Reading diverse books is important for more reasons than we could possibly count. Nikki Grimes, author of Between the Lines, couldn’t agree more. Between the Lines tells the story of a classroom full of students who engage in a poetry slam and find out that despite their individual struggles, they have a lot in common. Here, Grimes talks about the role she hopes her books play in her readers’ lives and how crucial it is to read diverse books.
I love a good giggle as much as anyone, but laughter is missing in the world today. We live in a time and place when empathy and compassion are, sadly, in short supply, and the work of children’s and young adult authors is suddenly serious business, indeed. Through our poetry and stories, we have the opportunity to plant seeds of compassion by helping readers discover the ways in which we are all more alike than we are different. That, in a nutshell, is the importance of diverse literature—in the classroom, in the library, and in the marketplace.
I write stories from an African American perspective, of course, but I also write novels featuring characters from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and cultures in the hope of helping to cultivate a generation of readers who will hear their own voices, mixed with those of others, and develop a mindset that tends toward unity, rather than division. A book can be a powerful tool for social change. I know this because teachers who have taught Bronx Masquerade tell me that the book changed the culture of their classrooms. That’s exactly what I’m on about: sharing diverse literature with students of every hue so that the perspective of each has an opportunity to be expanded and, in some cases, transformed. This is precisely where a novel like Between the Lines comes in.
Novels like Between the Lines, with multiple perspectives—in this case nine—remind readers that their point of view is not the only one. I love Kekla Magoon‘s How It Went Down for that very reason. But even when a given novel presents a single point of view, as with say Pamela Muñoz Ryan‘s Becoming Naomi Leon, or Joseph Bruchac‘s Code Talker, or Renée Watson‘s more recent Piecing Me Together, when the voice comes from a culture with which the reader is unfamiliar, that novel can open doors in the mind that have never been unlocked. Every reader should have that enriching experience. Sharing diverse literature makes that experience possible.
Nikki Grimes received the Coretta Scott King Award for Bronx Masquerade, and has also received four Coretta Scott King Honors. In 2017, she was awarded the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for her substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children. She has written more than fifty books, including The Road to Paris, Jazmin’s Notebook, the Dyamonde Daniel series, and the New York Times bestseller Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope.