Tell us about your most recent book and how you came to write it.
My most recent book is Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind. Like most authors, I invest a lot of myself in my characters and I've had a lot to say apparently about things that aren't right, that should be right. About how people should be treated regardless of ethnicity, gender, class, disability, sexual orientation, etc., etc. And I believe that children should be encouraged to think, not just fill in bubbles on state-mandated standardized tests. Miss Marx, Minnie's teacher, is the kind of teacher I wish I had been when I taught middle-school years ago. She encourages the students to think, to question, and to write about the things that concern them. It takes courage, especially these days, to be the kind of teacher she is.
Do you think of yourself as a diverse author?
I hadn't, I suppose because as a white woman I'm not considered "diverse", but my beliefs certainly fall into that camp.
Who is your favorite character of all time in children’s or young adult literature?
Hypothetically speaking, let’s say you are forced to sell all of the books you own except for one. Which do you keep?
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. It has the most authentic, believable voice of any middle-grade book I've every read.
What does diversity mean to you as you think about your own books?
Going against prevailing opinions that hold some people to be not as valuable as others. My characters are sometimes homeless and generally poor.
What is your thought process in including or excluding characters of diverse backgrounds?
I think it's critical to include characters of diverse backgrounds. In the past I worried a bit about my right to speak about the experiences of children of different ethnicities, but all children are essentially the same. They all dream, they all have difficulties to overcome, lessons to learn and to impart. Any visit to a public school classroom these days will introduce you to a dozen children of different backgrounds (including my own grandchildren), and the mix is rich and exciting.
Please write an example of a paragraph that is tone deaf when it comes to cultural diversity, then write the correct version. Explain the differences in the third paragraph.
"She wears this scarf on her head," said Jenny. "Everyday a different stupid scarf. Like she wants to hide her hair or something. You know, maybe she doesn't have any hair!"
"Couldn't you stop wearing the scarf? I mean, for now. If you can. If it's not -."
Amira shook her head again. "That would mean giving up," she said. "Then another girl would give up, and another."
"But you're the only one at our school."
"I stand for all the others," said Amira, setting her lips in a determined line...I can be stubborn sometimes."
"I admire that," said Minnie. "I admire you for doing that, for standing up for all the others." (Taken from Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind)
The second paragraph illustrates a child who is not afraid to ask about things she doesn't understand instead of making blanket assumptions like in the first paragraph out of ignorance and exasperation.