#DiverseBookBloggersDiscuss: Growing up without diverse books

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This may come as a shock to those who know me now, but when I was little, I despised reading. When I first learned to read, I rarely applied my new skill to anything outside of the classroom.  I did not read for entertainment, and I was primarily drawn to picture books. I thought, “What’s the point? It’s all boring and it takes too much time!” 

When I did actually begin to read more, I was reading well below my level. I could read more advanced things, I just chose not to. I am still not sure if I was intimidated or just lazy, but nonetheless, I was confronted about it by multiple adults at the time. My fourth-grade teacher commented something along the lines of, “You can’t read Junie B. Jones and The Magic Treehouse for the rest of your life.” Why not? Anyway, it wasn’t until my aunt pried me from the picture books at Barnes and Noble and forced me to get a book that was more my age that I saw the value and joy of reading.

Fast forward a few years, and I had read series like Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Harry Potter, and countless standalone novels. I had read dystopian, contemporary, and even historical fiction. What do all the books I read have in common? It certainly wasn’t a genre. It was the fact that they all lacked diversity. The casts of characters within every book were predominantly white, cisgender, and definitely heterosexual. Or at least, canonically heterosexual. Thank you, fanfiction writers. 

I am a daughter of Palestinian immigrants. I am a woman. I am Arab and Muslim. Reading about privileged white boys and girls for a large portion of my childhood caused me to have distorted perceptions of my identity and books altogether.

The books I read, the ones that lacked diversity, were still amazing. A lot of them are genuinely great books, and the stories they contain still bring me so much joy. However, because those books have positive connotations in my mind, it was hard, and still hard, to be critical of them. Which makes it all the more difficult to call out the lack of diversity. 

As a young girl, I believed that because most of the books I read were about someone who wasn’t like me, that the stories about Muslims, or people of color, or any other minorities, didn’t make great books. I believed the reason there weren’t any about us was that nobody cared. And maybe, I believed that I shouldn’t care either. Maybe that’s why I didn’t really read much when I was younger. I did not come into contact with stories about people like me, so I figured they must not exist for a reason, a tragic reason at that. I thought minorities weren’t good enough to get their own stories. I thought I wasn’t good enough. And that’s a dangerous mindset to have. Not only was it sad for a young girl like me, but I know there were so many other kids who have gone through this. They didn’t see themselves in the stories they were reading, and soon reading became an activity just to pass the time, rather than fostering the connection that readers can have with the stories and characters. 

For the past couple of years, thanks to book-media, publishers, and other sources, I have been able to read books with more diversity. The door was finally opened for me, and the stories came flooding through. Recently, I’ve been on the hunt for more stories about indigenous people, the people who have been erased by history countless times. They deserve voices. People of color deserve voices. The LGBTQ+ community deserves voices. We all deserve to have our stories heard. We can all feel empowered through the stories we read. 

While books have never been more diverse, there’s still work to be done. I strongly encourage everyone to read stories by minorities, that are about minorities.  Do it for those who jump hurdles every day in order for their voices to be heard. Do it for someone like me, or someone like yourself, who didn’t see themselves as worthy of reading a book about themselves. Anyone can enjoy a story, so shouldn’t everyone be in stories too? 


Signature (1)Book Blogger @ Rvkayah

 Rukayah is a 19-year old Muslim Arab-American woman who enjoys reading and writing. She mostly writes about books and issues that are important to her (diversity, mental health, and more), and she’ll read just about anything. She’s a college student who is majoring in English and minoring in Psychology. Other hobbies and interests include video games, superheroes, and coffee. You can find her on her blog and and when she occasionally posts on her Instagram and Twitter.

Notable Posts: 

#DiverseBookBloggersDiscuss is a way to boost diverse bloggers who are brilliant, have a lot to say and deserve to be heard loud and clear. What this is, is basically a guest post feature where every Sunday, one blogger from a minority will discuss things they are passionate about on my blog. 

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6 thoughts on “#DiverseBookBloggersDiscuss: Growing up without diverse books

  1. What an amazing guest post, thank you so much Rukayah for sharing your experiences with reading growing up. I am glad to see publishing getting a bit more diverse now than when I was a kid, but there is a lot of work still to do.

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  2. I have found I like reading diverse books. On the surface I look like the stereotype, but I and my family don’t have perfect health. So one area I found lacking was characters with health issues besides a need for glasses and I connected more to some characters who had a magical illness. There wasn’t much out there of MC with epilepsy for example. But in all ways there is more and more diversity now in books and writers and publishers I think see there is a demand. If your interested in native america fiction I have some recommendations for you. Try Zoe Saadia’s people of the longhouse or peace maker series. And perhaps the book The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna max Brodsky-Vikings and Inuit. It is on my TBR list.

    PS some genre really benefit from adding diversity like urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Paranormal romance I discovered is still hemmed in by writers who lived in the 12th century! If you compare the Lays of Marie De France with the modern stuff…they seemed to me to be shockingly similar.

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  3. What a great post, Rukayah!
    Also, I definitely agree with you. As a child, I read books a lot for a school reading challenge whose intentions were to encourage children to read. And during that time, I read a lot of books on white children with wealthy families living in picture perfect homes, and it made me see myself as different or less than.
    And finding books that were diverse and talked about people representing people like me helped me a lot, because as a child, I noticed all those little things (like books not representing POC like me) and I don’t think it was good for me or any other child to see that they’re not represented in books and that they aren’t seen as the normal.

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  6. I think you put it exactly right, that we all started to question whether or not our stories would actually be heard, and whether they even mattered if nobody was talking about them. Now I realize it was just another way for people to feel different and separate from us. It sounds harsh, but I am constantly amazed when people from other religions/cultures say “oh we do that too!” and sometimes I want to say “I already knew that from READING about it.”…but you’re right, for so long the best-sellers and books in general were only focused on certain stories and certain characters. I hope with more stories like these (and the one I am writing!) that starts to change a little.

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