"Children have a right to books that reflect their own images and books that open less familiar worlds to them…for those children who had historically been ignored – or worse, ridiculed – in children's books, seeing themselves portrayed visually and textually as realistically human was essential to letting them know that they are valued in the social context in which they are growing up…At the same time, the children whose images were reflected in most American children's literature were being deprived of books as windows into the realities of the multicultural world in which they are living, and were in danger of developing a false sense of their own importance in the world."

- Rudine Sims Bishop, from, "Reflections on the development of African American Children's Literature," Journal of Children's Literature, Vol. 38, Iss. 2 (Fall 2012): 5-13.

children readingDiverse spaces in literature, especially in fantasy – and, perhaps, especially in YA fantasy – remain hard to find, but they are necessary for the growth and progression of a more equitable society. In her oft-quoted and referenced 1990 critical essay "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors", internationally renowned children's literature scholar Rudine Sims Bishop discusses the importance of diversity, especially regarding the representation of African American children, in children's literature for all child readers, but specifically those who are often only portrayed in negative ways. As shown in her 2012 reflection on the same topic, the necessity of providing "windows" into a multicultural reality for readers has not changed. That is what makes books such as Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone, which destabilize the hegemonic power of proto-European fantastic spaces, so important. Not only do marginalized readers see some reflection of themselves that isn't token, but they are given access to the wonder and empowerment of seeing in text someone who looks like them, comes from their cultural background, and has access to all the possibility and power and ability to be a hero. This access translates into the idea that maybe they can be heroes too, that there are more possibilities for them to aspire to than token sidekick, or person who dies first in a horror film.

Yoruban Divination BoardPart of the beauty of Children of Blood and Bone is how different its aesthetic is to some of the other books that have been on fantasy and YA bestseller lists. Adeyemi roots her setting and her concept of magic in Yoruba and West African traditions. This is not the magic of Harry Potter. There are no allusions to Merlin or a Pendragon, or whispers of what have become all-too-familiar fairy tales and narrative patterns. Yoruba is a religious and linguistic categorization, and the culture, religion, and language have all been transmitted globally, largely thanks to the Atlantic slave trade. By drawing from this mythology and cosmology, Adeyemi adds something completely new to the mainstream market, creating windows into a new way of experiencing wonder, and presenting strong, relatable, well-developed characters who do not fit the Hollywood/mainstream representation of what heroes look like.

Yoruban Deity OsunFor years, there has been a perception that diverse books just simply won't sell, that there is no demand for literature that centers on the voices and experiences of people of color, of people who are other. Christopher Myers outlines this succinctly in his 2014 New York Times essay "The Apartheid of Children's Literature." But with Adeyemi's record-breaking seven-figure book deal for the trilogy, which was optioned to be adapted to film before the first book had been released, the idea that the market has to cater to a Euro-centric, colonizing perspective of the world starts to crumble. More representation leads to more understanding and empathy, which leads to more equity, and better quality art and literature which challenges us all more. And that is a good, and long overdue, thing.


At BookBrowse, we believe that books are not an end in themselves but a jumping off point to new avenues of thought and discovery. This is why, every time we review one we also explore a related topic, such as the above "beyond the book" article by Michelle Anya Anjirbag for Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.

Yoruba divination board Opon Ifá
Yoruba Deity Osun

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