I was amazed and delighted that editors in the 1990s were looking for the kinds of stories that allowed me to start offering glimpses into Ethiopia, the land of my childhood. (Although I was born in Portland, Oregon, my parents moved to Ethiopia when I was two, and when I paid my first visit to the U.S. as a seven-year-old, I got to see for the first time how tightly many eyes and hearts were closed when it came to what I knew and loved best.) That brave new world of what is often called “multicultural literature” certainly came about mostly because of the outrage expressed by librarians and teachers and others who were asking, where are the books that show the mosaic of ethnic diversity in this world?
Since the early 1990s, I’ve worked with brave editors who care about what I care about and I’ve been able to create books my seven-year-old self would never have guessed could be possible. At this point in the discussion, I tend to be disappointed with consumers more than editors because I’ve seen what it’s like to have authors, editors, illustrators, art designers, sales reps, and others on the publishing team pour their hearts into a book that only sits in a warehouse because people–by and large–weren’t adventuresome enough (or open-hearted enough) in their reading tastes. I was really sad, for instance, that the Girls of Many Lands line didn’t find its audience. Waaaaah. (I bought all eight of those books and dolls for a grandbaby I didn’t even have yet.)
Now I do have a granddaughter. She’s Ethiopian-American, and I want to do what I can to make her strong and confident for all the pokes and ka-bams I know for sure she’ll get, whether she grows up mostly in America or mostly in Ethiopia. When I got ready to buy a first doll for her, I was pretty thrilled that American Girl makes the variety of dolls they do…and you can see her with her Bitty Baby (which her brother, whose head is poking up at the bottom of the picture, also thinks is super cool).
We all get to decide how to be the Power of One in our world. For me, it isn’t going to be outrage any more, even though I admire the place that outrage played in creating the world of books and dolls we have now. It’s going to be writing and speaking about the books I love. I’ve seen the power of word-of-mouth to take fledgling efforts and turn them into a stream, and that’s the power I tend to be intrigued by and want to embody in my life. What people support will show up more and more in the world of publishing and toys…I know that for sure.