I’m excited to introduce all of you to Darshana. She is the mastermind behind the blog Floweringminds.com where she features authors and promotes diversity in kidlit. My kind of gal.
Hi, Darshana! I’m excited to get to know you better because we share a love of Richard Scarry and Blondie. That pretty much sums up my childhood!
I’d like to focus on diversity since that’s what you advocate. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen recently in books for children.
Thank you very much for having me. I’m happy to be discussing diversity here.
Ever since the We Need Diverse Books organization came onto the scene in 2014, there has been an uptick in diverse books being published, more discussions on the topic of diversity at conferences, and publishers understanding the need for sensitivity readers. It is an exciting time; I hope this momentum continues and doesn’t get relegated to a trend. We are a diverse nation and our children’s literature should continue to reflect that.
What are some changes you project to be in the pipelines in the future?
I would like to see the continued breadth of stories within the various diverse categories. This will help break down stereotypes and give readers a richer experience. Nigerian author, Chimamada Adiche, gave an eloquent speech on “The Danger of a Single-Story”. Her talk struck a chord with me, as I remembered having to defend and explain my summer holidays in Kenya and India to fellow students when I was a child. Looking back, can I blame my classmates for their unawareness when the only images they saw of those countries were of malnourished, poor, and hungry children on fundraising infomercials? Within any diverse group, there will be a range of people and experiences and it is important for there to be a body of literature to show the full spectrum.
With the political climate being what it is today, there is a need for books where multiculturalism is at the forefront, discussing inclusivity and understanding. As our nation’s awareness increases, I hope we can see more stories with diverse characters where the primary focus is a universal truth and the multicultural part is secondary.
Are there any topics you’d love to read about that you haven’t read yet?
While there is a lot of discussion around racial, gender, religious diversity and neurodiversity, there isn’t much about economic diversity. There has been a smattering of books in MG and YA dealing with economic hardship but not enough. Back in 2008, I remember watching a 60 Minutes segment about the high percentage of homeless kids in Florida wondering if there were books that reflected their reality. Recently, there was a picture book, STILL A FAMILY by Brenda Sturgis, that had a lovely message of still being a family even though the father had to stay at a men’s shelter while the young daughter and mother were at the women’s shelter. Katherine Applegate’s MG novel, CRENSHAW, touched on childhood hunger.
Across the various diverse groups there has been an increase of books coming out in the YA and MG categories, but I’d like to see that diversity also reflected in both Picture Books and Early Chapter Books.
What’s your dream book that you’d like to read or even write?
As for my dream book to read, I’ll let you know once I find it. As for writing, one of the things on my writing bucket list is to create a modern rendition of the Akbar and Birbal Indian folktales. I loved the wit and wisdom in those stories.
What are you working on now?
Currently, I’m learning the craft of early chapter books as I try to convert one of my picture book South Asian characters into the longer format. I’m also constantly writing and revising picture books.
Also, I know you work with the We Need Diverse Books campaign as a picture book application reader. Do you have any advice for authors writing PBs?
Perfect timing! The We Need Diverse Books organization is currently accepting applications for readers until the end of August. Whether you are a picture book writer or a novelist, I highly recommend taking advantage of any opportunity that has you reading many stories in the category that you write. You will gain an appreciation of how fresh, original, and well-crafted a story needs to be in order to stand out.
Additionally, for picture book writers, I would recommend reading as many current picture books as possible. I read about 250 a year. When I started back in 2011, the focus was on character-driven stories, then quirky and subversive – the market is constantly changing. Finally, of course: write, write, write. Picture books are a bit of a numbers game. The more stories you have out there, the better shot you have at something getting picked up. Kate Messner wrote an awesome post a while back titled “Picture Book Math”, where she discusses her productivity over a year.
On that note, I had better get back to my stories! Happy Writing!
Thank you so much, Darshana for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share with us.
Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out August 15th 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR. She is represented by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.