When I reflect on what was happening in the world while I was writing the initial drafts of The Garden of Peace,I remember the rising hopes and dreams of many citizens of the world, as Obama ran for President of the United States. As a Canadian, I too was drawn into the “Yes We Can” story – giving voice to the marginalized and wanted to experience the first Black Family residing without oppression in The White House. And it did happen (the lack of oppression is questionable, though). That was eight years ago.
As we wrap up 2017, there is a different mantra in the air. This year has revealed even more (un)conscious bias’ and privileges; ones that many of us know exist, but have always been well hidden. Yes, there are still hopes and dreams, but now I feel a persistent energy of advocacy and social justice that could drive a greater force for change in the time ahead.
Passionate voices in children’s literature have courageously surfaced, some only just being heard after years of erasure and invisibility. Social justice issues and representation in children’s literature are being challenged. Diversity as a checkbox is not enough anymore. It’s not enough to add a brown character to a story or the cover of a book, and check it off as a diverse read. Readers are becoming informed, they are reading between the lines and demanding authenticity and #OwnVoices to write their stories. Publishers and editors are hopefully taking note.
Newer infographics inspired by the work of CCBC in Wisconsin, have further brought to light the inequity of children’s literature. They have pushed us to acknowledge why certain stories have historically been told and by whom. Those of us living outside the U.S. are looking more critically for data from our own institutions and expert organizations. Are persons of colour truly being fairly represented in Canadian children’s books? How many of the books being featured in The Best Of lists were written by poc? How many #OwnVoices stories are actually reaching the demographics they are working so tirelessly to mirror? How many indie presses are being offered a space in libraries and public school classrooms servicing diverse populations? There are so many barriers along the way. Without accurate data collection, how can we be certain that these changes are taking place in our country?
It has been a year that has felt exhausting in many ways – but for those who dedicate their entire lives to advocacy work, they know that this year has given the rest of us a glimpse into the effort required to create real change.
So, just as there existed a parallel struggle between the weeds and people in The Garden of Peace (where the weeds symbolized the inequity faced by lower castes), it was when the seeds of free thinkers, melody makers, poets and storytellers rose, that dream chasers and warriors of change blazed new trails for change. Let’s do this!