The TIE Podcast Spring Semester Preview: Discussing Diverse Representation in Children’s Books with Author Kaija Langley

Diverse children's books are important

Spring has been a busy time for TIE as we bring you our third Spring Semester podcast. This episode showcases the work of Kaija Langley, the NAACP Image Award–nominated author of the delightful children’s book When Langston Dances. Her book tells the story of a young Black boy who is inspired to dance after seeing the Alvin Ailey Dance Company perform, and who is supported in his aspirations by his community.

Listen to the full conversation below:

TIE Podcast · Discussing Diverse Representation in Children’s Books with Author Kaija Langley
Kaija Langley headshot
Kaija Langley

Kaija’s debut picture book has received two starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the Outstanding Literary Work for Children category. Up next, she has a middle grade novel in verse in the works, The Order of Things, which is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books in May 2023.

Kaija, who dedicates her time to libraries and raising money for nonprofits, was kind enough to sit down with TIE Editor in Chief Alexia Hudson-Ward for an in-depth discussion of the need for more diverse representation in children’s books. Through their conversation, she describes her winding road to success as an author and her hope to encourage other aspiring writers of color to pursue their passion. This conversation is particularly timely, following on the heels of International Children’s Book Day 2022.

You won’t want to miss this important conversation with Kaija Langley. 

Here’s a quick peek inside the episode:

When Langston Dances cover
When Langston Dances book cover

On the need to celebrate Black humanity in children’s books:

Diversity comes in so many forms, and showing children in situations and in experiences where they are—particularly children of color—they’re able to just have a day. They’re able to just show up. They’re able to just explore. And it’s not about trauma. It’s not about the history of slavery, and it’s not about the fact that they only have a single parent. It’s not about the fact that they may be living in affordable housing. They are just being children.

Other books that center whiteness and white life have that variety. You can find a book for everything…And it is okay because it is understood that there is a breadth of humanity and experience in white culture, and the same thing exists in Black culture.

On evoking emotions in readers:

When you’re talking about children’s literature, I think almost everyone will say that there needs to be hope. Every story, while it can’t be the syrupy-movie ending of everybody rides off into the sunset happily, even when you’re writing about difficult subjects there needs to be a sense of hope at the end because we are talking about young readers. We are giving them a mirror into, even if it’s fictional, life as we know it, and knowing that there is the possibility of something better even if it’s a challenging situation or a difficult situation. So hope, inspiration, and ultimately empowerment.

On advice for aspiring authors:

First and foremost, be clear about what you’re writing and why. Writing books in general but especially for children…it requires you to tap into that inner child that you have. Often people will come to writing for children and they think, ‘oh, well I’ll just write it for a younger reader,’ but you’re writing it through an adult lens. And it takes some time to be able to really inhabit and to return to that place if you’re writing for middle grade or YA, to tap into where young readers are today.

Find yourself a community and always keep why you’re writing front and center because it can be a long and winding journey, and ultimately when you get to that place there is nothing sweeter than seeing your intended audience—which is not the adults but the young readers—with a copy of your story in their hand and they are excited about it and they are touched by it.

Be sure to sign up for alerts on the latest Toward Inclusive Excellence (TIE) content, whether it’s a new blog post, podcast episode, or webinar.

Interested in contributing to TIE? Send an email to Deb V. at Choice with your topic idea.

Springer Nature logo

TIE gratefully acknowledges underwriting support from Springer Nature.

At Springer Nature, our mission is to open doors to discovery, enabling millions of researchers, educators, clinicians and other professionals to access, trust and make sense of the latest insights so together we can improve and enrich lives and help to protect our planet for future generations. We believe that diversity, equity and inclusion are essential to achieving this mission.

Header image is a detail of This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. For more information, click here.