Sharon Dennis Wyeth

Author. Poet. Memoirist.

CBC Diversity Blog

Q & A on Diversity with the Children’s Book Council
Here’s an excerpt from a recent interview posted on CBC Diversity.

Tell us about your most recent book and how you came to write it.

My most recent book is The Granddaughter Necklace. It’s a picture book based on family stories I collected from childhood on up. I am African American but discovered when I was an adult that my maternal line goes back to a woman in Ireland. This woman is featured in The Granddaughter Necklace along with six other generations in my maternal line. It’s a book I feel as if I’ve been writing my entire life.
Do you think of yourself as a diverse author?

For the major part of my career I’ve created books with protagonists of color. Primarily, because much of my work has its source in real life experiences I had growing up in the Black community. Early on, I also began to think very strongly about my readers and how important it was for those who were children of color to see protagonists of color in some of their literature. I also felt and continue to feel that it is equally valuable for the rest of our readers. So, yes, I would say that as an author I could be categorized as “diverse” (an African American becoming more and more diverse everyday now that I’ve discovered my Irish heritage and had my DNA traced back to tribes in Cameroon!). As a writer, diversity in literature is one of my missions and has characterized my career.

Who is your favorite character of all time in children’s or young adult literature?

Very difficult, since I now also teach Children’s Lit and have read so much good stuff. Yet again, I go back to my own formative reading years and say for children’s books: it’s a tie between two pigs. Wilbur in “Charlotte’s Web” and Freddy in the Albert Brooks series “Freddy the Pig.” Freddy was so resourceful and could do just about anything he set his mind to, even though he wasn’t a “human.” “Ramona” by Helen Hunt Jackson was a book written long before I was born but I found it by myself in the public library at around the age of ten. It’s young adult. That book was so important to me because Ramona was a girl of color and I’d never seen that in a book before. I found it all by myself and so identified with her! TO READ MORE

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Thinking About Diversity

During my visit to Tyee Park Elementary School in Washington State at the end of January, a student asked a striking question that makes me think about diversity. I had finished reading my new book “The Granddaughter Necklace” that’s inspired by stories I gathered about the women in my African American family. This book also includes a story about one of my Irish ancestors. Two of the characters in the book are depicted leaving home. My grandmother Mildred left her home in West Virginia at an early age to live with a relative further south and my ancestor Frances left Ireland to start a new life in the United States. After I’d finished reading, a boy in the audience raised his hand and asked:

“Are you from Guam?”

This question seemed to come out of the blue for me; I’m from the northeast and not used to meeting many people who come from locations in the Pacific. Not grasping the question, I asked the student to repeat it.

“Are you from Guam?” he asked again patiently.

“No,” I responded. “Why do you ask?”

“I’m from Guam,” he announced proudly. His bright eyes fixed on me. At that moment I wished I was from Guam or at least had been there! His question was a great compliment. Something about me and my story reminded him of home.

This instance was also a reminder to me that the diversity on the rise in our schools embraces a great deal more than the “Black” or “White” American composition that comprised the public schools I attended as a child. And just as there’s variation in our population, there’s variation within each of our “groups.” One boy from Guam is still one individual boy with his own unique story, his irreplaceable glistening eyes, his question.

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