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“Digging into Fantasy and SciFi: An Anthropological Approach”

Like many authors, I came to writing via a circuitous route. A childhood obsession with The Lord of the Rings led to a fascination with history and other cultures, which led to an undergraduate degree in anthropology, which led to teaching 7th grade social studies, which led to writing middle grade and YA fantasy. See? Circuitous.

This is particularly true with my upcoming book, Del Toro Moon, a tale about a boy and his family—descendants of Spanish knights and aided by talking Andalusian war horses—who hunt monsters in the modern-day American Southwest. Del Toro Moon incorporates all my feels: fantasy, horses, the history and legends of the Southwest (I’m a proud New Mexican native now living in Colorado), and powerful familial bonds, especially between fathers and sons.

Since I write mostly fantasy, my school visits often focus on reading and writing in that very popular genre. One writing trick I share with upper elementary and middle/high school students is to have them scrutinize literary worlds as an anthropologist would—another cross-curriculum tool between literature and social studies.

Part One

I begin by reviewing the eight elements or universals found in all human cultures. I do include this caveat: if a group of people does not have all eight elements, then it is probably a social group, not a culture as an anthropologist would define it:

Elements of Cultures

Religion

  • Religion answers basic meanings about life
  • Can be formal and elaborate or informal and peripheral to the culture

Language

  • One of the strongest unify forces of a culture
  • Variation of a language is called a dialect (local form of a language that may have a distinct vocabulary and pronunciation)
  • Idioms, metaphors, sayings, and cuss words – so fun for writers!

History

  • Actual as well as mythical
  • Shapes how a culture views itself and the world
  • Stories about the challenges and successes of a culture support certain values and help people develop cultural pride and unity
  • Cultural holidays mark important events and enable people to celebrate their heritages

Daily Life (Food/Clothing/Shelter)

  • Secular and holy meals
  • Clothes and weapons or tools, including information technology
  • Housing, including the building, furniture, gardens, etc.

Social Groups

  • People can belong to more than one social group based on age, gender, interests, etc.
  • The family is the most important social group
  • People act differently in different groups (socialization)
  • Ethnic group: a group that shares a language, history, religion, and sometimes, physical traits

Arts & Crafts

  • Expresses what people think is beautiful and meaningful
  • Can also tell stories about important figures and events in the culture
  • Music, visual arts, dance, performing arts, literature, crafts

Government

  • People need rules in order to live together without conflict
  • Limited Governments (restricts the power of its leaders)
  • Unlimited Governments: (leaders are all-powerful)

Economy

  • A system that determines what goods and services are produced, how to produce them, and who will receive them
  • Four main types of economic systems:
    • Traditional: barter and trade
    • Market: capitalism
    • Command: communism
    • Mixed: a blend of two or more

Part Two

Next, the students divide into teams of two or three. Using a simple web graphic organizer (I’ve included an example—feel free to use it), each team takes apart a favorite book, movie, or TV show and determines if that book/movie/show/etc. has those eight elements. Some common favorites are:

Star Wars                                Harry Potter                 Star Trek         Percy Jackson

The Lord of the Rings            The Hunger Games        Warriors          Others?

The students must include a justification. For example, if a team is examining Star Wars and puts “Jedi” in the Religion circle, they must explain why they placed it there as opposed to History or Government.

Part Three

Finally, I have them complete the same exercise with their own work-in-progress. This is also a useful tool to aid in plotting a story prior to writing the first draft. I’ve had some pretty amazing discussions during this activity. One of my favorite was a debate focused on whether information technology should be listed under “Tools” or “Religion.”

I’d enjoy hearing about other ways teachers and librarians are connecting various disciplines, especially between the humanities and STEM. Please share with me and thank you!

About the Author: Darby Karchut is a multi-award winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter.  A proud native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms. When not dodging death by Colorado, Darby is busy at her writing desk. Her books include the best selling middle grade series: THE ADVENTURES OF FINN MacCULLEN. Best thing ever: her YA debut novel, GRIFFIN RISING, has been optioned for film. Her latest book, DEL TORO MOON, releases Fall 2018 from Owl Hollow Press. Visit the author at www.darbykarchut.com

Del Toro Moon
Author: Darby Karchut
Publishing September 2018 by Owl Hollow Press

Summary: Bad enough Matt Del Toro is the greenest greenhorn in the family’s centuries-old business: riding down and destroying wolf-like creatures, known as skinners. He must also learn how to match his father’s skills at monster hunting. Odds of doing that? Yeah, about a million to one. Because Matt’s father is the legendary Javier Del Toro—hunter, scholar, and a true caballero: a gentleman of the horse.

Now, with the skinners multiplying, both in numbers and ferocity, Matt is desperate to keep his father and hot-tempered older brother from killing each other, prevent his new friend, Perry—a horse-crazy girl who recently moved to their small town of Huerfano, Colorado—from discovering the true nature of his odder-than-oddball family, and save a group of paleontologists from getting skinner-ed.

Luckily, Matt has twelve hundred pounds of backup in his best friend—El Cid, an Andalusian war stallion with the ability of human speech, more fighting savvy than a medieval knight, and a heart as big and steadfast as the Rocky Mountains.

Serious horse power.

Those skinners don’t stand a chance.

www.darbykarchut.com

www.owlhollowpress.com

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35183477-del-toro-moon?from_search=true

Thank you Darby for sharing this look at writing from a cross-curricular viewpoint!

 

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I Love You, Michael Collins
Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Published June 20th, 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Summary: It’s 1969 and the country is gearing up for what looks to be the most exciting moment in U.S. history: men landing on the moon. Ten-year-old Mamie’s class is given an assignment to write letters to the astronauts. All the girls write to Neil Armstrong (“So cute!”) and all the boys write to Buzz Aldrin (“So cool!”). Only Mamie writes to Michael Collins, the astronaut who will come so close but never achieve everyone else’s dream of walking on the moon, because he is the one who must stay with the ship.

After school ends, Mamie keeps writing to Michael Collins, taking comfort in telling someone about what’s going on with her family as, one by one, they leave the house thinking that someone else is taking care of her—until she is all alone except for her cat and her best friend, Buster. And as the date of the launch nears, Mamie can’t help but wonder: Does no one stay with the ship anymore?

I Love You, Michael Collins was a Best Book of June 2017 on Amazon; a semifinalist for the Goodreads Readers’ Choice Awards; and a pick by the Planetary Society for Best Science Children’s Books of 2017.

ReviewThere is so much I really enjoyed about this book!

First, I adored looking into the experience of the moon landing. I cannot even imagine witnessing it happening! What an amazing feat it was and completely unimaginable. (And I hope to at some point see it happen again.) And I thought Baratz-Logsted did a good job showing all the different types of feelings towards the moon landing and space program. But I’m glad that she focused on its amazingness and the excitement.

Second, I think the author did a fantastic job with the character’s voice. With a book of letters it is essential that the writing sounds like the character because it is actually the character writing all the words. I loved seeing all the techniques she used to write like Mamie while still keeping her writing to a literary level.

Third, I loved that the book was not just a reenactment of the moon landing and a family’s celebration of it. The story has so many layers within it: Mamie’s introverted personality and the look into what makes a kid like this happy; her family’s conflicts and issues; and the power of one best friend.

Overall, I Love You, Michael Collins is a fun historical fiction middle grade book that is perfect for so many readers!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The first thing I went to when I thought about this book from a teachers point of view was the idea of letter writing. Mamie writes Michael Collins originally because it is a school project. Mamies letters could be used as a starting point on how to write letters, parts of a letter, etc. And students could even write a letter to someone in the news that is doing something amazing.

Next summer is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and at the end of next school year, I am definitely going to do a cross-curricular unit about NASA and the Apollo missions along with a read aloud of excerpts from this novel. It is so engaging as a story and will also be a great way for students in the 21st century to have a window into the 1960s.

