” or “popular” (whatever that means), then my students would have more diverse reading lists. As it is, they’re only reading diverse stories because I choose diverse texts for class! I’m only one teacher, what about all the other teachers whose population numbers are similar to mine? Are they sharing diverse texts with their students or only teaching one voice, with the exception to a novel about slavery or the Civil Rights movement one month a year? I’d hope they’re not, but the sad reality is that many students, especially students of color in low-income areas, do not have access to diverse texts and only read books that have been made into movies, because the rational is “it must be a good book if it was made into a movie.” I find this unacceptable, do you? African-American and Hispanic teens throw down large numbers of cash on movies and movie tie-in stuff, is it so hard for a book that features a character of  color to be made into a movie? The audience is already there and I can guarantee that teens will run to the theaters. Hollywood and publishers do not get that “If they build it, we will come”. They don’t get that the reason why they are not seeing big numbers for diverse books and movies is that they are not putting the money behind the authors to get the word out, to find the audience. Again, the audience is there as the #WeNeedDiverseBooks juggernaut keeps proving time and time again.

I will admit that the only movie on this list that I have seen is Catching Fire, as I really have no desire to see the other movies (okay, maybe Maze Runner). I read all of the books and can honestly think of other, better books that feature diverse casts that should be made into movies. So, to end this rant on a positive note, here is a list of books that I would love to see made into movies.

otherthe living
every day pointe bloodofeden

I think the next big YA series made into a movie should be Julie Kagawa’s Blood of Eden series. It was just that good!

 

since you asked

This would make such a funny tv show as we follow Holly through high school.

What say you, dear readers?

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Talking Books, Culture & Identity

It’s that time of year when cities all across the country have weekends celebrated to the written word and this past weekend was one of my favorite weekends of the year, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Two days of a book addicts dream where there are all sorts of book talks, author signings, independent bookstores just waiting for my money, and just plain fun. The festival begins with the Los Angeles Book Awards ceremony where this year Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints won for Best Young Adult Fiction! Congrats to Gene!

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Gene draws and signs my copy of Boxer & Saints.

At the festival there were literally hundreds of talks and panels fans of books and writers of all levels could attend. Of course, being my focus is diversity in YA literature, one of the panels I attended was titled, “YA Fiction: Writing Culture & Identity.” The panel included Maurene Goo, Cynthia Kadohata and Gene. The panel focused on the topic of incorporating culture and one’s identity into their writing. The discussion was a lively one with Maurene and Gene giving insight into why they infuse their writing with their own culture. Maurene stated that as an adult YA reader, she noticed a void within the literary landscape and wanted to add her voice, her experiences. She said there were a plethora of diverse “message” stories (and I completely agree with her) and that she wanted Holly’s stories (from Since You Asked) to be universal. When asked if the authors were writing for their child self, Gene stated that “maybe I’m writing for the 12 year old me.” He expanded his statement that he was writing for the self who wished there were more characters in his books and comics that looked like him. In fact, this desire is what is also propelling him to write the Green Turtle series.

hero
The panel was not all about discussing problems with the lack of diversity but also a talk for solutions. Cynthia stated, and correctly so, that because Middle Grade/YA purchasers are usually the parents, the parents of children have to take the initiative and ask for books by and about people of color. Another suggestion (and I unfortunately did not write down who said it, sorry all) was questioning what are we, all of us, doing to help the next generation of writers. Are we nurturing kids writing, especially children of color, who might not be encouraged to write? I think this question is profound and an important one as I also work with mentoring young writers of color. Children need to be able to know that their stories are valid and worthwhile, instead of just voices from the dominate culture. Gene also followed up by stating that diversity is difficult, but by using common interests, we can build community.

Over all, it was a good talk and after I got to spend some time chatting with Maurene who is a lovely young woman. She mentioned what she is currently writing about and I got so excited!

Maurene Goo. We bonded over our love of Korean Dramas.

Maurene Goo. We bonded over our love of Korean Dramas.

If you have a book festival coming to you this spring, please go and support authors of color. Get your books signed, say hello, tell them how much you loved their book.

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