A discussion/debate/all-out brawl has been brewing on social media recently regarding the diversity (or lack thereof) in children's literature and whether bringing up the issue in a particular book or celebrating one that features a member of an underrepped group is tantamount to calling for a "diversity agenda" with a "diversity checklist."
Not that anyone is asking, but in my opinion, NO, IT DOES NOT.
Roger Sutton, editor-in-chief of The Horn Book states in his editorial that a 10-11 year old boy who had asked author RJ Palacio why she didn't include a gay character in her book, WONDER, was, by his very question, calling for a diversity agenda in children's literature. That's right. Because he asked her why there wasn't a gay character in her story.
As the mother of a 10-year old child who spends A LOT of time with 10-11 year old children, I can confidently say that most 10-11 year old children, no matter how brilliant and sensitive they are, do not normally interrogate authors in order to convince them that going forward, they should write stories with "an agenda," first and foremost.
Someone who questions or criticizes a book and its lack of diversity or its misrepresentation of a member of a minority group does not = a) a bully or b) a "reverse" racist. And neither is a person who celebrates/promotes/evangelizes a book that features a member of an under-represented group.
I think the authors and editors involved in this imbroglio have gone off the deep end in their defensiveness and nastiness, and it depresses the hell out of me. Why? Because these are our "esteemed" leaders in children's publishing: the tastemakers, the educators, the perception-shapers. I expect more from them. Children deserve more from them.
Author Linda Sue Park sums up my feelings perfectly in her blog. Thank you, Linda, and thank you, 10-11 year old boy who dared to ask an important question to a revered author in a room full of grown ups. You rock.
One last thing: I loved WONDER. My 10-year old daughter reads the book on repeat, she loves it so much. Whether or not Palacio should have included a gay character in her story is besides the point. The fact that a child or adult -- white, black, yellow, trans, queer, or straight -- can ask this question IS THE POINT.
Maybe this 10-11 year old boy will one day write a story with a gay character. Wouldn't that be grand?