But even without this amazing anniversary, Baratz-Logsted’s title is one that middle grade students will find enjoyment in and should definitely be in classrooms and libraries!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did the author help make her writing seem like a ten-year-old was writing the letters?
  • Michael Collins is not a household name like Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. Why is that? Do you think we should all know his name in the same context as the other two astronauts?
  • Which character do you think changed the most throughout the book?
  • What do you think is going to happen next with Mamie’s family?
  • How did Buster’s friendship help Mamie keep her positivity and sanity during this tough time in her family?
  • If you were going to have a moon landing party, what would you make?
  • How would the story of Mamie’s parents’ separation have been different in the 21st century?

Flagged Passages: 

“Dear Michael Collins,

I finally figured out why you never write back. Can you figure out how I figured this out? If not, I will tell you. I did the math.

Okay, I didn’t really do the math, since I don’t have all the information. But it struck me that I might not be the only person writing to you. I though, if every school in the country has just one class that is writing letters to the astronauts and if in each class there is just one kid like me writing to you, then that is still a lot of mail.

It’s no wonder you can’t write back to everyone. And of course you do have other things to do right now.

I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of you getting more mail than I originally thought you did. On the one hand, I’m really happy for you. I’m glad you’ve got more than just me. On the other hand, it was kind of nice when I thought I was the only one. It felt special. Like I was the the only one who knew about you. Which of course isn’t true. The whole world knows about you. It’s just that most of them don’t seem to appreciate you very much.

Does it ever bother you that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin get so much more mail than you do? I hope not. It certainly wouldn’t bother me. There was a time I thought it might be nice to be popular–you know, to have a lot of friends. But then Buster came along, and then Campbell, and I realized that that is quite enough for me…” (p. 30-31)

Read This If You Love: Space! I recommend Space Encyclopedia by David A. Aguilar and Moon Base Crisis by Rebecca Moesta & Kevin J. Anderson. Also check out Planetary.org’s list of recommended books from 2017: http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2017/1115-space-books-kids.html and 2016: http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2016/emily-lakdawalla-space-book-recommendations.html

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Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein
Author: Lita Judge
Published: January 30th, 2018 by Roaring Book Press

Summary: A young adult biography of Frankenstein’s profound young author, Mary Shelley, coinciding with the 200th anniversary of its publication, told through free verse and 300+ full-bleed illustrations.

Mary Shelley first began penning Frankenstein as part of a dare to write a ghost story, but the seeds of that story were planted long before that night. Mary, just nineteen years old at the time, had been living on her own for three years and had already lost a baby days after birth. She was deeply in love with famed poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a mad man who both enthralled and terrified her, and her relationship with him was rife with scandal and ridicule. But rather than let it crush her, Mary fueled her grief, pain, and passion into a book that the world has still not forgotten 200 years later.

Dark, intense, and beautiful, this free-verse novel with over 300 pages of gorgeous black-and-white watercolor illustrations is a unique and unforgettable depiction of one of the greatest authors of all time.

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Whew. I felt so many emotions as I read this book. I kept thinking, “My goodness, my students are going to love this book.” I was fortunate to receive two copies of this book in the mail, and those two copies have passed from student’s hand to student’s hand. The book doesn’t even make its way back up to my desk before another student snags it. This book defies genre sorting. It’s nonfiction, it’s horror, it’s romance, it’s an illustrated book in verse. I’ve already added it to my book list to teach next semester in my Adolescents’ Literature course.

Students will read this book and want immediately to read Frankenstein. The book reads fairly quickly because it contains verse and illustrations, but readers will struggle not to pause for several minutes to enjoy the beautiful illustrations on the pages.

I’m most excited about the classroom potential for this book. It offers so much to talk about regarding characterization, mood, and poetry. But it also offers a beautiful bridge to read with Frankenstein. I thought I knew a lot about Mary Shelley’s life, but this book told me so much more about it. Reading her story on these pages made me feel as if I was experiencing her life alongside her. If you haven’t read this book yet, I recommend it highly.

