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#OwnVoices: The Need for Genuine-Experience Authors

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#OwnVoices is a hashtag movement, coined by Corinne Doyvis on Twitter, that refers to a book written by an author from an underrepresented group about their own experiences from their own perspective within that group. Underrepresented groups include BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), Latinx, Jewish, Muslim, LGBTQ+, Body Positive, Differently-Abled authors and many more. The flip side of this is an author from an outside perspective writing about a character from an underrepresented group.

A Native American author writing a book about their culture, heritage or any other experiences related to their life as a Native American would be an example of #OwnVoices. Regardless if it is fiction or nonfiction, it is an authentic representation in the form of words and/or pictures. Think of El Deafo by Cece Bell, a deaf author writing about a deaf character.

An example of something that is not #OwnVoices would be a white author writing about the experiences of a black Muslim. It is not to say these books are completely inadequate; it means there is a greater need for authentic voices to share their stories and genuine experiences.

Why are these books important, especially for children, to hear and read? #OwnVoices books help to decrease bias and racism. When not exposed to #OwnVoices books, we may be subjected to an unintentional bias. For instance, I am a white female and was raised Catholic. How does my story change if told in the words of an Asian male from China? We get the experience of an outsider looking in…

Though this person may be a great writer and my story may be more interesting if told in his words, he can’t tell my story from my perspective, thus losing the genuine content. The story is more natural when coming from a person who has lived the experience. We tend to see the norm and the positive instead of potentially biased and negative stereotypes.

Imagine writing a letter to your favorite author/actor/musician, etc., and getting a prewritten, form letter in response with their name stamped at the bottom. Now imagine receiving a letter that was hand-written and personalized by the icon, replying to everything you wrote. There is more depth, connection, and meaning in the second situation.  This is similar to what we see with #OwnVoices books.

When children are not exposed to #OwnVoices books, they will get their information from books that may not be truly representative of other cultures or people. They will get it from television or friends who in turn may be getting it from unreliable sources, possibly leading to stereotypes and biases.

This isn’t to say there is not a place for Peter’s adventures in Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day, but also check out some of these books, and be just a little more representative when reading to your kids tonight:  #OwnVoices Booklist for Kids

Lindsay

Lindsay is a Youth Services Librarian at the Main Library who enjoys reading juvenile fiction, cozy mysteries and cookbooks with pictures. She adores her best friend, Simon, a shar-pei/basset hound and tries to get him involved in her programs when possible. Traveling, tattoos and trying new foods are some of her interests as well as crafting and delving into other cultures.