As E & I Corner blog Co-Hosts these last two years, Angie and I want to thank you for all of your support and interest. My term as E & I Team Leader ends July 30th, and that date will also mark the end of Angie’s term on the E & I Team. Building the E & I Corner blog from the ground up has been a great experience, but it is time for new leadership to step in. The next round of E & I Team members will be announced later this summer.
We appreciate all of our blog contributors and those who joined the dialogue in our comments section. We also want to thank Kristin for her commitment to her leadership as Editor of The Mitten. It's been a rewarding experience to work with her and our RAs, Carrie Pearson and Jodi McKay.
Today's post is from former E&I Team volunteer Lisa Rose who served for two years during the launch of this committee and numerous initiatives. Thank you for sharing your time and experience, Lisa! Stay tuned for our next blog post in October with the author, Shanna Heath.
Isabel Estrada O’Hagin and Angie Verges
What is Casual Diversity?
By Lisa Rose
Betsy Bird, in a 2014 blog post, defined casual diversity as “diversity that is just a part of everyday life.”
I go a step further. To me, casual diversity happens when diversity is depicted in the story, but the focus of the story is not about the diversity. In my view, the first casual diverse book is also one of the most famous diverse books.
One morning many years ago, a little boy in Brooklyn named Peter woke up to an amazing sight: fresh snow. Peter was among the first non-caricatured black boys to be featured in a major children's book. But Keats, who wasn’t black (He was Jewish), wasn’t trying to make a statement about race.
"He said, well, all the books he had ever illustrated, there had never been a child of color, and they're out there — they should be in the books, too.”
The book didn’t say 'I am a black child going out into the snow today.' It was just a child's experience of the snow. However, the impact was monumental. Black children could begin to see themselves in stories. This story gave them a “mirror” in which to see themselves. For non-black children, these “mirrors” were “windows” through which they could see black children as also having similar interests and experiences not unlike their own. These children can connect that this seemingly different child is not that different from me. Peter likes snow, just like me.
Jabari Jumps, by Gaia Cornwall, works in a similar way:
If you just look at the text of the book, there is nothing that indicates that the book has anything to do with diversity. However, diversity is presented in the illustrations.
Picture book creators can have the visual show diversity.
One of my favorite books is Hello Goodbye Dog by Maria Gianferrai. Not one word in this book describes the child is in a wheelchair—it is just who she is—just like she happens to be someone brown hair. The wheelchair is only shown in the pictures. This is story about a dog. This is not a story about a wheelchair.
In fact, all of my picture books demonstrate casual diversity. Shmulik Paints the Town is a story about a painting dog. However, readers are also learning about Israeli Independence Day. The greatest compliment I received about the book was from our own Jodi McKay. She was concerned she wasn’t understanding something and asked why Shmulik was considered a Jewish book. Exactly! I didn’t write Shumlik the Paints the town only for Jews. I wanted everyone to read it and enjoy it. A Zombie Vacation which is also set in Israel and is also published by a Jewish press is also an example of casual diversity. This book is about a Zombie who lost his zombie groove and decides to go on vacation to come back to dead. What is the perfect place for a Zombie vacation? The Dead Sea—LOL! Readers learn about the special properties of The Dead Sea water and the area surrounding it.
You could say that casual diversity is subtle. As a Jewish girl, I always wondered why every story had a Christmas tree. Why did every family on TV celebrate Christmas? Why can’t the book have a menorah on the table? Why can the argument be on the way to Temple or Mosque instead of church? We don’t have shout: THIS FAMILY IS JEWISH, MUSLIM, AFRICAN-AMERICAN, INDIAN, CHINESE, LATINO…etc. It can be depicted in an illustration in a picture book or a sentence in a novel.
To illustrate my way of looking at casual diversity, I’ve coined the phrase, “Beyond Rudolph.” Everybody knows the story Rudolph and the Red Nosed Reindeer—poor Rudolph is bullied because he is different—UNTIL—what is different is exactly what saves the day. This savior act allows everyone to finally appreciate the fact that the thing that makes Rudolph different—is also what makes him valuable. Often, perhaps too often, diverse stories are only about what makes the main character a “Rudolph.” However, casual diversity helps creators get “Beyond Rudolph” and tell a story where diversity is depicted without being the subject of the story.
Instead, stories that employ casual diversity include readers simply as they are: an essential part of our diverse world.
Lisa Rose’s latest picture book The Singer and The Scientist is about the friendship between Marian Anderson and Albert Einstein was released on April 1, by Kar-Ben Publishing. She is also the author of A Zombie Vacation (Apples & Honey Press, 2020) and The Star Powers chapter book series (Rourke Educational Media). Her first picture book Shmulik Paints the Town (Kar-Ben Publishing 2016) was a PJ Library Selection in May 2016 and 2020. It was sent to over 50,000 homes in North America. Lisa founded the Missing Voice Picture Book Discussion Group, whose mission is to highlight new picture books and their creators featuring diversity and little-known subjects on a monthly basis. Learn more at https://lisarosewrites.com/.
The SCBWI-MI Equity & Inclusion Team is energized to create a stronger SCBWI-MI community that includes, engages, and embraces disparate voices. Learn more about the E&I Team on the SCBWI-MI website, and read our previous blog posts at the Equity & Inclusion Corner.