Discussion Questions: What factors may have influenced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? In what ways does the author use metaphor and symbolism to help us understand her experiences?; What might be the author’s purpose? Is she successful, in your opinion?; What textual features helped you understand Mary’s story? How might this book read differently if the author had used another form?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; Horror; Gothic Literature

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On Gull Beach
Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Bob Marstall
Published March 27th, 2018 by Cornell Lab Publishing Group

Summary: Together again! On Gull Beach reunites bestselling children’s author Jane Yolen and award-winning illustrator Bob Marstall for the third installment of the acclaimed On Bird Hill and Beyondseries of children’s books written for the renowned Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

In On Bird Hill, Yolen and Marstall took readers on a surreal journey with a boy and his dog as they see the natural world, ultimately witnessing the miracle of a chick emerging from an egg.

On Duck Pond continued their journey, this time at a serene pond filled with birds, frogs, and turtles who are suddenly disrupted by their intrusion, but soon settle back into a quiet equilibrium.

On Gull Beach brings us to an idyllic shoreline in Cape Cod, where gulls hover, dive, and chase with pitched acrobatics in pursuit of a seastar. This enchanting sequel in a brand new habitat will delight readers young and old.

As with all Cornell Lab Publishing Group books, 35% of net proceeds from the sale of this title goes directly to the Cornell Lab to support projects such as children’s educational and community programs.

Our review of On Duck Pond from May 4, 2017.

Kellee’s Review: What I love about this series of books by Yolen and Marstall are the way they have combined the beauty of Yolen’s lyrical words with information about the birds and other animals and their habitats that the books focus on. In this one we follow a young boy as he takes a walk on the beach and tried to say a starfish from the birds on the beach. Yolen’s rhythmic writing takes you on the journey while Marstall’s illustrations make them come to life. 

Ricki’s Review: I am still waiting for the day that I read a Jane Yolen book that I don’t love. Today isn’t that day. As Kellee said, Yolen’s words are lyrical. She rhymes, but it isn’t a cheesy sort of rhyme. Instead, it’s quite beautiful and urges readers to keep turning the pages. Marstall’s illustrations are realistic, and they pull the reader into the story. The back matter provides clarifying information about gulls (see the page spread that we feature below). As a New Englander, I smiled at the variety of gulls that the authors feature. The book features photographs along with informational text to teach readers all about the “So many gulls!” This made me long for the summer, and I am looking forward to identifying these gulls on our next beach trip! 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Each of the books Yolen and Marstall have done focus on a different bird in a different habitat. What a great way to combine reading, writing, and science! In an elementary classroom, have students jigsaw to each of the books and come together in a home group so share what they learned about each habitat and the animals that live there. Then students can research a bird of their choice and its habitat to write their own poem about a visit to see the bird.

Discussion Questions: 

  • The habitat Yolen and Marstall were focusing on is a New England Beach. If you have been to a beach in another area, how is the New England beach in the book different and similar to the beach you have gone to?
  • What other birds other than gulls live on beaches all over the world?
  • What parts of the beach habitat did Yolen and Marstall highlight in their book?
  • How does the structure of poetry change this nonfiction book to make it different than other books about birds and habitats?
  • What are the differences and similarities between the three habitats and three birds that Yolen and Marstall have focused on?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Yolen & Marstall’s other ornithology books, Books about birds like Hello, Hippo! Goodbye, Bird! by Kristyn Crow, The Sky Painter by Margarita Engle, Elwood Bigfood: Wanted Birdie Friends by Jill Esbaum, Birds by Kevin Henkes, Look Up! by Annette LeBlanc Cate, Seabird in the Forest by Joan Dunning

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Recommended Books for Lit Circles/Book Clubs in the Middle School Classroom

As a teacher, I am always working to grow professionally to give my students the best possible instruction in the classroom, but one practice that has been a common theme throughout all twelve of my years teaching is literature circles or in-class book clubs. Although the way I implement them have DRASTICALLY changed over the years, the idea of CHOICE of text, COLLABORATIVE discussion about the text, and COLLECTING thoughts about a text have been consistent.

