Last Monday, I was honored to participate in a panel on diversity and changemaking in children’s literature as part of a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration at the Washington State History Museum (you can read an excellent summary of the full panel here). In preparing for my part of the panel, I couldn’t help thinking back to my Emu’s Debuts from exactly two years ago (have a really been here that long? Meep!). That seemed like a good place for me to start.
In that old blog post, I referenced an MLK quote that resonated with me…
“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
…and I talked about how our job as authors is to facilitate that kind of communication through story, whether true or fictional, and how stories can speak to universal human truths, even when the specific life experiences and situations are very different, such as mine and Emmanuel’s, as shown in Emmanuel’s Dream.
While drafting my recent speech, I also went through my transcripts from my interview with Emmanuel in 2010 and stumbled across this gem I hadn’t noticed before for some reason. He told me,
“When you hear about so many people—their story and their lives—you can say whoa, that guy’s story sounds like my story. It’s familiar. Because you know, the rich person has a story to tell, and the poor person has a story to tell, and the person who won the race has a story to tell, and the person who is in last place has a story to tell. So people have to come together to educate ourselves with stories, so that we can be able to move forward.”
As I concluded in my speech on Monday, I believe Emmanuel is right: stories will help us move forward. I have almost nothing in common with Emmanuel, yet his story touched me, and I hope it touches young readers, too. I hope it will help them understand and value other people despite their obvious differences. I also hope it will show them that each and every one of us—including themselves—has value and can make a positive difference in the world, just like Emmanuel did, and just like Dr. King did.
Their stories matter, and so do everyone else’s. That’s why so many of us in the children’s literature community are supporting the We Need Diverse Books campaign. The more diversity we have in our stories, and in our storytellers, the more we can all communicate with one another, the less we will all fear each other, and the better we can all get along. Diversity in literature builds understanding, and understanding builds empathy. With enough mirrors and windows, maybe we can finally stop the hate.
So, please, keep sharing stories–stories like Emmanuel’s, Dr. King’s, and, most importantly, your own. The world needs them all, now more than ever.
Laurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, was published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. Her debut nonfiction picture book, EMMANUEL’S DREAM, was published by Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House in January 2015. MY DOG IS THE BEST, her debut fiction picture book, will be available June 2015 from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan (May 2015). Maybe then they’ll finally force her to retire from Emu’s Debuts, unless…
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