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An Ongoing Question, An Ongoing Discussion

Guest post by associate editor at Charlesbridge, Julie Ham.

When Charlesbridge decided to host a diversity panel during this week’s Children’s Book Week, the onset of planning felt a lot like editing: asking the right questions was key. Who will speak well and honestly to this sensitive subject? Will the CBC partner with us? (Yes!) How will the panel contribute to this valuable, ongoing dialogue? Who will be in charge of buying the cheese? The crackers?!

I soon became preoccupied with one question that we think will come up during the panel discussion.

Can authors or illustrators write about or illustrate cultures and races different from their own? 
This question brought me back to a children’s literature graduate course I took about five years ago. We were examining Sold, a contemporary middle-grade novel about child prostitution in Nepal. We contemplated whether the author, Patricia McCormick (a white American woman), had the right to tell this story—one that falls outside her own experience and culture. As far as I could tell, no one else had written such a narrative for the middle-grade readership; I felt it needed to be told. Patricia had visited India and interviewed women and girls who had been sold to brothels, preparing herself to authentically tell this story as best she could. I felt confident that she had done her due diligence. I valued her choice to write about this subject matter and hoped her book would affect a diverse readership—a testament to the idea that the human condition—both good and bad—similarly touches all cultures, in all parts of the world. Maybe some of those diverse readers would be even closer to the book’s reality than Patricia was able to get through her research. Maybe they’d be inspired to tell their own stories.

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