Over the years I moved from calling what we did in class lit circles to in-class book clubs because I no longer assign students jobs and the students in general have more freedom. Here is how our in-class book clubs go now:

  • I book talk the options for book choices and have students list their top 3 on an index card with their name.
    • I have this process be completely silent because I really want students to pick the book they want to read not what their friend wants to read.
  • I then take the index cards and group them into groups of three to five depending on what books were chosen.
  • The next day, I have the students sit in their book clubs, and I give them the task of determining their reading schedule.
    • I give them the time period and ask the to come up with a schedule of pages to read by each book club meeting. Most groups then come up with a daily reading goal too, but they don’t have to.
  • I then give reading time every day, but we also do other class activities every day except on book club day on Mondays (I like to give the weekend before our meetings).
  • One thing I didn’t like about lit circles in my classroom was the unevenness of “jobs” during lit circles and how only one student was responsible for the ongoing conversation during meetings. So because of this my students have one simple task while reading: Come up with 5 open ended discussion questions or topics that they want to talk about during the meeting.
    • I also like to make a student-created word wall, so I ask them to write down any words that they find that they don’t know and figure out what they mean. They then share those in their group also and discuss them then put them on our word wall.
  • Some groups have a harder time chatting during group meetings, so I also have generic questions that will work with any book.
    • I also read along with them, so I can help with some chatting as well.
  • At the end of the unit, I will have them answer a few standards-based text-dependent questions about their specific book.
    • I share the standards ahead of time, and they are what we are working on and focusing on during class when we’re not doing book clubs.

Today, I want to share with you seven titles that have also been consistently successful for my students and eight new titles I added over the last couple of years that were hits. I highly recommend any of these for middle school lit circles or in-class book clubs (or classroom libraries!):

Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings

Flight #116 is Down by Caroline B. Cooney

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Kimchi and Calamari by Rose Kent

Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks & Gita Varadarajan

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

Dark Life by Kat Falls

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Trino’s Choice by Diane Gonzales Bertrand

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

Do you do lit circles or in-class book clubs in your classroom?
What do they look like for you and your students?
What books do you recommend? 

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA!

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover the next “must-read” book!

Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, decided to give It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too.

We encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting at least three of the other book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

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Last Week’s Posts

 

Tuesday: Teaching Tuesday: Disability and the Body, Literature Circles/Book Clubs

Wednesday: Blog Tour with Review and Giveaway: Bone’s Gift by Angie Smibert

Congratulations to Jeff S. for winning the giveaway!!!!

Thursday: Islandborn by Junot Díaz

Friday: Kellee’s #mustreadin2018 Spring Update

Sunday: Blog Tour with Author Guest Post and Giveaway!: “The Importance of a Diverse Cast of Characters” by Carolyn O’Doherty, Author of Rewind

Giveaway open until Friday!

**Click on any picture/link to view the post**

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 Last Week’s Journeys

Kellee

I focused on graphic novels this week because I was so excited to read so many, and I was able to read four of them:

  • I love the Star Leagues series by Mike Lawrence! It is so full of girl power and team work and aliens and sci fi and wonderful adventures! And book two, League of Lasers, does a great job continuing the story.
  • The first Cucumber Quest by Gigi D.G. book was such a hit in my classroom, when I heard that the next three were coming out quite quickly, I knew I had to get to them, and thanks to Netgalley I was able to read the third one early. Each GN takes the hero through a new kingdom and a new monster.
  • Kitten Construction Company by John Patrick Green seems like just a cute story on the surface and it may be, but I really think that it is a social justice book in its own way looking at people who are looked at as not equal no matter how qualified they are.

I also finished two audiobooks this week because they were just SO good!

  • I loved the new Upside Down Magic book! Dragon Overnight takes the Upside Down Magic kids to sleepover camp at a Dragon rehab center. And obviously things happened that are hilarious and thought-provoking.
  • The first Unicorn Rescue Society book, Creature of the Pines, by Adam Gidwitz is so special–it is funny and smart and thoughtful and mythical and everything! And the audio was superb! It is a must get.

