Amplifying Multicultural Author Voices: Multicultural Children’s Book Day

It started with a genuine question from a non-profit that shares a passion for diversity and reading just like Make A Way Media.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCBD) is an organization that I’ve had the pleasure of working with when I became their first-ever Super Platinum Sponsor.

In case you are unfamiliar with this children’s literacy initiative, MCBD is an online and offline celebration that attracts thousands of supporters, educators, parents, caregivers, book reviewers, and quality authors and publishers who join forces to shine the spotlight on diversity in children and YA literature.

Celebrated annually on the last Friday in January, this global non-profit is in its 8th year and is still going strong. They also offer a plethora of free resources, teaching tools, booklists, downloads, and a year-round initiative to get multicultural and diverse books into the hands of young readers.

To date, they have donated over 8,000 books to underserved kids, classrooms, and organizations, and that number continues to climb. To learn more about MCBD, visit them on the web and follow their official hashtag #ReadYourWorld on social media.

I’ve always found that this team of hard-working people also try very hard to keep their finger on the pulse of what is happening in the world and where the gaps are in representation in kids’ books. The following questions, posed to me by long-time Project Manager, Becky Flansburg, are a perfect example of that dedication.

Q from Becky:

Hi Deedee!

I need to ask your opinion on something. You recently made a comment about the need for organizations to amplify Black voices and how that is more important than ever. That comment made me stop and reflect on what MCBD could (and should) be doing to honor this. This initiative has always been about ALL diverse voices, religions, traditions, abilities, etc, but I was wondering what we could be doing to support BIPOC during these uncertain times. Thoughts?

A from Me:

Hey Becky,

I apologize for the delay in replying. I have been a little stumped by your question and I think I’ve figured out why. I think I’m stumped on what you can do because I believe you already do this. Multicultural Children’s Book Day has been doing what everyone else should have been doing all along. And you should be proud.

Now let me expand upon that thought:

Amplifying Multicultural Author Voices: Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Almost four years ago, I came across Multicultural Children’s Book Day on social media and was immediately pulled in. I was unaware that this non-profit children’s literacy initiative even existed. I spent hours reviewing the information they shared and absorbing all that I could about this goldmine of information on children’s books. It was all information that I typically do not see prominently displayed in bookstores or libraries.

There is a wealth of data about how hard it is to locate books with characters or stories that reflect stories about children who are different in any way. Different in skin color, life experiences, abilities, or the way their family celebrates or prays. Just anything that makes you a little different from what our country has decided is the norm. If the story does not serve the majority, it may never be published.

In January of this year, the School Library Journal published an article titled, “Survey Shows No Discernible Progress Diversifying Publishing.”

You can gather the gist of the article from the title and graphs, but what strikes me are comparisons about the types of characters you can readily find in children’s books. It is easier for a child of color to find a book with an animal as the lead character as opposed to a character who actually looks like them or reflects their experiences.

Why is this important? After all, aren’t all children’s books enjoyable and entertaining? Perhaps. However, as a child and family therapist, I have seen the damage that this can cause to kids in our country and across the world.

I will never forget the little Black boy who asked me if Black boys can be heroes. Or, my own son asked me why the only books about Black people were about slaves or athletes. “Is that all I can be, Mama?” He said.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day says, together, we are going to shout this message to the rooftops and beyond; the message that kids need to “see themselves” in the pages of the book that they read. So they know they can be anything or anyone they want to be in life.

MCBD does not wait for the publishing industry to catch up either. They apply the pressure. They have a daily consistent message about the importance of diverse books. Don’t tell us they don’t exist. Here they are. Don’t tell us they don’t sell. Here is your audience.

MCBD stands in the gap and ensures that these stories have a solid platform on which to stand. They’re a bunch of really hard-working women who dream and breathe diverse books because it is the right thing to do.

So, this summer after our country was rocked by protests and grief over the on-camera death of George Floyd, Becky asked me, “What can we at MCBD do?”

I went crickets on her for a couple of weeks. I could not think of an answer to her questions and then one night it came to me- why I was stumped- and in my Kentucky voice I called her up and asked, “Ain’t that what y’all already do?

We both had a good laugh and then Becky said, “No, seriously, what more can we do?

The fact that this question was even asked is a big deal.

To share a picture on your social media of George Floyd is a big deal.

To share the comment that Black Lives Matter is a big deal.

To amplify Black voices, and BIPOC voices, and LGBTQ voices, and voices of every single walk of life you can think of… is a big deal, and MCBD has done all of that and more.

Now let me tell you about me.

Four years ago, I was pretty lost in the author world. I knew the statistics and how unlikely it was that anyone would truly value or publish my work. I am a Black author who writes diverse stories. I felt I was in a vacuum and working on my dream all alone.

Something put MCBD in my path and my partnership with them has changed the entire trajectory of my career.

MCBD has been an ally to an author like me. Long before everyone was talking about the need to be an ally.

Not all of us protest or speak up in the same way. When looking for a way to help- a way to make a real systemic difference- consider joining  Multicultural Children’s Book Day’s initiative to shine the spotlight on deserving authors and publishers so their books can ultimately get into the hands of readers and on school and home bookshelves.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day is in it for the long-haul because they know they need to make strategic and lasting changes to the children’s book industry.

How You Can Support Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Follow them on social media so you can get a more in-depth understanding of why this work is important than you will be able to gain just from reading this.

Donate to them directly to support the impact they have on getting these books directly into classrooms- right into the hands of teachers and children. Children who need to see that the world is bigger than their backyard. That we all work together cooperatively.

We can all be leaders.

We can all be heroes.

Seek out their official hashtag #ReadYourWorld and like, comment, and share their posts. Doing this supports the authors whose voices MCBD seeks to amplify. You can speak up by sharing the work of those who speak up.

Pass the word to multicultural and diverse authors and publishers so they can tap into the huge buzz and genuine following this non-profit has.

Because of my connection as an author to MCBD, my books have been amplified in a way I never could have imagined. I have reviews., REAL reviews from experts in this industry. People who would have never heard of my work have now heard of my work and they have come from every state in this country as well as Canada, England, and Australia. And they shared my work far and wide.

Beyond book orders, I received respect and admiration, but also lots of support as an author that I was on the right path and doing the right things in an industry that is not always friendly to all who enter. This was invaluable to me. Especially four years ago.

I found my community. And my community is Multicultural Children’s Book Day or MCBD for short.

They are exactly what we need at exactly this time.

About Deedee Cummings

As a therapist, attorney, author, and CEO of Make A Way Media, Deedee Cummings has a passion for making the world a better place. All 15 of Cummings’ diverse picture, poetry, and workbooks for kids reflect her professional knowledge and love of life. Colorful and vibrant, her children’s books are not only fun for kids and adults to read, they also work to teach coping skills, reinforce the universal message of love, encourage mindfulness, and facilitate inclusion for all. Cummings has spent more than two decades working within the family therapy and support field and much of her writing shares her experiences of working with kids in therapeutic foster care. As a result, her catalogs of published books for kids are filled with positive, hopeful messages. Using therapeutic techniques in her stories to teach coping skills, Cummings also strives to lessen the stigma that some people feel when it comes to receiving mental health assistance.
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