Making a Difference with Diversity
by Tara Michener

I have been blessed to have my own informal mini-focus group for picture book ideas. I have been mentoring children alongside my husband Jason for over five years. If you listen really closely, kids will tell you what they want to read by the questions that they ask.

We work with a diverse bunch of young people and we often have heard questions like Am I pretty? and What am I? and Why can’t I be like everybody else? I provide answers to these questions in my first book Who I Am, Not What I Am.

Main character Janelle is bi-racial and finds that her classmates ask her lots of questions about her race, which in turn makes her question herself.

I had a great chat with a lady of mixed heritage at one of my book signings. She told me that she wished that she had seen more books like Who I Am when she was growing up. She mentioned that people always wanted her to claim a race and they did not understand her as an individual. The idea of being a part of more than one racial group boggled their minds.

Jason and I thought deeply about the types of books that we would want our future child to read considering we are an interracial couple. We also observed the bond of friendship in those we mentor. A child may not be happy or outgoing but when he/she finds that special friendship, something magical happens. That magic belongs in a book to show children how important it is to be a great friend. 100% Real, my second book, explores a friendship between Janelle and a newly-adopted child in her class.

Children need to see themselves in books and find the answers to their questions in regards to self-worth. They also need to have a greater understanding of those around them. This helps them to see the world from a diverse perspective and allows them to embrace those who are different from themselves.

How can you explore diversity in your writing?

Have you ever considered researching a neighborhood that differs from your own?

Be creative and remember that diversity is more than just race.

Think about reaching a demographic that is under-served in the kidlit genre.

Explore the shelves at the bookstore. Be active in outreach and community service and find out what is missing from those shelves by your best resource… the reader.

I am blessed to be able to be around so many young people to help but also to observe issues that may challenge them so that I can use the written word to help them through the tough times.

The best ideas come from thinking outside the box.

Read something great!

Tara Michener is an author and speaker who teaches children and adults the importance of diversity and self-esteem.