Reblog: R.J. Palacio and Meg Medina Talk Diversity and Children’s Books

Did you know that authors R.J. Palacio and Meg Medina both grew up in Spanish-speaking, lived in Flushing, Queens, attended the same elementary-school – and were best friends?

In a recent interview with the Washington Post, renowned authors R.J. Palacios (author of Wonder) and Meg Medina (author of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass) discuss their divergent, but parallel paths to becoming children’s authors. Alin mentioned this post in her recent Week in Review Post, but I wanted to take the time to share a couple of my favorite excerpts from Medina. I highly encourage you to read the interview in its entirety. It’s definitely worth the read!

“People are asking harder questions about the books that are coming through. I think that’s exciting. People are asking: Is it written authentically? Are there mistakes? Are there representations that could be offensive? It’s not about having that intention — no one is setting out to write a book saying: I want to hurt children! I’d like to insult an entire group of people! Who says that? Nobody. But there can be a tone-deafness, because we haven’t been used to holding ourselves accountable for the more sensitive things. And now there’s a critical mass of people saying, Hold on there, I’ve had enough. There are so many stereotypes about Latina women. The fact is that I’m a Cuban woman, Raquel is a Colombian woman — whatever her experience was, that is the Latina experience for her. My Latina experience was different but just as valuable. We need more stories that expose all the experiences. The thing that holds them together is: Is it true about growing up? Does it shine some sort of light on what it is to be a human being who’s young, who’s trying to make sense of the world? So I find the conversation around diversity both exciting and painful, because good, kind people get hurt, and good, kind people hurt others without meaning to. It’s exhausting to be on the receiving end of criticism, and it’s exhausting to be the person who has to say, Hey, no fair. I can’t tell you how many panels I’m invited to speak on to represent Latino literature, and I find it daunting.”

“There’s not one of us who can speak for the entire group, and I accept that. If you want Latino literature, you have to understand it’s this collection of 20 countries. And yet for the kids who were born in the U.S. to foreign-born parents, that umbrella does have some meaning. The way I see it is this; I’m telling the story through this lens: What it is to grow up in the U.S. with parents who don’t speak English. I tell the story as truly as I can. But then what kicks in afterward is almost this idea of being a literary citizen. I’m in schools, I’m in libraries, not necessarily New York or L.A. — I’m in Arkansas, Oklahoma, where kids are feeling “othered,” struggling to learn English themselves, or they’re sitting in rooms where the TV is playing and someone is saying they’re rapists. So I think what is important for me to do is to advocate the humanity of everyone, their value, their story; that the language of their mothers and fathers is a beautiful one, that the stories of growing up how they did are significant. I have a feeling of being an ambassador to people who don’t have a relationship to people from other places, but mostly I want to help kids feel proud of where they come from. To know that they are enough.”

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