I’ve been waiting all week for pay day so I could finally donate to the We Need Diverse Books Indie GoGo campaign.
I’m not going to lie, I felt fairly well represented by the characters in books but I’ll never forget when we read Beverly Cleary in second grade. Of course I wanted to read a Ramona book. I loved Ramona. Ramona had brown hair, like me. Ramona sometimes cracked eggs on her head, ok I never did this but I feel like I did similar things.
But my second grade teacher insisted I read a different book. Dear Mr. Henshaw. Wait, I thought. Was Miss Johnson crazy? This kid didn’t even live on Klickitat Street. Also the book was about a boy and I was a girl. But Miss Johnson knew Beverly Cleary’s books. I’m pretty sure she knew which Beverly Cleary book each kid in her class needed to read.
It wasn’t long before I realized why Miss Johnson wanted me to read Dear Mr. Henshaw. The main character in Dear Mr. Henshaw was a lot more like me than I thought. In his letters to Mr. Henshaw we see Leigh coping with his parent’s divorce, being a new kid, and his dad letting him down.
As a kid attending a small Catholic school in the eighties there weren’t a lot of people who had families like mine. But Leigh’s family was like mine. Unlike Ramona, who had two parents, Leigh had his mom. His parents were divorced or were getting divorced and his dad was often not there for him.
I will never forget the bright light feeling I felt reading Dear Mr. Henshaw. It was the same feeling I got when I watched the movie E.T. and saw that Elliot’s dad wasn’t there and it was just Mom and three kids, like my family. It was the first time I really knew that I wasn’t alone in the my-parents-are-getting-divorced universe.
This is why diversity in books is so important to me. Because I know the powerful feeling of seeing something you are going through represented in a book and I think everyone needs the chance to see themselves represented in a book.