So hurray for the great Tinie Tempah, currently the UK's number 1 with Written in the Stars, which not only mentions Malorie Blackman ('Look I'm just a writer from the ghetto like Malorie Blackman/Where the hell's all the sanity at, damn/I used to be the kid that no one cared about/That's why you have to keep screaming til they hear you out) but also has a video which shows a beautiful kid (a boy, I think) coping with a troubled life by writing in a notebook. His mother's a prostitute, he's bullied and laughed at, but writing offers an escape and the hope that one day his voice will be heard (Everyone's a kid that no-one cares about/You just have to keep screaming until they hear you out.) You can see the video here.
Now there's a lot more to Malorie Blackman as a writer than the colour of her skin (her latest, Boys Don't Cry about a teenage father left holding the baby; and his gay brother is out soon and it sounds brilliant) but Tinie's mention shows that colour and ethnicity does matter, that Malorie gives younger black writers a role model and a feeling that someone understands and reflects their experience.
I wrote about my own take on this on Norm Geras's blog recently - about loving the character Miranda West in Antonia Forest's Marlow books, because she, like me, was English and Jewish. All the other Jewish characters that I read about in children's books were foreign and persecuted, something that made me anxious and annoyed.Strangely enough that hasn't much changed in British children's books (and I'm aware that I've done nothing yet to transform things). If you're looking for contemporary Jewish teenagers in YA fiction they'll most likely be American. Or invisible.
Diversity matters in children's books. Giving a voice to all sorts of people. Giving every young person role models. Showing them their own lives reflected in books. Opening their eyes to the experiences of others. It's how we learn, it's how we show children that everyone matters, it's how - as Tinie puts it - minorities send 'a message to the main.'
My publishers, Frances Lincoln, have long been supporters of diversity in children's books, and every year they give new writers a great chance to get published with the Diverse Voices Award, set up in memory of Frances Lincoln to promote diversity in children's literature. The winner gets £1,500 and the chance to be published - it's an unusual prize in that it supports books which are not yet published. The 2009 winner was Cristy Burne, whose Takeshita Demons - first of a trilogy - is a thrilling horror adventure based on Japanese mythology; and in 2010 the winner was Tom Avery whose book Too Much Trouble is coming out next summer.
So, if you're a children's writer trying to get published with a manuscript that Tinie would approve of, get it in shape for the Diverse Voices competition. The closing date for entries is February 25th 2011; and you can get an entry form and more details here . Your chance to be written in the stars.