Championing Literature for All Young Readers: We Need Diverse Books on Creating Industry-Wide Change
We Need Diverse Books is non-profit and grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that has worked since 2014 to create a world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book. WNDB advocates for essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.
We spoke with WNDB Executive Director Caroline Richmond about WNDB's roots, some of its initiatives, and where the organization is going next.
It all started with a tweet.
On April 17, 2014, authors Ellen Oh and Malinda Lo had a conversation on Twitter about the all-white, all-male panel of children’s authors assembled for BookCon’s reader event that year. Their discussion online attracted a larger group of writers, illustrators, and book publishing folks who also wanted to advocate for better representation in the industry.
The group of organizers met soon after and began planning campaigns to raise awareness and advocate for change. On April 24th, author Aisha Saeed sent out the first tweet with the hashtag that represented the group's mission: #WeNeedDiverseBooks.
"It ended up trending on Twitter, which was really incredible,” says Caroline Richmond, current Executive Director of We Need Diverse Books. “It showed the groundswell of support for people wanting more diverse stories out there, particularly in the children’s space.”
Within the year, We Need Diverse Books incorporated as a nonprofit and fundraised to launch a series of powerful programs aimed at creating change in the industry. In 2022, these initiatives now include the Black Creatives Revisions Workshop, which provides instruction and mentoring for a small cohort of unpublished writers; an Internship Grant Program that awards supplemental grants to applicants from diverse backgrounds to support their pursuit of publishing internships; and WNDB in the Classroom, a program that provides free diverse books to low-income students around the country.
“When we get pictures from teachers and librarians who've received our book giveaways, they're oftentimes with their students and their young patrons, and it's really heartwarming to see these kids holding up books that are diverse,” says Richmond.
“Maybe these are mirror books where kids see their identity represented, but they might also be window books, where kids are reading about characters who aren't like them—characters who come from a different background and help kids make connections through reading.”
So far, WNDB in the Classroom has donated over 70,000 books across 49 states and the District of Columbia. In addition to arranging giveaways of diverse books provided by publishers, corporations, and other donors, each year WNDB also donates 4,000 copies of their most recent Walter Dean Myers Awards for Outstanding Children's Literature Award winners, another of WNDB’s key programs. Inaugurated by WNDB in 2016 and awarded yearly since, the Walter Awards are given out by WNDB to recognize diverse authors whose works feature diverse main characters and address diversity in a meaningful way.
“I think what makes the awards unique is that we have a very broad definition of diversity at WNDB....it’s a very big tent and this award celebrates all of that diversity,” says Richmond.
Since 2018, WNDB has given out awards for books within the Teen and the Young Reader categories. Nominees for the Walter Awards are submitted by the books’ publishers, and past winners of the Awards include Jason Reynolds, Elizabeth Acevedo, Angeline Boulley, and Rajani LaRocca.
“We also aim to make the awards very student focused,” notes Richmond. “We hold the series ceremony in DC, and we always aim to bring in a lot of local students because these books are for them and the ceremony is a chance for them to engage with authors who write for them."
This December, WNDB is building on their commitment to champion diverse literature with recent launch of Books Save Lives. This campaign works to address and combat the recent proliferation of book bans in the United States, which tend to target diverse books. WNDB is committing to awarding grants to schools most impacted by censorship and book bans to purchase diverse titles for their libraries, creating educational resources for teachers and media specialists navigating book bans, and more.
“When you look through the list [of banned books], more often than not, these books are about diverse characters, and by diverse creators,” says Richmond. “This is our way of standing up to that and continuing to celebrate diverse books because they are so needed.”
To learn more about WNDB’s work, you can read about their mission, projects, and ways to get involved here. We’ve also collected the past year’s Walter Award Winners in a list available on Edelweiss Community.