Trent and I read quite a few new-to-us book this week!

  • What This Story Needs is a Pig in a Wig by Emma J. Virjan is such a fun rhyming book. Trent is just learning how rhyming works, so this was a perfect book for him.
  • Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant is a cute story but it is made by Christian Robinson’s artwork. But I love anything with penguins, so it made me happy!
  • Blue Umbrella from Pixar and Coco from Disney were two audiobooks that we listened to on our way to school this week. Both were good representations of their movies.
  • The King of Too Many Things is another gem from Laurel Snyder! Every time I thought I had read everything by her, I find another book, and I love it, too!
 Ricki

I am away this weekend at the AERA (American Educational Research Association) conference! I am hoping to learn some great new things to share with everyone! 🙂

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This Week’s Expeditions
Kellee

  • We are slacking on our graphic novel reading, but my goal is to finish Date with Disaster with Trent this week!
  • I am so excited to read the second book in The Explorers series, Reckless Rescue! If you read my review you know it ended with a TERRIBLE cliffhanger, so I could not wait to find out what happened!
  • I still have one more Cucumber Quest book to read!
  • My book clubs next virtual author visit is with Dan Gemeinhart, and I have read all but Some Kind of Courage and his newest, Good Dog, so I was happy to find Courage as an audiobook which I’ll start this week.

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Upcoming Week’s Posts

 

Tuesday:  Kellee’s Middle School In-Class Book Clubs and Recommended Titles

Wednesday: On Gull Beach by Jane Yolen

Thursday: Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge

Friday: I Love You, Michael Collins by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Sunday: Author Guest Post from Darby Karchut, Author of Del Toro Moon

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 So, what are you reading?

Link up below and go check out what everyone else is reading. Please support other bloggers by viewing and commenting on at least 3 other blogs. If you tweet about your Monday post, tag the tweet with #IMWAYR!

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“The Importance of a Diverse Cast of Characters”

One of the lessons most writers learn early in their careers is to write what you know. This is generally good advice, since understanding a place or a topic or an emotion makes it much easier to write something that sounds real on the page. The rule is not, of course, meant to be taken completely literally. Fiction is, by definition, made up. Having spent time in one city, it isn’t a huge stretch to place a story in a city one hasn’t visited. If you understand what it feels like to be scared or excited you can believably expand that experience to portray the emotional impact of say, being kidnapped or winning the lottery without suffering (or enjoying) that fate yourself. But how does “write what you know” apply when we’re talking about characters with different cultural backgrounds than their authors?

Diversity in books has become a hotly debated topic in recent years and for good reason. Too many readers feel alienated because an overwhelming percentage of books on the shelves are about exclusively white, middle class, straight characters. This limited perspective doesn’t just alienate people who don’t fit this narrow profile, it is a lost opportunities for everyone as books are an ideal way for people to immerse themselves in other cultures and life experiences. The challenge for an author is how to accurately create diversity when that is not “what we know.” It’s a challenge that must be approached with care. Getting the neighborhoods wrong when your character wanders the streets of Chicago is mildly annoying; using a stereotype to show a teenager is gay or African American is both damaging and offensive.

So what is an author to do? I am a white, middle class, woman who has mostly lived in cities. I don’t feel confident about accurately portraying the life experience of someone in a poor rural community who faces racism on a regular basis. What I can do is create a world for my characters that is not solely populated by white, middle class people, and I can do that with confidence because the world I live in is chock full of people from every background, shape, and color. Basically, I can follow the rule to write what you know while adding this important corollary: pay attention. I set REWIND in my hometown, so to make the scenes feel realistic, I had to pay attention to the people I actually see every day. Who passes me on the street when I head to work? Where is my grocery store clerk from? What kinds of accents do I overhear when eating out at a restaurant? Writing a multicultural community is not only the “right thing to do,” it is also the accurate thing to do.

