Here’s the thing grownups constantly forget about childhood: sometimes, it sucks. Kids all over the world face poverty, war, bullying, discrimination, and oppression. Being young doesn’t protect you from the pressures of adulthood. It just gives you fewer ways to deal with these pressures, not to mention less control over your life.
But here’s the other thing grownups constantly forget about children: they’re smarter than us. Most of the time, they’re also stronger, more hopeful, and more creative. I’ve met kids all over the world who greet each morning joyfully despite the fact that they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, or where they’re going to sleep that night.
Although I constantly encounter diverse, fiercely optimistic children in real life, I hardly ever see them between the pages of children’s books. Too often, stories for young people feature protagonists whose sanitized adventures occur in immaculate suburban neighborhoods where grownups call the shots and kids face no problems more severe than deciding what color socks to wear.
Fiction can be a tool for imagining realities so perfect that they can never be achieved. Or, it can be a tool to celebrate what we are capable of doing with however little we have been given. This is one idea behind the #Weneeddiversebooks campaign: children of all races, classes, genders, faiths, and geographies commit story-worthy acts of heroism and empathy every day, no matter what their circumstances. Yet, we rarely make space for them on our library shelves.