We Need Diverse Books

The book cover depicts three people in silhouette seated on a bridge, overlooking the water, with bright sunshine in the center behind a partially cloudy sky.

By Alan S.

I know that is a groundbreaking title there. Anyway, this post is a personal illustration of connecting with book characters because they are like me. Before anyone else can point it out – yes, I am a white guy. Yes, I am a white, heterosexual male. Yes, there are many books about people like me.  This post is not about me wanting more books about me. I’ve always agreed that we need more diverse books. I can’t imagine why anyone would disagree with this. Kids need to be able to read a book about a person who reflects their personal experience. Intellectually, I always knew this. My last two books have been a good illustration of how a connection to the characters improves the reader’s experience.

I read The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (also available in ebook and eaudiobook from OverDrive/Libby). It takes place in rural Tennessee, and in the author’s words from the book jacket:

“I wanted to write about young people who struggle to live lives of dignity and find beauty in a forgotten and unglamorous place. Who wonder what becomes of dreams once they cross the county line. This book is my love letter
to those young people and anyone who has ever felt like them, no matter where they grew up.”

I grew up in a place that could be considered forgotten and unglamorous. A small town where many kids dream of escaping to a bigger and brighter world. A small town where some days it seems like your dreams will die. I felt completely connected to the characters and could see a little bit of myself in them. Because of this, the book meant more to me and I was more emotionally invested in the story.

The book cover depicts a girl literally pieced together from different bodies, with an oversized arm and an arm of bones, a ribcage, a heart, an oversized toothy smile, and a single eye looking up.

Immediately after Serpent King, I read Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. I like the book, but I don’t feel the same connection to the character because I am not a Mexican-American girl living in California. A Mexican-American girl will feel that connection here, but not necessarily in The Serpent King.  It’s important for books like Gabi to exist for that girl. She does not have the plethora of books about people like her that I’ve benefited from my entire life.

I didn’t realize how lucky I was growing up a reader and finding myself in all of the books I read (like the creepy clown in It, for example), and even though I realized it as an adult, it didn’t really stand out to me until I read these two books back to back.

I do think it is important for me to read books about people different from me, but sometimes it is really nice to read a book that feels like home. Everyone should have that opportunity.

For more information about where to find diverse books, please visit the We Need Diverse Books website. They have an excellent resource page of current, active sites that offer recommendations for diverse titles, as well as a great blog to help you discover new authors.

Alan has worked for HCLS for just under 25 years, currently at the Savage Branch. He enjoys reading, television, and most sports.