In REWIND I have to admit to a little bit of a cheat. The teenage protagonists in the novel are orphaned and have been raised their entire lives in an Institutional Center. This set-up allowed me to include characters of various races without having to portray multiple cultures. Or, what is probably more accurate, I could place them all in my own culture without that feeling false within the context of the story. My first person point-of-view character is white, but other characters in the book are not. (I looked up census data and matched the ethnicity of the remaining teenagers—all of whom share a random genetic trait—to the reported census distribution in order to accurately reflect the region.) I did sometimes mention someone’s race as part of a character description, but tried to add that detail to white characters as often as I did with minority ones, in hopes that “white” wouldn’t be the assumed default just because no race is mentioned.

Diversity in book is more than just having an international cast. One of my fears as a writer is that I inadvertently typecast a character. My efforts to avoid this have focused on another fundamental lesson for good writing: descriptions are strongest when they also illuminate something about the book’s world or about the character doing the describing. Saying “the Hispanic teacher handed out our assignments” does not create a compelling scene in part because real people are never defined solely by their ethnicity or sexuality or any other single factor. Writing a scene where our hero is at his friend Manuel’s family restaurant and Manuel is mocking his attempts to pronounce the Spanish words on the menu tells me something about Manuel as a person and his relationship with our hero. Having a non-Asian character step into an Asian grocery store and not be able to read the packing nor understand the people around her could be a great way to show her feelings of alienation. Like real people, characters should stand out as unique and multi-faceted. My hope is that by placing three-dimensional characters in a variety of realistic settings, a greater breadth of readers will feel at home in my novels.

I know that including a diverse cast in a book with a white point-of-view character is not the same thing as creating truly inclusive literature. In a better world, there will be more published authors who are able to represent the life experiences of underrepresented people with nuance and understanding. REWIND is my debut novel. As a writer, I am still exploring ways to better incorporate diversity. As a reader, I encourage all of us to seek variety in our reading choices, both to support those voices that sometimes struggle to be heard and to enrich our own life by learning what it feels like to be someone else. This is not because reading widely is a politically correct imperative—immersion in a wide array of experiences is the gift we give ourselves when we sit down to read a good book.

Thank you so much to Carolyn for this IMPORTANT post and for being willing to chat about diversity with us! 

About the Author: Carolyn O’Doherty lives in a much prettier and less dangerous version of Portland than her characters. She’s loved writing and books her whole life, but ventured into novel writing late. In 2011 she received an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing from Stonecoast. When, as a kid, she dreamed up the idea of freezing time, she only considered the benefits: always having the perfect snappy come-back, the right answer on the test, untraceable revenge. It was when she turned the idea into a novel that she delved into the dark side of this potential blessing.  Outside of writing, Carolyn has spent the last twenty years working with Portland non-profits to develop affordable housing.

Make sure to checkout her debut novel: 

Summary: [April 10th, 2018 by Boyds Mills Press] Sixteen-year-old Alex is a Spinner–she has the ability to rewind time to review past events. Hated and feared because of their ability to find the truth, the small population of Spinners is restricted to Centers–compounds created to house and protect them. Alex’s society uses the Spinners’ skills to solve major crimes, but messing with time comes with consequences: no Spinner lives past the age of twenty. At sixteen, Alex is in her prime–until time sickness strikes early. When she is offered an experimental treatment, Alex sees a future for herself for the first time. But the promising medication offers more than just a cure–it also brings with it dire consequences.

Don’t miss out on the other stops on the Rewind blog tour: 

Sunday, April 15
Unleashing Readers

Monday, April 16
Linda K. Sienkiewicz blog

Tuesday, April 17
Books by Pamela Thompson blog

Wednesday, April 18
YA Books Central

Thursday, April 19
The Brain Lair

Friday, April 20
Ms. Yingling Reads

And make sure to enter the Rewind giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you again to Carolyn and Boyds Mills Press for hosting the Rewind blog tour!

For more advice to writers about including diversity into your work, visit https://diversebooks.org/resources/resources-for-writers/.

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