Who Gets to be the Hero? Imagining a More Just Future Through Diverse Children's Literature
Bigotry and oppression can be seen as crises of imagination. While the manifestations of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, etc. are real and physical, their roots are, at least partially, storied. In other words, they originate from the way we narrate ourselves and our communities. Who counts as a real American? How do we conceptualize what our neighborhoods look like? Who is a criminal, a terrorist, a threat? And who, in turn, gets to be a hero? In the words of the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
Children’s literature has a critical role in shaping and transforming our collective imaginations – and that role has too long been fulfilled through inaccurate and bigoted narratives, as well as through a lack of narratives. Marginalized communities have been trivialized, demonized, and made invisible. However, movements such as #weneeddiversebooks and #ownvoices in young people’s literature are changing this historical reality. This talk will address the need for diverse and inclusive stories for young people – not just so that marginalized readers can see themselves reflected positively in literature from the beginning of their reading lives – but so that we can collectively engage in acts of radical imagination – bending the arc of all our futures toward justice.